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Today we start a wonderful new series on Newry.ie in conjunction with the Community Relations Council "A Teenagers Perspective - From Syria to Newry and Everything in Between"

We will dip into the experiences of 15 year old Inas Abdulrazzaq who was born in Syria but has spent a significant portion of her young life here in Newry. We find It is always useful to look at life from someone elses perspective!

We begin with her talking about her home town.

Inas

Aleppo

Aleppo is a city in northwestern Syria which lies about 30 miles south of Syria’s border with Turkey, it was my hometown.

Before the war, it was absolutely beautiful with so much life in it, all u had to do was open your window and look down and see crowds of people with a lot of noise.

it was a big difference when I moved to Newry because even if you were to go to the city centre you’ll barely see much going on. In 2010 Allepo had a population of 4.6 million which is 4 times more people than Northern Ireland’s population combined!

In Syria, Aleppo is known for “the city that doesn’t sleep” that’s because you will see people at 3 am doing their shopping and day to day things, they love staying up.

It is obviously a very warm country as it’s located in the Middle East of Asia with the normal of 50 degrees nowadays.

Inas in Allepo.

The President is called Bashar al Assad, he is hugely disliked by the population long before the war. Many people protested to kick him out, I’ve witnessed many protests but that actually resulted in the war, which you’ll hear about later on. You don’t have the right to vote who you want as the President it’s more like an heir like a King and Queen of England. No one can choose who they would like as it’s whoever is next in the blood line that takes over, Bashar's dad died there so he became President.

Aleppo. Photograph: Syrian Ali/ Wikimedia Commons

As you may or may not know although majority of the population was Muslim there was a number of Christians too, and there would be so many things going on during Christmas.

Aleppo is known for its soap and pistachios nuts, which are sold around the world. Silk weaving, textiles, and pharmaceuticals once made up a significant portion of Aleppo’s economy.

“Where do you feel at home?” Or “would you consider yourself Irish or Syrian” is a question I get a lot and the answer to that is neither! I don’t think I’m Irish as I have a completely different culture and religion than everyone around me but at the same time I don’t feel Syrian because I moved out at 6 years of age and if I were to go back now I wouldn’t feel at home as I grew up here, I wouldn’t feel at home as I don’t have any friends there and It wouldn’t feel like home.

I don’t feel like I fit in in any country , that’s the only downside of it.

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The journey from Syria which ultimately took me to Newry, no doubt many people would expect to be traumatic, and for most people it was, but as for me I was lucky enough and got it easier than others.

Inas enjoyed her time in Turkey. As a child it would have been quite an adventure in some ways.
Inas enjoyed her time in Turkey. As a child it would have been quite an adventure in some ways.

I didn’t experience the war as I had gotten out of the country in 2012 which was just before the war started, many fled the country in order to be safe but in my case I fled as my dad has been working in Northern Ireland since 2005, therefor we came here to be with him, to be a family.

There was war happening all over Syria but it still hadn’t reached Aleppo yet so we weren’t in much rush, but one day a shooting happened and we all decided to sit in the hall way as there was no windows there, so if a bullet was to ever go through no one would get hurt ... And we were right one bullet did go through the living room window although luckily no one was hurt by it. That was when we packed our bags in a rush and drove to the countryside of Aleppo where we had a house that we use to go to during the summer,

I was so emotionally attached to a doll that I made my mum go back to the city to get it for me and there she found our house bombed. I still have that doll right here beside me. We stayed there for a while and my dad got us to move to Turkey to get a visa in order to come and live here.

We stayed in Turkey for a few months until our visa arrived and for me and my brother who were 5 and 6 at the time it was fun for us, we went to the park all the time made new friends had fun, after all Turkey is a very beautiful country. But for my mum it was constant stress thinking “are things going to be okay?” - “How much longer do we have to wait?”

As well, us living in a hotel obviously wasn’t ideal but it was temporary and we never ended up getting a house. Our visa’s finally came and we went to the airport and flew to Belfast airport where we saw my dad waiting for us to take us home to Newry.

This was October 2012 and I went into P3 in November 2012 while my brother went into P2 also at the same date. Everyone was so friendly in our primary school (Windsor Hill Primary School) and we didn’t feel left out.

It took 3 planes to get there but I feel like I was luckier than others, as a lot of people died trying to escape the war and had to go through it and still are to this day. I think everyone including myself should be grateful for the conditions they are in.

Inas Abdulrazzaq - A Teenagers Perspective

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 Since Eid is around the corner I’m dedicating this article to the festival.

Inas Abdulrazzaq
Inas Abdulrazzaq

The word 'Eid' means 'feast' or 'festival'. Each year Muslims celebrate both Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha - but the names often get shortened to just 'Eid', which is why it can be confusing.

Eid Al-Fitr - which means 'festival of the breaking of the fast - is celebrated at the end of Ramadan, month when many Muslims fast. Eid Al-Adha - which means 'feast of the sacrifice' - is celebrated just over two months later, at the same time as when many Muslims perform the Hajj. Every year, approximately 3 million Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj.

Eid Al-Adha coincides with the end of Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and is generally considered the holier of the two. Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime activity that is a duty for those who can afford it, and who haven't already performed it.

Eid Al Adha is a celebration to honour the Prophet Abraham's willingness to listen to what Allah had asked him to do, which was to kill his own son. Abraham was willing to do that as he had so much faith in God and as he was about to do so angel Gabriel sent down a lamb and told him to kill it instead and eat it with his family. This proved Abraham’s faith and trust in God so during Eid Al Adha Muslims slaughter a lamb in remembrance and if can’t do so, like in western countries, you send money to the Middle East so someone can do it for you.

During Eid people go to the mosque (Islamic church) and pray and go and have a meal with their family and spend time with each other, basically like Christmas. Those who live in Newry or Northern Ireland generally don’t have family living here so we go out with friends and family to a park or ice skating and have a meal together.

Both Eids and Ramadan dates change every year because the Islamic calendar is lunar, meaning each month begins with the new astronomical moon. As lunar months are shorter than solar, the Islamic calendar does not correspond with the Gregorian calendar which is followed in the west and means Ramadan and Eid occurs around 11 days earlier each year. This years Eid is on the 19th of July.

Since there is nothing going on here for it in Newry and we don’t have other family over here we’ve decided to go to Let’s Go Hydro in Carryduff and have dinner with friends. Eid use to be really boring when we first moved to Newry but now we’ve found ways to make it work.

Inas Abdulrazzaq - A Teenagers Perspective

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As some people don’t actually know about Islam, especially Newry as it is a small city with not many people from different religions, I have based this weeks story explaining it.

The Quran

The word “Islam” means submissions to the will of God, it comes from the Arabic word “Salam” which means peace.

To be a Muslim you must believe in the following 5 things: 1: There is no other God but God himself and you shall not worship anyone other than him; 2: You must believe in all of the Prophets and that Muhammad was the last of the Prophets; 3: Believe in the angels of God; 4: Believe in all the books of God which are the Bible, Quran and Tanak; 5: The day of judgement which is the day that happens after everyone is dead and  must go to either heaven or hell.

There are many things that were made mandatory in Islam but here’s the 5 pillars or “main”things

1: Belief that there is no other God but God and that Muhammad is the last messenger

2: Your 5 daily prayers

3: Alms, giving at least 2.5% of your money to the poor each year

4: Fasting during the month of Ramadan

5: Going to Hajj in Mecca if you are financially and medically capable at least once in your lifetime.

The main difference between Islam and Christianity is that Christians believe Jesus in the son of God while Muslims believe that Jesus was a Prophet because God can’t have a child and that you shouldn’t worship anyone other than God. 

Living in a majority Christian country can be difficult as no one around you believes in what you believe in.

Sometimes it’s hard to hold on to your faith, especially as a teenager living in Newry which is only a small town, dressing modest, no drinking, no eating pork because swine are not clean, therefore God made it forbidden not only in Islam but in Christianity and Judaism too,

Everything normalised here isn’t normal to my family or my religion but this world is just a test, the real life is the after life, so with that mindset you’ll know that even though it’s hard it’s worth it in the end.

Inas Abdulrazzaq - A Teenagers Perspective

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 I think for someone my age, living in Newry can be boring, as it is a small city - although I’d consider it a town.

Inas Abdulrazzaq

I don’t have many hobbies even though I did do piano, swimming, horse riding, hockey, netball and dancing but I quit them all at a young age and that would probably be my biggest regret as now that I’m older I don’t have hobbies that I’m interested in - just put me on Netflix and I’ll sit there for ages.

But there can be fun things to do, like go-karting, tennis, going out for a meal, frozen yogurt, and when it’s summer you go and pier jump/swim in a lake.

What I like about Newry is that everyone is close to each other in school, or at least the year groups, as there isn’t many people, so in a way we become family.

Everything is walking distance so good for us lazy people and I love how friendly most people are here. In a way I feel like it’s so much better than living in Belfast as there’s so much more problems going on there.

What I don’t like about Newry is simply how boring it can get, after all it isn’t that big so not many people and not many things to do. If I was to go out, mostly it would just be out for food.

My favourite place in Newry would probably be Friscos, the sit in is so cosy and it’s just a nice place to hang about with your friends and their deserts are really nice too!

I meet up with friends often and even though there isn’t much to do we love each others company.

Overall I think Newry is a small friendly  environment and I feel like it’s become home to me now. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else even though I do moan about it being boring I still love it and I feel like others think the same. I wouldn’t change anything about Newry , I think it’s perfect just the way it is.

Inas Abdulrazzaq - A Teenagers Perspective

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Where do I feel at home? The short answer to that question is right here in Newry which may be a surprise to some, as Aleppo was the place I was born in but it’s not the place I grew up in, it’s not the place I have memories in, it’s not the place I made friends in.

Inas Abdulrazzaq
Inas Abdulrazzaq

Newry was that place which is why it feels like home. The biggest struggle about moving to another country with completely different religious and cultural background is fitting in. I don’t fit in with Syrian's as my Arabic isn’t as good as theirs, I can’t read and write in Arabic easily. I’ve no memories to relate to them back in Syria, I don’t listen to the same music as them and I don’t think exactly the same way as most people back there too.

Though at the same time I don’t fit in here too. I’m a completely different religion with a completely different culture and language, the normal that is here isn’t normal back there and the normal over there isn’t the normal here.

Why would you try so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out!

So where do people like me fit in? They don’t fit in their home country and they don’t fit in here, so where do they fit in? I don’t know myself but a quote that I found inspiring was “Why would you try so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out”.

It’s a bigger struggle than most people realise and it’s hard to find a balance between the two. What I like about being from two different places is that I feel like I’m more understanding as I have knowledge as well as experience from two cultural backgrounds and that could be good as it makes you unique and non judgemental as you have an understanding of how people from different backgrounds think. You also have celebrations such as Eid and Christmas that you get to experience - The more the better!

It was a thing I struggled with but now, not so much as I’ve learned to embrace it and cope with it.  I can now balance the two and I’m very thankful to have experiences of two different worlds - Now that’s something not everyone can say!

Inas Abdulrazzaq - A Teenagers Perspective

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This weeks story is about Ramadan as not many people in Newry know much about it or it’s purpose!

Photo by Indonesia Bertauhid on Unsplash

 Ramadan is a month of worship and self improvement, Muslims are expected to put in more effort in practising Islam. You fast during this month from dawn until sunset. Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan? Same as Catholics fasting during Lent… It’s to get closer to God through prayer and contemplation.

You also have to do charity during this month and you are supposed to give 2.5% of your money to the poor each year. Most people do it during Ramadan as it’s a holy month. Catholic’s cut out one certain thing in their diet while Muslims don’t eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset and then break their fast by dinner with their families so there is some similarities between the two.

You may think that not eating or drinking anything for that long is harmful for your body but in fact it is very good for you as your body becomes more energetic and your memory and concentration improves greatly at this stage. The organs are finished up their healing process and once all toxins are removed, the body is able to function at its maximum capacity and makes it stronger fighting diseases. In my opinion I think the reason God made this mandatory is because if he didn’t then no one would do it because who doesn’t like food.

In my family we pray during the whole year but during this month we pray more as it’s a month of worship. I also help mum cook and set up the table ready to have dinner at sunset.

It is more difficult to fast in Newry than it was back in Aleppo as not only is everyone eating and drinking around you while your fasting but Ramadan is around summer these past few years and the sun doesn’t set until 10:30 pm here while it set at 6 pm back there.

But I believe it’ll be worth it as our reward in the after life will be greater as it was harder for us.

Inas Abdulrazzaq - A Teenagers Perspective

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I don’t know what anyone else thinks but in my personal opinion no, I don’t think there is racism in Newry.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

I've not experienced any racism whatsoever although i've seen some rare occasions where old men would come up to people from a different background and ask rude racist questions or comments and make them feel very uncomfortable but it doesn’t happen often, or to the point where anyone would think Newry is a racist city.

I guess you could say that’s another positive about living in a smaller city as there isn’t as many problems going on as there would be in Belfast or London.

Newry is just a simple city with a friendly community. Near enough every stranger that walks past you in town smiles at you no matter where you are from or what colour your skin is and I think that’s a thing that not many people realise is wholesome as you wouldn’t see that happening often in large cities.

The downside to it though is there aren't many different backgrounds here. From my own knowledge I think we have mainly Romanian, Polish and Lithuanian here and obviously there’s some Syrians joining but not many.  I’d say 99% of the population here in Newry is Christian, so the ones from different backgrounds do stand out and you can’t really blame the people here as they are just not used to it, they don’t know much about different religions or cultures so anything different from theirs can confuse them and may cause them to ask a few questions, but don’t take offence at that, instead educate them! They are not racist or rude they are curious.

Who knows maybe in the near future there will be more people coming in and introducing different cultures that I don’t even know myself, that way we can all learn about different nationalities.

Now what are your thoughts …?

Inas Abdulrazzaq - A Teenagers Perspective

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What I like about Newry High School is that there are many people with different race/ethnicity, religions, cultures etc.

It's unlike other schools in Newry which are near enough all Irish Catholics,

I feel the cultural mix at Newry High makes it a more understanding and welcoming community as well as giving pupils  better knowledge of other peoples culture.

There are quite a few Muslim pupils who have recently joined although it’s nowhere near the numbers you would find at schools in England. I think in the near future it will most likely become even more mixed than it already is.

When it comes to pupil nationalities, from my own knowledge I'd say there are Irish, English, Lithuanian, Polish, Syrian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Brazilian, French, Spanish and Russian. There certainly could be a few that I've missed but these are the ones I can think of right now and when you look at it that is actually quite a lot of different backgrounds, all in one school! I don't think you would see that in any other schools in Newry?

There isn’t really anything done differently in Newry High compared to other schools, at least that I know of. It's really just the same, we just have more people from different backgrounds.

I don't think there are any additional facilities in my school to help different faiths practise their religion but that's not so much of a problem for me as I can do that when I get home but others may wish to have that available.

Some of my friends do have different backgrounds although all of us were raised here while other friends are all originally from Newry, but they’re very understanding and not judgemental at all.

I think all schools should be open to the idea of having a mixed school as it gives teenagers more knowledge on others and may help in adult life when your working with people from different backgrounds.

Inas Abdulrazzaq - A Teenagers Perspective

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