Noor Abaddy, a US Citizen from Jordan, shares in a candid interview the various dimensions of her identity, and the solid platform she stands on today. A speaker for the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta and the Interfaith Speakers Network, she chronicles how her experiences have helped shape her views on diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance.
How important is identity to you?
It’s important I guess. What’s more important is how clearly I am able to identify a solid “identity”. Over the years, this has been the challenge.
How, if at all, has the current political climate affected you personally? Can you talk about any barriers your parents or you have faced?
Around every election season, Muslims are being used as a target for political gain. As a Muslim American mother, this has affected me in many ways, but it has more importantly affected my children. My older son came back home several times asking about what will happen to us if certain candidates won the elections. He asked me not to travel around November, because there is a possibility we may not be able to come back home.
Do you have any stories about how things have changed for the better? Or any stories that show how things have not changed?
Difficult times show the true essence of people. While a few have disappointed us, many showed up, and gave unsolicited support. Several people stopped me in public places to compliment my scarf, even though my scarf that day would be nothing special, but that’s a way of showing their solidarity. Many sent messages to let us know they’ll be there for us. Acts of compassion like these move me to the core.
Do you know where your family came from? If yes, what do you know about that history?
I was born and grew up in Jordan. I moved to the US. 11 years ago. I hail from a deep-rooted family in Amman, where strong values of family, loyalty, hospitality, and generosity were praised highly and passed on from generation to generation. We grew up hearing stories of men and women who sacrificed their lives for their friends, or their entire wealth to aid their dear ones.
What was it like living in your country of origin before you came to the United States?
I under appreciated my life there until I lived somewhere else. My life in Jordan was filled with joy and purity that I have taken for granted.
What were the circumstances that prompted your decision to immigrate to the United States?
I met my now husband on one of his visits to Amman; he has been living in the US for 20 years. He went to graduate school at GaTech. We had a distant relationship for a while and then decided to tie the knot. And that’s how I came to the US.
What kind of work did you engage in after arriving in the United States? Do you feel that you were treated fairly?
At the beginning I attended graduate school for my Masters degree, I didn’t get to complete as I had my first child. After that I was hired by Educational Testing Service. That was all before I joined the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, which opened so many doors for me in the world of interfaith. That’s how I grew in so many ways that could never have happened in my country of origin. Only in the US people come from different cultural and religious backgrounds not only to tolerate each other, but to celebrate this diversity and to get to know one another. I never felt in any of these experiences that I was treated unjustly.
What aspects of life in the United State have made the greatest impression on you?
Diversity and the mentality of inclusion. Diversity is generally celebrated here, in other places in the world, not very far from where I grew up, it can be a threat. Being different can cost one their lives.
What efforts have you made to maintain your cultural traditions in this country? Have you let go of some you did not feel represented you anymore?
Our great constitution guarantees the rights for every one, regardless of what they believe or how they practice, to live freely as they choose to. I am a strong believer that being an American and a Muslim are perfectly compatible identities. There are some cultural differences, and striking that balance can be tough at times. Yes I had to filter many of the cultural baggage I came with, retaining what works and archiving what doesn’t. But my challenges are not much different than many others who strive to stick to their values in an environment that increasingly encourages materialistic life style.
Do you plan to become a U.S. citizen?
I already am a US citizen and I am proud of that.
Do you ever travel to your country of origin?
Yes, I try to visit every year. All my family is there, and my kids love to visit.
What social organization/s do you belong to in this country?
The Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta and the Interfaith Speakers Network. Both are out reach organizations that aim to build bridges of understanding between people of different faiths and different cultures through education and answering questions.
What’s your best memory?
A personal letter that I received from President Obama, after I sent him a heartfelt thank you email for his visit and speech in the Baltimore Islamic Society in Feb 2016. I never thought in my wildest dreams that my email will actually get read, let alone be responded to. That’s a memory I’ll cherish and will tell to my children and grandchildren.
What has been the greatest challenge that you have faced living in this country?
Making meaningful, long lasting friendships. As humans we need strong social circle around us that we can depend on. When you don’t have family around friends become your family, and the possibility of building strong friendships is inversely proportional with age. That can be tough.
What has been your greatest achievement in this country?
The hundreds of presentations and seminars that I have given over that past 8 years in all different types of organizations and venues, to raise awareness about Muslims in the US, to dispel stereotypes, and to answer many questions from confused audiences, hearing from me about the peaceful teachings of Islam, yet seeing a contradicting image in the media. Recognition is nice, but what’s more rewarding are the sincere words of many individuals telling me that they’ll never see Muslims the same way after my talk.
What kinds of relationships do you maintain with people from other racial or ethnic groups in the United States?
Friendships that I’ll cherish for life; from neighbors, to colleagues, to families from kids schools. Interfaith and intercultural is a lifestyle for us. We breathe it day in and day out.