Two Muslim women are out to prove Arab engineers have the right stuff
It’s like the Super Bowl but it’s called the PetroBowl. Instead of American football players, the competitors are students from around the world, including Arab and Muslim women, representing their respective universities.
Following a win in the regional qualifying match in March in Manama, Bahrain, a team of two women and three men from Abu Dhabi’s Petroleum Institute (PI) travelled to San Antonio, Texas, October 9-11 to square off against 31 teams representing six regions from around the world. In addition to the PI team, groups from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, the Texas A&M University at Qatar and the American University in Cairo qualified for the finals from the competition’s Middle East region.
Organised by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the competition tests students’ knowledge on technical and non-technical aspects of the oil and gas industry through a series of fast-paced quiz competitions.
The brightest engineering brains gather once a year for the three-day competition. Previous winners of the PetroBowl Championship, which originated in 2002, include Texas Tech University, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in Mexico and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
Abu Dhabi team member Rabab Qaddoura is studying petroleum engineering at the PI. She said her ambition is to become a professor. Trying to help audiences in the West see Arabs and Muslims as they truly are is an opportunity she welcomes. Too often the Arab world is pictured the wrong way, she said.
“Arabs are viewed as uneducated and uncivilised,” said Qaddoura, 21. “Not all of us live in tents. We can have intellectual conversations. We are knowledgeable with matters that occur around the world more than many other societies.”
Because she sees herself as an educator, Qaddoura said she recognised that her trip to the United States is a teaching moment for her and the more than 600 participating students.
“As a team from an Arab country, we have an obligation to present what we have been raised on and show the world that we are not really who they think we are. We are a bunch of really funny people,” Qaddoura said.
Her fellow team member Deena Elhossary, 21, who is also studying petroleum engineering, said she wants to become a scientist. She was extremely nervous about competing, she said, because “I really want to make my parents, instructors and institution proud.”
Elhossary, who was born in Amman, Jordan, but holds an American passport, said she and her teammates worked long and hard to get to this point. “We spent countless hours studying a wide range of topics. We met frequently to practise for the competition and develop a strategy that would help us win the PetroBowl. We also had to dedicate all of our free time to prepare for this competition,” she said.
She said the PetroBowl is a “great honour and privilege to represent the UAE as well as the Muslim and Arab worlds.”
Although Qaddoura has travelled to the United States before, this was the first time she went without her family. She said to do so was “terrifying but interesting.”
She confessed she was “incredibly nervous” about the event. “The qualifier was a nerve-wracking process, where the competition was not merciful,” Qaddoura said.
In Texas, the competition will be that much tougher. “The participants come from all over the world. The teams come in fully trained and prepared, which makes it very intimidating to be around them,” Qaddoura added.
The three men on the team are Omar Chaabi, Waleed Diab and Sultan Loobari.
Qaddoura said she was thrilled to participate because it gives her a chance to try to change how non- Muslims view her religion.
“The media and most of the population in the West have been very harsh on the Muslim world for the past 20 years or so,” said Qaddoura, who is Jordanian. “The propaganda that portrays Muslims as uneducated and barbarians has put a lot of restrictions on Muslims who wanted to pursue their education or move to foreign lands to provide for their families.
“People come from all over the world [to the PetroBowl] to compete… and share knowledge. Therefore, as a Muslim participant, I have a responsibility to represent the Muslim world for what it really is. It cares for its individuals and their education, desires, prosperity and, most importantly, it wishes… for a peaceful world.”
Geopolitics aside, the championship in San Antonio is a chance to show off the “type of education that is provided for students in the UAE,” Qaddoura said.
“Going to the US to represent the UAE created a sense of giving back to the country that has given so much for students to pursue their education. I am forever grateful for the UAE for giving me continuous opportunities that allowed me to explore my options and chase my dreams.”
Elhossary said she is proud to be competing with her fellow PI students because they are passionate and hard-working. “They all strive for success, and are in it to win it,” she said.