Meet the Bloggers: Reem Esseghir
March 17, 2019
Written by Samantha Wiedner
This week we decided to take a break from the usual blog and interview one of our very own bloggers!
Reem, 17, is a high school junior from New Jersey who is a current blogger for the Abdelkader Education Project (AEP) and a 2017 Abdelkader Global Leadership Prize winner. She has many different interests ranging from writing to international relations. Reem has a passion for gender equality and equal education globally. She even founded a club at her school called Empower that works to raise awareness and funds for girls’ education. To learn more about international relations, she participates in Model UN conferences. She feels that it is important to understand how other countries work, especially now with social media giving people more exposure to what is happening around the world. According to Reem, being a Model UN member has given her an opportunity to learn about those countries, their different stances, and why they take those stances. Through understanding, people can learn how to solve the problems between countries. In her free time, she is the editor of the school newspaper and an instructor at the local tutoring center.
Samantha: How did you first find out about the Abdelkader Education Project?
Reem:My dad brought it up to me because we’re Algerian. I think he was doing some research about it and he just stumbled upon your organization online. He found the [essay] contest and he told me to do it. I wasn’t really that interested in it because I was in high school and was stressed about other things. But once I got to reading The Compassionate Warriorby Elsa Marston and did some extra research on the side, along with all of the things that were going on in 2016, I just thought that it was really important to write that essay, and so I did.
S:What do you think was the most impactful thing that you learned from your participation in the essay contest or in your research while preparing to write the essay?
R:It was mostly just how, even though Emir Abdelkader was from such a long time ago, he still has such a great impact today. And, as we saw in his story, he wasn’t just a social justice warrior, he was an actual warrior, a fighter, and he was also really educated and was a scholar in so many different subjects. At the same time, he was a diplomat and a leader of his people, and he just effected so many people at that time, to the point where he reached the United States and they named a town after him. I think that really resonated with me when I was writing my essay because it was close to the election and there was a lot of xenophobia and islamophobia happening and just prejudice towards Muslim and towards minorities in general, and yet a town in the United States was named after a Muslim. Named after someone who has such value of justice, equality, and fairness– and that those values belonged in the United States. These values that are Islamic and are of Emir Abdelkader, are a part of American values and so we should accept others regardless of race, religion, minority, or anything else.
S:Is that why you wanted to stay involved with the organization beyond the essay contest, or was there something else?
R:Attending the forum and getting to meet Kathy, you, and all of the other winners. It really made me want to stay and help in whatever way I can, even though, as we saw today with the tragedy that happened in New Zealand, these things do exist, and honestly, they are getting worse. It’s shocking that it’s still happening and the response, though it has been widely positive and people commemorating those lives that were lost and calling for a change or different laws or different views, you know there were still people who said that these actions were justified or were coming from a place that was normal. I thought that the mission of this organization is to fight that. I believe in the mission statement it says, “to transcend cultural boundaries” and so I think that is really important, especially in times like today.
S:Do you feel as though you are making a difference with the work that you do with AEP?
R:So far, I am involved in writing for the blog. I’ve had the opportunity to write about different holidays in Islam. I am also an outreach assistant for the Abdelkader Prize for Educators. I enjoy doing what I am doing, especially with the blog writing, even though I have only written on one topic. I do think it is important because different holidays in the United States are very commercialized and people don’t know about Islamic holidays. It is important to spread the word about that and to educate people on a general background about what their neighbors believe in. I’ve been in contact with a few schools for my outreach position and enjoy spreading the message of Emir Abdelkader and AEP, as well as showing people the opportunities that the project is offeringI wish I could do more, but time constraints only allow me to do so much.
S:What have you learned from the work you do with AEP or an experience that you have had?
R:You know, there is a general idea of what the Midwest is like and that is predominately white and there are different prejudices and views that people have of that area and so going, I was a little hesitant. But the moment I landed in the airport, everyone was just so friendly, even people who were not related to the organization at all. Though I do wear a headscarf and am very obviously Muslim, that wasn’t something that I had to face there. And even going to the conference, the majority of the people there were not Muslim, it was amazing to see people of different religions and backgrounds. There were people who are religious and political leaders, and people who are from different nonprofits and NGOs and different things like that, and they were all coming together in honor of this one man. There was so much great discussion and conversation that was happening that was really important. After seeing that, I think that was a really big factor in me wanting to work with the organization.
S:What do you think makes AEP different from other organizations?
R:I think what makes it special is that although your organization is focused on emulating the characteristics of one man, it’s still tries to, and it does, cover so many different issues. There are so many things happening today and AEP does a good job of hitting all of them. I know that through the blog and contests, it really does do that. Other organizations have one goal in mind, and they tend to stick to that goal, whereas AEP does a good job of branching out and getting in contact and partnerships with different people. I just heard from Kathy that they are working with ISNA (the Islamic Society of North America) on features in magazines, which is really important. Not many people know about AEP and that magazine has great outreach, so I think that is really important. There is no limit to what the organization tries to do.
S:Has AEP influenced your life or changed your views on anything?
R:It made me more open minded, I’m Algerian and I didn’t know who he was. I knew his name, but I didn’t know his actual story or influence until I became involved in the essay contest and your organization. Working with you and Kathy, and just going to that one forum really changed my views on a lot of things.
S:Any closing thoughts before we go?
R: It is important for people to really open their minds, and I think that the Abdelkader Education Project is doing a good job of doing that through their work. New Zealand is a constant reminder that no matter how much work you do, these views are still present in our society. It is a constant reminder, that even though we are trying our best there is always room to work harder. With the example of Emir Abdelkader, as we saw in his story, he wasn’t just a military or a political leader, he wasn’t just a diplomat or a scholar, he exceled in everything that he did, hard at it, and fought for what he believed in and on behalf of his people. It’s important that we take those characteristics and apply it to our own lives. When people talk about Islam as a religion of violence, it really is just a matter of ignorance. If people just opened the holy book or talked to a Muslim, they would know that this is the truth. Your assumptions about someone are never true until you actually talk to them and try to learn about them, that is why education is so important. He didn’t just learn about Islam and the traditions of ruling, he learned about veterinary science and Greek philosophy. His father made sure that he traveled to different cities so he could learn about everything. That allowed him, when he was talking to the French, to always look for a way to forgive them for their actions. I think that is something that many people forget, even though he was being imprisoned by them, he looked and tried to formulate excuses for them, to the point where he became well known amongst the French as someone who was good. His own captors knew him as a good and compassionate person. And that led to his release, which they [the French] celebrated.
The Abdelkader Education Project hopes to bring understanding and mutual appreciation between different cultures through education. To learn more about the Abdelkader Prize for Educators, please go to https://www.abdelkaderproject.org/educator-contests/. We have also been featured in the Islamic Horizon’s magazine and will continue to publish articles with them. You can read previous publications from their magazine at http://www.isna.net/islamic-horizons-magazine/.
Want to read more from Reem? Check out her blog post from February and keep an eye out for upcoming pieces by her!
Samantha Wiedner is a 2016 Abdelkader Global Leadership Prize winner and editor of the AEP Blog.
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