Maliha Khan (SFS’24) is an undergraduate at Georgetown University in Qatar majoring in culture and politics with a focus on feminist perspectives in theory, literature, and film. She is originally from Kashmir and spends a lot of her time taking videos and creating reels for her Instagram handle. She enjoys dancing and has been part of performance groups on both the Qatar campus and the main campus in Washington, DC. She hopes to pursue filmmaking and stop motion animation in the future as a way to share stories visually. She is part of the spring 2023 cohort of the Doyle Global Dialogue.
Ever since I came to Qatar in 2021, I have felt like I was on the outside witnessing everything that was happening in the country. As I was engaging with people and activities, I was not conscious of the effect it had on me as a person or as an international student. To me, Qatar just happened to be the place where I studied. Throughout the Doyle Global Dialogue (DGD) program, I have been looking at my experiences much more consciously. I am thinking of all the cultural and religious experiences as I experience them.
While living in Qatar, I always understood religion was in the background of almost everything that happened here. However, it was DGD that pushed me to draw connections actively and think about what that means to me as a Muslim. I realized how I was at the juncture of feeling comfortable as a Muslim in the country and yet feeling distant as an international student. I was able to re-evaluate my relationship with my religion as I saw it being celebrated by those around me, whether during Ramadan or Eid or in everyday phrases such as inshallah (God willing). Religion and its influence could be felt very often. Since Qatar is a Muslim-majority country, Islam holds major importance in public life and Qatari culture. For example, weekdays are from Sunday to Thursday, because of the importance Fridays hold in Islam. I could find ablution and prayer rooms in almost all public places. Unlike my home culture where mosques are predominantly male-dominated, I was able to find female spaces in mosques here much more easily. As a Muslim, it was very convenient for me to have the food all around me be halal, made according to my religious preferences.
While I was always aware of these things, writing and thinking about these things for the Doyle program made me experience them consciously. It allowed me to make connections between religion and the society I live in. For example, as a part of my art history class, I visited a lot of museums and witnessed the huge art collection in Qatar. I could clearly see how Qatar has established itself as an international hub for art, specifically Islamic art. In the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, I saw a lot of artifacts that brought together the history of Islam from across the world to Qatar. Qatar has collected manuscripts of the Quran from different parts of the world and different periods, allowing Qatar to establish itself as an Islamic country that upholds and preserves Islamic culture.
While on many levels I felt at home and blended in perfectly with the culture and religion in Qatar, at the same time, the way I saw my Muslim identity was different from the way Qatari people or other Muslims did. As an international student, I was constantly altering between solidifying my pre-existing identities and making them more fluid. I was more conscious of my Kashmiri identity as I had to explain it to people around me rather than them just assuming it. But since I am also surrounded by a large population of South Asians, this allowed me to celebrate my culture with others from the region. I realized this feeling is not limited to me but is also shared by fellow students on campus.
Our small university campus was like a microcosm of the experiences of a large section of the international community in Qatar. One would think that this kind of categorization would create more rigid identities. However, it was interesting to see how each community and country celebrated their identity and, in doing so, created new experiences for those of us who do not belong to these nationalities and ethnicities. As we participated, these differences made our identities in many ways fluid or perhaps less rigid. Above all, we recognized each other as humans, not despite our differences, but because of them. I often find my non-Muslim friends using inshallah or mashallah (God has willed it) in their day-to-day conversations.