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When I was in the fifth grade, my last year of Catholic Community school in Baltimore city, I used to sit in church almost every other day and just look around at all the students and think why are we here?

Why do we sing to and ask someone we have never met, and never will meet, for peace and good health? I never felt comfortable in church and only went because school and my grandmother forced me to for years.

This morning I received an email from Emirates offering a round-trip and hotel package from Dulles to Dubai at a discounted rate. OH PLEASE CAN I GO?

The first time I boarded an Emirates 787 at Dulles International to go to Dubai I knew this was going to be the best trip I had ever taken thus far. Not only was it the longest flight I ever had to sit through but my favorite was as well.

Upon arrival I braced myself for the desert heat but never actually felt it until we had to catch the shuttle to our hotel.

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View of Dubai (Photo taken by Kayla Baines/ TU Student)

The airport is the cleanest and probably the most fancy airport I’ve ever seen. I remember thinking that if all of Dubai is like this I going to have trouble leaving.

I went everywhere I could go while I was there during Ramadan. I must admit, before my trip I was somewhere between Agnostic and Atheism without giving religions like Judaism and Islam much thought.

I spent a total of four days in Dubai and 27 days around the island of Cyprus in July. During the time, there were important events happening only hundreds of miles from me.

June 24- I arrived and spent all day in Dubai. Also that day the Syrian Arab Republic launched the first airstrikes over Iraq. I didn’t think much of the airstrikes at the time but I would on the way back to Dubai from Cyprus on July 27. Ten days after MH17.

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View of the Burj from said fancy French restaurant (Photo taken by Kayla Baines/ TU Student)

My first visit in Dubai was surprising. Going to the most fancy French restaurant ever (not in France), taking a cab ride in a Lexus, using the Metro to basically never go outside, being at the top of the worlds tallest building, and going into an Alexander McQueen store just because it’s there.

Ramadan is a big celebration and tradition and also a good time for tourists to go, I think. I learned so much about Islam as a religion and the overall culture of the richer side of the Middle East.

I did have trouble leaving Dubai for Cyprus.

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View from the lookout point/deck of the Burj (Photo taken by Kayla Baines/ TU Student)

However, Cyprus is and always will be my favorite island. This was my second trip but this time, I learned a lot more about the history of such a small island (I was there so long I actually was learning a good bit of Greek too).

The night of my birthday, my boyfriend took me to an outrageously expensive but delicious restaurant by the Venetian Walls in Nicosia. I’ll never forget at sundown when I heard Maghrib, the time of prayer in Islam at sunset. I didn’t hear this in Dubai. I did see Mosques there but I didn’t hear any prayer.

My boyfriend explained that we were right next to the green line in Nicosia between north and south and that the prayers are frequently heard from the north around here.

As the days went by in Cyprus tensions heated up again between Israel and Palestine and civilians started to die by the hundreds. It was crazy to think that I was so close to Syria, Israel and Palestine.

I loved being so close to the Middle East. As a journalism major, it was exciting to be in the same time zone and to follow news as it happened and on twitter.

By the time we get to the airport in Larnaca to travel back to Dubai I was excited to be back by the Persian Gulf. I wasn’t so excited to be flying over Iraq since at the time ISIL was blowing down Iraq from Syria. And after MH17 who knew what to expect.

That particular flight seemed longer than any transatlantic. Just before landing, literally moments before actual contact with the runway, our plane shoots back up into the sky and starts to fly towards the gulf.

A million thoughts ran through my head at this moment and no one has any idea as to what is going on. The toddler and infant the row above me in the middle isle to my right start screaming and crying. Their parents had awaken them for the landing but we did not land until 45 minutes later. The only thing we were told, if we asked, was that there was a problem on the runway.

We later found out from my boyfriend’s sister who works for Emirates that there was a miscommunication in landing and another plane was on the runway about to takeoff where we were landing. If they pilots did not react so quickly we would have crashed.

My mother objected to me going away for such a long time and to a Middle Eastern country of all places from the get-go so she’ll never known she almost lost her daughter in a potential plane crash on a runway.

My mother and her behavior and ideals towards the Middle East is one of the main reasons I am the way I am today.

Upon returning to Dulles Airport on a cloudy Saturday morning I couldn’t wait to tell my whole family about my trip.

No one in my family has ever been to Europe. My great, great, great, great grandmother and grandfather left southern Ireland in the 1830’s and no one has even wanted to go back across the Atlantic since, except for me.

However, it is not Europe my family has a problem with, but the Middle East. Namely the religion of Islam. As the saying goes, you’ll always fear what you don’t understand and my mom proves that in every way in her behavior towards Islam.

Instead of wanting to hear about my trip she chastised me for going and backed her argument up with recent events from the Islamic State and how dangerous the area is.

She didn’t want to hear about how Dubai was the most safe, open and luxurious place I’ve actually ever been to. She didn’t want to see my mini Burj Khalifa model or even look at pictures.

My family’s lack of understanding only made me want to learn more. So a month later in my fall semester at Towson University I added an Islamic Ethics class to my schedule. Not only that, I did a feature story about Towson’s chapter of the Muslim Student Association and did a 7-week-long digital publishing project on the Islamic State- focusing on the misunderstandings of the religion and ISIS’s use of propaganda and social media.

Some family members called me a Muslim lover and asked me if I was going to be a Muslim from now on. My family is catholic but most are the kind of Catholic that may go to church on Christmas and Easter and that’s it. However, even though their barely religious they still believe that Christianity is the best and Islam is violent and because of that only breeds terrorists.

The ignorance of Islam is huge here and I was determined to learn as much as I could and form my own opinion.

My parents believe that I don’t think Islam is violent only because I’ve been to ONE CITY in the Middle East that is made for tourists so nothing bad happens there.

Well I disagree. I believe after a bunch of reading for my digital publishing project, research papers for that Islamic ethics class- taught to me by a Marine Veteran, who was in Iraq for a total of three years- and reporting on the MSA that is how I know Islam doesn’t breed violence.

As apart of my reporting for MSA one day I sat in on one prayer (out of 5) to get the experience of it, but also to get good pictures for my blog.

(Members of the MSA in prayer. Photo by: Kayla Baines/ TU Student)

(Members of the MSA in prayer. Photo by: Kayla Baines/ TU Student)

Although I do not speak a lick of Arabic (but I really wish I did and will one day!) and couldn’t understand the prayer I actually felt welcomed there. It was a small but crowded room and I got there early with the vice president and adviser and every single person that walked in smiled at me. Not even joking. No one gave me a dirty look like I didn’t belong, no one asked me what the hell I was doing on a Friday afternoon and no one told me I should leave.

Just like sitting in church all those years ago I wondered why they were praying to Allah but I decided it doesn’t matter. I’m not the type of person who judges people based on their beliefs. Yes I am very curious about their beliefs and always will be but I do not think lesser of people who believe in one or many Gods.

And going to Dubai didn’t make me have a special tolerance for Islam. It made me want to become an on ground reporter in the Middle East.

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