Ammar Al Sheakh

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Stories of Belonging,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Cyprus
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I'm Ammar Khaled Al-Sheakh, a Syrian who came here from Sham four years ago. I fled Syria in 2016 when the situation was bad and came to Cyprus where I live now. I had many reasons to travel, most notably military service, so I came here at 26 years old and now I am 30.

I worked in restaurants in Syria. We had a food shop and my partner and I worked in it. Then some problems occurred and my partner died. I fled and left the country and studied computer science. I came to this country because I felt I would have an opportunity here and that, God willing, it would work out for me.

It was difficult to adapt to this situation at first. I felt like I was experiencing depression. I remained firm, consistent and strong by keeping my faith in God. God gave me strength and helped me to set my mind straight. I tried to get married, to get a house and to make changes in my life, even small ones. It was important to change something. I tried to bring a woman over from Syria to live with her. I could not and there were many problems with her entry into this country and getting her here was difficult. She couldn't get in and I lost a lot of money on that. It was hard because I had saved that money for two years but I kept my faith that something good would come. Something came to me like an inspiration to change my thinking process and everything I was convinced of. Everything I believed in was wrong and I had to get out of the very narrow way of thinking that had been imposed on me by my parents and society.

I learned from all my social relationships in Syria, my family and friends. My relationships were very good in Syria since I am a person who is considered to be socially intelligent. I have the ability to talk to anyone and I have no problem with either the old or the young. For example, in Syria, I had many friends of different age groups between the ages of 10 and 40. I was loved, thank God, and therefore I wanted to experience the same here, the same social life I had had in Syria.

However, it was very hard and I was not able to manage it because it was not the same as back home. I was not able to talk to people as I had spoken to those who share my mother tongue, Arabic. This was very difficult because I worked in several Arab shops here for two years or a little more. After this period, change was necessary and I decided to change my way of living in order to be able to adapt.

I tried to change my ideas. First of all, the mindset society had imposed on me. I changed it all. I had the opportunity to work here in a bakery in Cyprus. I was able to work with the Cypriots and I met a beautiful girl who I am married to now and we are expecting a baby. I started to engage in her social groups and with her parents but it was very difficult.

All people have challenges and they all try to overcome these. For me, one of the biggest challenges was to get close to my wife's family. It was very difficult for me because they rejected me due to my situation and they were not interested in even getting to know me.

When I first met my wife and our love story started, she told her parents about me. They they rejected me completely and her mother harassed us with her words and pressured my wife telling her, ‘No, you should not marry a Muslim!’

That was annoying to me and I felt that people were against me and I wondered why. I love all people regardless, Muslim, Christian or whatever. I live in this community and I never thought that it was either Christian or Muslim. I go to the mosque and my wife goes to the church, what is the problem?

My wife left her family home and came to my house and started living with me. Her mother was really annoyed and did not want her to leave the house. I tried to get to know them at the beginning but they did not pay any attention to my efforts and they did not approach me or even talk to me. I tried again and again and even brought them gifts. On one of my visits, they like the gifts. I tried to show them that I would like to be part of the family, that there was no need for problems. The only obstacle was my religion as I am a Muslim.

Once, I invited them to a restaurant and we sat together with both of my wife’s parents present. We talked about many subjects, including religion. When we got to this subject, my wife’s mother pointed out that she had rejected me at first because I am Muslim and explained that they do not like Turks and that all Muslims are Turks. I tried to change her mind about Muslims, telling her that whether we are Muslims, Christians or Jews we are all human and that as a human I should be dealt with humanly and not based on my religion. I said that my religion was for me and that it was impossible for me to impose something from my religion or for them to impose something from theirs. I said that God lies within the heart. My wife felt sorry for my mother-in-law as the subject was very difficult for her and she couldn’t get over it. The subject remained in her mind until we sat together again and started talking about the same subject. My mother-in-law said, “I gave you my daughter, I gave you a piece of mine, and you are a Muslim”. It was frightening for her, she was afraid of me, and I tried to show her that we are all human, and that our relationship didn’t have to be like this.

The conversation went like this. She said, “You know what the Turks have done?”

I said, “Yes, I know”.

She said, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings…”

I said, “No, I want you to talk about everything on your mind. I want to be one family after this discussion, and to finally reach peace”.

She agreed to talk and we talked a lot then cried. She said to me that she did not want me because of my religion and I tried to explain  my view to her quietly.

After I let her talk for about half an hour then asked her permission to speak. I said, “The difference between us is how we treat each other. If I treat you well, I am a good person. If I treat you badly, I am a bad person. My wife and I intend to build a family. Is it not reasonable for me to build a family? I could say to my wife that we will not have anything to do with your family and she would agree and do what I tell her to because she is my wife. But I do not want that. I want to be one family. I want to feel that I have a family here. It is very difficult to feel alone and it is also difficult to feel that I don't have a family or a place to belong to and nobody to count on. If my wife does something wrong in the future, I want to be able to tell her parents what is going on between us so they can help us. It is expected that problems will occur, especially as my wife is eight years younger than me. She should have someone who helps, guides and understands her. All I want is to be one family, believe me”. After I had finished talking and explaining my view to her, my wife's mother said, “You are a very special person, and thank God my daughter has a husband like you”. I thanked her a lot and told her that I hoped that this country and this region would be our country and our religion. I said that I did not want to feel like a stranger among them but be one of them. My wife's mother really liked that and said we could always visit them at their house. Our relationship has since become very strong and to this day we visit each other. I felt I had a family here, a family and friends. All my life changed when I felt I had a family and was part of this community and felt their love.

For me, belonging is the most important thing because I could not work or even give back to this society until I became part of it and  loved the country. I want to contribute to this society and I intend to serve it. I am happy with my family and I want to live with them with happiness and appreciation.

God willing, your days are all loving.