Rehab Jamaledin Maghribi is 63 years old and arrived in London in the UK in 1975. She had recently married and planned to build a family with her husband, and gave birth to three daughters. When she first arrived in the UK, she was kept busy bringing up her children and looking after the home. She, also had her civil work with her husband at the time.
She assisted her husband at work as a administrator. The work was supporting grants and providing assistance to Arab youth who were unable to complete their education. They also set up social and cultural activities for a non-profit organisation in the UK.
Rehab faced problems communicating due to the language barrier. At first, she was embarrassed to make mistakes. Later on, she learned the language and overcame this problem. She says, “I took courses at British institutions to strengthen my English language, and some other courses such computer skills and sewing, which were run for mothers and the unemployed. These things helped me to interact with British people later.” Nevertheless, after so many years in the UK, Rehab regrets that due to the nature of her husband's work with the Arabs she did not mix a lot with British people and did not enter their world or get to know them well.
Rehab says that there was a period in Britain between 1975 and 1985, when British people were not prepared to make friends with foreigners. However, during parents’ meetings, at her children’s schools, there was an opportunity for limited communication with British people without actual engagement. Rehab thinks that the reason for the delay in integration was that the social environment she was used to in Syria was different and she needed time to adjust.
Rehab was impressed by the general social environment in Britain. She adhered to the polite customs that people follow there. She says, "I adapted very well to the country and admired its system and all its values. I liked the cleanliness and the etiquette. This made me feel very comfortable and I felt I should follow suit.”
She says: “The education in Damascus and in our family was essential, but not all of it. In our country, you can throw waste on the floor without caring. After my first six months here, I went to Damascus and was surprised and could not accept the idea of throwing something on the floor." In her opinion, integration is not only based on friendship but also the ability to adapt and feel comfortable in the country. Every city has its own lifestyle, even within the same country.
Rehab also felt that she was British before obtaining citizenship. She says, "I felt that I was one of them for a long time. The only thing that made feel frustrated was the language. This is my complex to some extent because I have never felt less than them as British and never felt different from them. The only difference between me and them is when I speak English I speak it with a special accent.” Rehab stresses here that her children have a big role in her existence in this country “because it became my children's homeland and I must be part of it."
Rehab worked together with her husband to establish the Arab identity in her home, as this was a concern of hers. Every summer, she sent her daughters to Syria for three months in order to learn the Arabic language and mix with Syrian society to maintain customs and traditions. She says, “Our aim was to teach them their origins. I used to tell my daughters, “don’t think that you are English or will become English. You will be British but not English as long as you carry your family name " Al-Maghribi". So be proud of your background and accept this country in which you live so that you don’t lose your identity – this is very important. There are many people who present themselves as English and forget their own language and background but the English reject them and this may cause a loss for those people."
Religion was not an obstacle to Rehab and her family, and she does not consider herself a fanatic. She says, "I have no problem with other religions or with people who are not believers at all. Our religion is Islam. There are some people, who insist on teaching their children religion but this is not something we did in our family - we are somewhat secular Muslims."
Rehab admits that going to the mosque in London, for example, was for "occasions and holidays. We used to take our children to the feast and introduce them to Eid prayers and the traditions that take place after the prayer, such as gathering together, offering sweets and congratulations etc. These are the ceremonies I like because they are social ones and this is what interests me personally in religion.”
Rehab notes that during her years in Britain, she did not encounter any racist attitudes. She considers that the most important thing for foreigners is to respect the country’s law. She says, “I did so and knew their way of life. They will feel at ease with your presence, and in return, you will be comfortable with the local people. You are free to do whatever you want in your house. Nobody has the right to judge you there. But outside your house you must follow the country’s law. I see this as the pinnacle of civilisation."