From the Middle East to Mount Everest
Many Muslims in the West suffer an identity crisis at some point. Their disillusionment may turn into hate, which Mostafa Salameh, a Jordanian-British mountaineer of Palestinian decent, tries to tackle in his book “Dreams of a Refugee: From the Middle East to Mount Everest.”
The book recounts Salameh’s extraordinary experience that changed the course of his life, leading him to renew his faith and preach a tolerant Islam, after religion had previously played a very small part in his life.
Born in Kuwait, a chance meeting led Salameh to London then Edinburgh where he partied excessively. One night he had a dream in which he was standing on the highest mountain on Earth reciting the call to prayer. He decided to climb Mount Everest though he had no mountaineering experience.
At first, Salameh described what seemed to be random encounters, including a clash with the Jordanian ambassador in London.
Later, his writing felt like it had more relevance. He referred to Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet” when Gibran wrote of death: “When you have reached the mountaintop, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
He referred to Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” and the message that Allah knows the future but Allah is not telling him how to live his life. He wrote: “The way I see it, Allah provides opportunities and puts people in my path but everything depends on my intention and my intention has always been to help my family and parents and brothers and sister, and to be kind and loving to those I encounter.”
While in Edinburgh, Salameh said he felt the need to reacquaint himself with God, which led him to explore India.
Hindu and Buddhist teachings spoke to Salameh and he was particularly influenced by a quote of Siddhartha: “No one saves us but ourselves… No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.”
In his book, Salameh spoke highly of the Jordanian king, who encouraged him to climb Mount Everest and to provide inspiration for young people.
He also spoke of the people he met during his climb, such as Suhail, a sports champion representing Jordan in the next Paralympics.
However, one of Salameh’s finest memories of the climb was meeting a team of Iranian mountaineers. He said they got on very well and there was mutual respect, despite him being a Sunni and they Shias. He said: “On Everest we were just Muslims and human beings.”
Salameh presented easily digestible summaries of the Palestinian conflict, the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the causes of radicalisation. He quoted British journalist Robert Fisk’s prediction “if the West causes trouble in the Middle East, it will come back to haunt them.”
Salameh blamed some European countries for making it difficult for young people to be pious Muslims. They support mosques that centre on one or another national group instead of supporting ethnic minorities to enable them to receive Islamic education in their local language. He reckoned that tackling identity crisis requires mixing with people from all backgrounds.
Salameh complained that the Middle East is deeply fragmented, noting that “travelling from one Arab country to another is much easier if you are the holder of an American or European passport than an Arabic one. Even if, for example, I visit Dubai on a Jordanian passport, the visa application takes a long time compared with the rapid speed when I travel with my British passport.”
Salameh is committed to spreading the message of tolerant Islam. He is a motivational speaker and activist, trying to turn young people away from radicalisation. He said: “If you want to be a good Muslim, don’t fight unless you are attacked or you have to save your family or country. Be kind and honest. Respect other religions. We all worship the same God. There’s no need to convert or change anyone. Just accept everyone.”
After two failed attempts, Salameh reached the top of Mount Everest in 2008. He became the first Jordanian to reach the North Pole and to scale the Seven Summits — the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. In 2016, he reached the South Pole, the first Muslim to do so.