This spring, Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania law school hosted 37 professional women from the Middle East for a four-week legal and business fellowship program. Depending on their professional experience, the women attended classes at Wharton executive education or the law school, and then began five-month internships with large companies and top-tier law firms across the U.S.
The program, funded by the U.S. Department of State Middle East Partnership Initiative and supported by America-Mideast Educational and Training Services (AMIDEAST), teaches management, business and legal skills, and encourages women to share information and network with each other as well as faculty.
Knowledge at Wharton asked three women from the program to talk about their experiences in the U.S. as well as in their home countries, and to offer their views on such topics as workplace ethics, business opportunities for women and the role of Islam in society. Bothayna Alromaihi, 22, is a legal researcher from Qatar who received her undergraduate law degree from Durham University in the UK. Amani Zaid, 26, from Yemen, majored in computer science at the University of Jordan and works in logistics for Canadian Nexen, an oil company. She is also a partner in a real estate magazine that is in the process of being launched. Doua Mansour, 25, from the West Bank, graduated with a degree in political science from An Najah National University. She is working as a marketing manager in an advertising company called A to Z, where she helps to set and implement strategy.
Below is an edited version of the conversation.
Knowledge at Wharton: Is it unusual for women from your country or area to come to a program like the one you are attending here?
Alromaihi: Ten yearsago, it would have been very strange for a woman to go abroad on her own. But now it is more common. It’s still seen as, “Oh, she’s going abroad,” but it’s accepted a lot more than it was before.
Knowledge at Wharton: Amani, in Yemen is that true for you as well?
Zaid: Yes. We have programs and internships [with different universities] that have gone a long way in terms of helping women to study abroad for their Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees.
Knowledge at Wharton: Are there any restrictions placed on you when you go home, in terms of what you are able to do with what you have learned here?
Mansour: It depends on what you want to do. Sometimes in the community, or in my case, in my country, it’s harder. You can do whatever you want — but you have to work much harder than anybody else, especially men. You have to give triple effort and you need to have many skills.
You must have the contacts; you must have the dedication. [Being older] helps. This is because for women in my country, it is harder to make our decisions when we are relatively young. The family intervenes all of the time. But it gets easier when you are older and independent, especially financially. Besides, we have the occupation, which makes life for both men and women … very difficult.
Knowledge at Wharton: Does your family have any objections to what you are doing?
Mansour: I guess they gave up, because all of my life I have been used to being independent. Of course they ask a lot of questions. They wanted to know the details of the entire program — what it is, how long it is for [and so forth]. In my community, it’s not that easy for a girl to live alone or to travel alone, and to be far away from the family for so long.
The community always asks questions; we have that mentality that the family is the security network for the girl. And if the girl is living away from the family, it is perceived that she cannot manage herself alone and that she will face all kinds of problems. But you will always manage if you believe in what you are doing and if you’re determined to achieve what you want. You will always find a way out.
Knowledge at Wharton: Do you live alone?
Mansour: Yes. After I finished at the University, I started working. My family lives in one city and I live in another city — and it isn’t that easy. Sometimes they give me a really hard time. They have asked me to go back and live with them.
Knowledge at Wharton: Amani, how has that worked for you?
Zaid: Well, it’s almost impossible to live alone.
Knowledge at Wharton: You do or you don’t?
Zaid: No, I don’t and I don’t have to, because my work is in the same city and in the same place. I do all of my work here, in the capital, so I don’t have to [live alone]. But if I did, that would be a disaster.
Knowledge at Wharton: Because?
Zaid: Because people judge you. You will start to get a bad reputation and they will think, “Why would she do that?” Basically it’s harder for them to accept that you are working. It’s not that common.
Knowledge at Wharton: Do you live with your family?
Zaid: I do live with my family. They are actually very supportive in terms of this program. I also traveled to study at the University in Jordan and they were very supportive then as well.
Knowledge at Wharton: Do you live alone,Bothayna?
Alromaihi: I still live at home and I have everything I need at home. I don’t need to move out. It’s the same for me as with Amani. If you are living alone, it’s seen as you are [trying] to hide something. But actually it was my mom who made me apply to this program. She said, “You have to do this. This is something good and you have to go.” My family has always supported [my efforts to] further my education and career.
Knowledge at Wharton: Did or does your mother work?
Alromaihi: Yes, my mother is a school counselor in Qatar. She has pushed all of us to study abroad.
Knowledge at Wharton: I’m actually curious as to what your impressions are, not so much of Wharton, but of the United States. I know for two of you it’s not your first trip. But have you had a chance to walk around, visit other neighborhoods and see other people?
Mansour: Actually, I was surprised that people are friendly and that they are really helpful. I had this image [before I came here] that people were self-centered and mean. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong. I can’t tell yet because we are overprotected by the program and we are only dealing with a certain type of person at Wharton and the law school. The environment around the university has been very good and very friendly.
I had my own adventure. I went to South Philly and I was able to see another part of the community here. Like everywhere in the world, you can find the good and the bad. We are human beings at the end of the day. I notice that wherever you go, whether you are in Pakistan, Palestine, the moon, wherever — human beings are the same.
Zaid: I agree with Doua that we are kind of overprotected here at Wharton. But when we start our internships, we will probably face a lot of things. I thought that I might [face discrimination] because we wear the hajeb [head scarf] and because of all that has happened in the world. But, actually, people have been very nice to us.
Alromaihi: I think the fact that we are in a university environment makes a difference. When we were in Washington, D.C., the first few days, it wasn’t very friendly and nobody would smile at you when you were walking down the street. I think the fact that we are here makes it all okay. It also helps that we’re all together. It’s like there is safety in numbers.
When we go out we all go out together, we’re not really noticing if somebody is looking at us weirdly across the street; you just laugh it off. But if you’re alone, you wonder, “Why is that person looking at me that way?”
Knowledge at Wharton: Where are the internships and how long are they? Are they in the United States or all over other the world?
Alromaihi: I’m going to Washington, D.C., and will work for Chadbourne & Parke, a law firm, for five months.
Zaid: I am going to stay here in Philly and work at Sunoco for five months.
Mansour: I’m going to work for the Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta, Georgia.
Knowledge at Wharton: In your home countries, are you the vanguard of a new group of women who are more educated and more sophisticated and who will be traveling more around the world? Or are you considered very unusual in your countries?
Alromaihi: In the past, that would have been the case — like, for example, when my sister left Qatar to study in 1996. She was the first woman to go alone.
Knowledge at Wharton: Where did she go?
Alromaihi: It was in 1996. She went to Ireland to study medicine. There was a whole uproar [from the extended family] — “How can you leave your daughter on her own?” and “What’s going to happen to her? She’s not going to be able to survive.”
Knowledge at Wharton: When you say the first woman to go abroad, you mean the first woman from your family, right?
Alromaihi: No, the first girl from the country. But now there are lots of educated people. There have been a lot of people who have studied abroad. It’s okay now, but in the past it was, “Are you crazy: What are you doing?” And some families are still like that. When I left, someone said, “Oh, is your dad going with you?” There is a divide between the people who accept this and see it as normal, and the people who cannot even imagine this happening.
Zaid: It is much easier now for women to get an education abroad, especially if you are going to an Arabic or Islamic country. It’s not as hard as starting your own business. It makes thing easier if you have a partner to do this. There are few women-owned businesses.
Knowledge at Wharton: About how many?
Zaid: Thereare relatively few compared to the number of men who are businessmen. I don’t know how many exactly.
Knowledge at Wharton: When you made that decision to start your own company, did you have women mentors? Were any available?
Zaid: Actually I am in partnership with one of my best friends, a woman also.
Knowledge at Wharton: Did you get any financial backing?
Knowledge at Wharton: Do you have people who work for you, or are you doing it yourself with your friend?
Zaid: Yes, there are people who are working with us and helping us manage it.
Mansour: For me, as I said before, it is hard all the time. We are an occupied country; the level of frustration is really high. People have started to realize that if you or anybody has a way out, or a way to improve, a way to invest in yourself, even if you are a girl, you have to grab that opportunity.
All of the time you will find people — wherever you are, even here, back home or wherever — who will underestimate you or try to discourage you and tell you that you cannot do it. They will try to intimidate you and prevent you from having new adventures and new experiences. Sometimes I think it’s because these people were not able to do the things they had wanted to do, and so they try and convince everyone around them that they can’t do it either. As I have said before, if you believe in yourself and you are determined to be something, you can always find a way. But it’s not easy.
Knowledge at Wharton: So there is some discrimination against women?
Alromaihi: I don’t agree with that. I don’t think so. [In Qatar], we have lots of women entrepreneurs. They have their own shops — [ranging from] chocolate shops and florists to really big businesses, and they are thriving. It’s not just, “Oh, her friends are buying from her and that’s it.” We have many woman entrepreneurs. The only obstacle to any person who wants to open a business is connections. Regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, if you don’t have the right connections and network, you will most likely not make it.
Zaid: It’s not like it’s an obvious discrimination. There is nobody telling you, “Don’t do this.” But then you find a lot of obstacles. For example, in my society, many things are related to connections, and we have this barrier between women and men. It’s not like you can’t interact with them. There are situations where you need to do business together. It’s not like you are discriminated against on purpose, but this is how the society is structured.
Knowledge at Wharton: Could you ever have a male business partner?
Zaid: Yes, I could.
Knowledge at Wharton: Would this be even more difficult than having a female business partner?
Zaid: It would be easier for me, because he could reach places that I would never have the opportunity to reach.
Knowledge at Wharton: In terms ofthe relationships between men and women, are there some barriers that are automatic, like you can’t be with men on certain days, or you can’t be alone with men at night?
Zaid: It’s not acceptable to be alone with men late at night. Maybe it’s more conservative in my society. We have sessions where all of the guys are gathering in the afternoon and there is no way that a woman can enter that space, because what are you going to do there? Even if you’re in business, that is not acceptable.
Alromaihi: Also vice versa.
Knowledge at Wharton: So, men can not enter where there are groups of women meeting?
Zaid: If it is a professional meeting during the day and you’re in the office, you can arrange it…. You can have business relations with men as long as it is within a certain scope accepted by the community.
Knowledge at Wharton: Here in the U.S., the model is that you work all hours. If you’re an entrepreneur, it wouldn’t be uncommon for you and the people in your company to stay at work until 11 p.m.
Zaid: No, that’s not the case [in Yemen]. At certain times and in certain places, with lots of gatherings, this is acceptable. But for me to call some guy at 11 p.m. and say, “I have an idea….”
Knowledge at Wharton: You could never do that.
Zaid: It is not a matter of “could” so much as “should,” so the answer is no, I should not do that.
Mansour: I want to disagree with Bothayna. She said there are no restrictions on women, that they are equal and everything is cool. I think that as long as you are living within the community’s restrictions and regulations, you are fine. You will never find any kind of discrimination. But if you have your own way of thinking and your own style of life — and if it’s different from the community that you are living in — then you will face a lot of discrimination.
I have faced that. For example, my family lives in one city and I live in a different city. The city where I live has a completely different way of thinking; the people are extremely open-minded. This is unlike the city where my family lives. So I cannot practice my style of life and my way of thinking in my family’s city, but I can and do practice it in the city where I live.
For example, in my family’s city, gatherings for men and women are not allowed and you cannot go out too late. Basically the whole city is closed after 6 p.m. My perception is that the people there are much more conservative, traditional and close-minded. I cannot speak my mind there. This is because I am facing the whole community, including the family, which is not easy.
But, on the other hand, in the city where I live, it is completely different. This is because it has the right environment for me…. I practice the life I want to live. [I have] freedom of speech. In practice, everything depends upon how the community gives you that freedom.
Alromaihi: In Qatar, you have to be doing what society wants and just go along with it. But living within society’s laws does not give a woman any disadvantages. As it is everywhere, one must respect the country [he or she] is in…. We don’t have gatherings with men, but in a work environment it’s fine. You can have a man right next to you in a cubicle. It’s okay. You can talk to each other. But if I saw him walking down the street, I wouldn’t go, “Hey, how are you, how’s it going?” — unless I was an older woman. And then it is seen as all right because I’m older and have children. But if I was walking down the street and I saw my boss, I wouldn’t say “hi.” Basically, interaction is fine in a working environment, but not in a social context.
Knowledge at Wharton: What about if you wanted to get married and have children?
Alromaihi: Our law says that if you are working, for each four years that you work you are allowed to take two years off.
Knowledge at Wharton: With pay?
Alromaihi: First year, full pay; second year, half pay — to stay with your kids. And you are allowed this every four years until your youngest is 18.
Knowledge at Wharton: Is this the law throughout the country?
Alromaihi: Yes, and when you have your baby, you get the last month off before you give birth and another 40 days after you give birth. But then you have to go back to work, except for two hours off each day. And for the next two years, you have two hours off each day.
Knowledge at Wharton: So the idea is that you could continue to keep working off and on during that period and you wouldn’t be expected to give up your career?
Zaid: For us, it’s a little bit different. From what I have seen, in the last months before you give birth to a child you work part-time. And then after that for about two months, it’s paid leave. And then when you come back to work after your leave, you still can work part-time for a while. I’m not sure for how long.
Knowledge at Wharton: Are there day care centers that you can take your children to?
Mansour: It’s the same as in Amani’s case. I’m not quite sure about the number of months, but they give women a few months to take care of the baby and they are paid. After that, they go back to work. There are a lot of day care centers. Most of them are actually in the workplace.
Knowledge at Wharton: Did the attacks of September 11th change anything that you feel about your freedom or about your impression of the world?
Alromaihi: I think it was just [our] freedom abroad that has changed rather than in [our] own country. Now, when you are traveling, you get a different reaction from people. If you were walking down the street before, nobody would look at you. But now some people look at you like they are waiting for you to do something bad. For example, we were in Colorado meeting my brother, and we were in a visitor’s center. A little old lady was happy and smiling at everyone, but when she saw us, her jaw dropped. She tried to cover it up and smile. And I thought, “Okay, do I look that scary?” No, it was just the fact that I was wearing a scarf.
Zaid: You see it in airports a lot.
Mansour: Actually I have seen that after September 11, people have become paranoid about security [all over the world]. Everyone is suspicious about everybody wherever you are — of course, not in your home country — but even in the Arab world. Everyone is obsessed with security and everybody suspects everybody. You can sense this wherever you are, in the airports, on the street, everywhere.
Knowledge at Wharton: In the courses that you are taking here, is there an emphasis on ethics?
Knowledge at Wharton: And what are they teaching you about ethics, or can you even teach ethics?
Alromaihi: I don’t think that you can teach ethics; you either have it or you don’t. But it was interesting taking [a course on] ethics in business and in law. I have never taken a course like that. It’s nice to [have this information], but it’s up to us to apply it. If you’re the kind of person who would apply it, then you are the kind of person who would apply it anyway, regardless of the class. But it was good to see the different points of view and what exactly is the right way and what is the wrong way.
Knowledge at Wharton: When you go back home and you are working, do you feel that you are part of an ethical business environment or do you feel that there is a lot of corruption?
Alromaihi: I think no business environment is ethical. It’s a cut-throat environment, regardless of where you are. You’re in competition with the person right next to you.
Knowledge at Wharton: So you do whatever it takes to…
Alromaihi: Exactly, but [up to a point]. Some people go beyond that and some people don’t even get to that point.
Knowledge at Wharton: But where is the point where this company is ready to act unethically?
Alromaihi: You’re never asked to do something that is bad. This is because usually the bad action that you might consider is not in your hands and it will most likely be done, if ever, by the top [person]. He’s doing it and he doesn’t care what you think. It’s a personal thing…. There is unethical behavior, as there is everywhere in the world, but it doesn’t affect you personally or your working environment.
Knowledge at Wharton: But if it’s being done by your boss or by the top people in your company, doesn’t that affect you?
Alromaihi: Why would it affect me? [A boss] might be taking money for himself….It’s everywhere. Well, everywhere in the Gulf. So it really doesn’t affect me. The government and society is aware of this, [the boss] is aware of this and everyone knows it, but everyone turns a blind eye to an extent. If the person’s actions get out of hand, he will be punished for it.
Knowledge at Wharton: If it’s so prevalent, why don’t you say to yourself, “Well, if my boss has got these side deals going on, why shouldn’t I do that?”
Alromaihi: Because that is not something I would do.
Zaid: I believe that ethics cannot be taught. It’s something that has to come from within. If you don’t have it, nothing can educate you because at the end you are between two ways….If you have two right ways to deal with things, which one is better in terms of work ethics? But it’s not like they are teaching you to choose between right and wrong.
In certain fields and in certain industries, ethics is very hard to apply. But I think that I will always have choices. This is because, especially when you have your own business, it’s a matter of, “If I do this, I’m going to get more profit; if I don’t, I won’t.” But again, it depends on what you think is right or wrong. If you are part of an organization or part of a government association, you don’t have that choice. So it’s not the case that there is no ethics. There is ethics. Some people don’t apply it; some people in some places are doing more than not applying it.
The course we are taking was efficient because they are not trying to teach you, “Oh, don’t take the bribe”. This is obvious and it would be insulting if you said it like that. Instead, we are given a certain situation [to consider]: Would you go to your manager or would you go to human resources or would you actually deal with it yourself? There are many ways to do the right thing.
Knowledge at Wharton: Do you think that is a worthwhile exercise?
Zaid: I think it is.
Mansour: To a certain point. I don’t believe that there is a manual in the world that will give you the right answer for every situation you face in your life. This is because life puts you in situations where you have to make very fast decisions. And your personality, your experiences in life and what you believe in, are the only things that will give you the right answer, according to what you think with each situation.
It varies from one person to another; what is ethical for me maybe is not ethical for you. So there is no manual for it. For me, anything that doesn’t harm the people whom I’m dealing with, or doesn’t harm the company’s interest, is ethical for me.
Knowledge at Wharton: If each one of you had to say what is the most valuable experience [here] that you have had — it doesn’t have to be something that you have learned at Wharton or at the law school — what would that be?
Mansour: For me, it’s just the beginning. Everything is brand new and it’s going to be a very rich experience. But I have noticed that this experience is teaching me about who I am and who I was in the past more than what I’m going to be in the future. It has taught me a lot about who I am.
Zaid: Besides that, it has been an eye-opening experience — to interact with society and everything else….I’ve gotten a lot of things from this program and actually it gave me a lot of ideas about what I don’t know. It is very important to know what you don’t know.
Alromaihi: I think that what I’m going to get out of this is more the experience than what I have learned from the actual classes. I’m not a very social person. I’m very shy. So I promised myself that I was going to push it to the limit here. I was going to meet new people, be friendly, be outgoing and I surprised myself! No one would believe me if you had told them this at home…. It’s because I don’t have a choice. If I don’t make friends with these people, I’m going to be sitting in my hotel room [all alone].
Knowledge at Wharton: One question I have relates to the different ways you must manage relationships, according to your cultural norms. Do you see that as in any way impeding the development of global business in your countries? After all, Islamic culture has its own norms. Will that get in the way or is it really about merging cultures?
Mansour: In my country, because there are people in certain areas who travel abroad a lot and see all the different cultures, their way of thinking and their perceptions about everything are much different from those people in other parts of the community. It creates a distinct gap because you are not including all of the community in the cultural exchange process.
That gap — I don’t know how you will bridge it. It’s very hard. There is no way to communicate. There is no way to compromise, either. You have new experiences, [you have been exposed to] new cultures, you have met new people. So it is hard.
Zaid: There is a need to bridge that gap and a need to be part of the development of the world. And when there is a need, there is a way, so I think that this gap is getting smaller every day.
Mansour: I agree, but I think that it’s going to take time — a long time.
Alromaihi: I don’t think that we have such a big problem with this at home because of the actual population, only 30% are nationals and 70% is international.
Knowledge at Wharton: It’s very cosmopolitan.
Alromaihi: Exactly. Most of the people speak English. My first language is English. You can communicate with lots of people and it’s fine. In the beginning, when people first come, they are like, “This is an Islamic state,” and they are worried. But then it’s like, “Wait a minute, everybody speaks English, and the signs are all in English.” When you shop, there’s an English person who speaks to you.
Knowledge at Wharton: Do your parents work?
Alromaihi: My mother works and my father is retired.
Knowledge at Wharton: So you come from a professional family. Amani, what about you?
Zaid: My father is a lawyer and my mother works in a bank.
Mansour: My mother used to be a head mistress. She is now she is retired. My father works in the private sector.
Knowledge at Wharton: You come from families that already were cultured and sophisticated. So there’s a whole group of people who aren’t so sophisticated, correct?
Alromaihi: But that’s the minority. There are lots of people who travel; everybody travels.
Mansour: In your country.
Alromaihi: The nationals travel. If they don’t go to the Gulf, they go to Europe. People love Europe. People speak French; some people send their kids to private schools in France, the UK and the U.S. So the idea that we can’t relate isn’t there. We all watch American soap operas; everybody watches “Friends” and “Desperate Housewives.”They have all seen the latest episodes. The cinema has all English films. You will get the occasional Arabic film, but this is very rare.
Mansour: I think that’s only in the Gulf. In our area, it’s just the rich people or the people working for non-governmental organizations who can travel and see other areas and cultures. The poverty percentage is very high. Only a small percentage of the population can afford to go abroad. And most of the ones traveling only go with their organization.
Knowledge at Wharton: So you’re talking about maybe 10% of the population?
Mansour: I don’t know exactly. It may be less.
Zaid: I agree with that: Mostly the rich people are the ones who travel. But there is something I wanted to add. We are not judgmental towards people who are not from out culture. This means that it is much more common for people to judge someone from their own nationality and say, “Why is she doing that or why is he doing that?” But once we recognize that this is not someone from our area, we treat them very differently. We accept outsiders.
Knowledge at Wharton: Bothayna, why did you decide to become a lawyer?
Alromaihi: I wanted to go into politics. But then I decided that if I go into politics, I would not be able to change my career if I didn’t enjoy it. But if I studied law and went into politics and [found] it wasn’t the thing for me, then I could still go out and find a different job elsewhere.
Knowledge at Wharton: Is it unusual for women to go into law?
Alromaihi: No. The law class in Qatar is more than half women and they are doing better, of course.
Knowledge at Wharton: Like everywhere.
Alromaihi: Yes, exactly.
Knowledge at Wharton: I would like to continue discussing some of the cultural and traditional norms in your countries.
Zaid: You have to differentiate one very important thing. When you talk about Islam, you have to separate it from the traditions. This is because Islam is more flexible; if we applied it 100% to our traditions, our life would be much easier. But we do have these traditions; we do have these customs that touch us.
Knowledge at Wharton: Cultural customs.
Zaid: Cultural customs. This is what is different among each of our societies.
Knowledge at Wharton: I’m fascinated by what you are saying about Islam. You started out by saying that Islam is always misunderstood. What do you mean?
Zaid: Yes it is always misunderstood, because people [go back and forth between] “You are doing this because you are Muslim” or “you are doing this because your traditions [require it].” Islam is very flexible ….The culture imposes things on you that Islam wouldn’t. For example, in Islam, we don’t have to cover our faces. But in Yemen, more than 70% or 80% [of women] cover their faces. It’s not because of Islam; it’s because of the traditions. In Islam, a lot of things are due to your personal choice rather than to an obligation.
Mansour: We actually are restricted more by our traditions than by Islam.
Knowledge at Wharton: Bothayna, do you agree with this?
Alromaihi: Yes, and I just wanted to add that when I drive, I wear the veil that covers my face. This is because generally, if you’re a young girl and you are driving, many guys are following you and they’re trying to cut you off. So, when I wear it I don’t get followed and it saves me a lot of hassle.
Knowledge at Wharton: They don’t know if you’re young or old.
Alromaihi: Right. My cousin once passed me by and he thought that it was me but he just wasn’t sure. When he saw me later he said, “I thought that you were this old woman; I didn’t know if it was you.” So, it’s easier for me if I just wear it.
Knowledge at Wharton: So it’s not any kind of religious or cultural….
Alromaihi: No, I take it off in the car and I put it on in the car.
Zaid: There is also one more important thing to add. Islam always encourages education, for both females and males. We have a concept in Islam that “you have to go all the way in terms of education.” You don’t stop whether you are a female or a male. But in some societies, this is not the case. For example, there are a lot of girls who are not allowed to even finish high school. This is not because they are Muslim; it’s because they are restricted by their own families or by society.
Knowledge at Wharton: Why would society restrict them?
Zaid: Because some people think that if every girl has been educated, then at a point in her life she is going to commit sins and things like that. As long as she’s not educated, they think, she’s not interacting with the external world; and then she’s safe, though it is fair to say that Yemen has improved a lot in terms of women’s rights and education. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here now, supported by my own society, talking to you.
Mansour: I agree with everything that Amani and Bothayna have said. Religion is much more tolerant. Islam encourages us all the time to achieve our dreams. Religion has always been supportive. The problem in religion is with the people who interpret the religion. You can always find that there are political agendas or social agendas behind interpreting [a certain piece] of religion a certain way. Islam is a very tolerant and very flexible religion, and I didn’t face any problems practicing it. On the contrary, the only difficulties I am facing right now are the difficulties I face in the community because of the way they think — not from the religion itself.