Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ramadan 10: Accept Differences

Two calls in recent days have had me admitting that those who are different from me still have a lot to offer.

I used to know that in my pre-Islam days, but being married to an Arab changed me a little. I'd hear discriminatory remarks and it rubbed off a bit. Not a lot! Just enough to make me shy away from sticking up for the rights of others.

Teaching in Islamic schools further distanced me from those who are non-Muslim. It's not that the schools are a hot beds of hate. It's that they are so insular from the mainstream. It's easy to get caught up in the "us and them" mentality, which I hate. We are always more similar than dissimilar.

This week, my resolve to be an accepting person was both rewarded and strengthened.
First, I got a phone call in response to an ad I answered. It was a, "blind ad," in that I didn't know which school was putting it out there. I simply knew it was a private school. Since I don't have my license, I can only be a classroom teacher for private schools. Being a classroom teacher affords more freedom to really mold the students and also is a higher salary.

So, the phone call began with me asking the man with the accent to repeat the name of his school twice. I wasn't tracking. Then, it hit me! This was a Jewish school! Subhanallah! I had my interview with the gentleman. It was so fascinating.

Did you know that Orthodox Jews cannot go into a church but they can go into a mosque? It's because those Jews know that within a church they are praying not just to The One God, but to saints, to priests, to Jesus, astragferallah.

He was open to the idea of me teaching there and I would actually accept an offer from them.

Jews truly are our brothers and sisters. They are considered people of the book. You don't agree with what's happen with Israel and Palestian? Me neither! But that's politics. That's Israelis not Jews.

Did you know that Orthodox Jewish women are not allowed to show their hair? I knew that from my short visit to Antwerp, Diamond Capital of Western Europe and holder of a large community of Orthodox Jews. What I didn't know is that the edict to cover is from their wedding day; unmarried Orthodox women of any age stay uncovered.

Really, he was so interesting and accepting, as I think I was. At the end of our conversation, I was so grateful for that opportunity from Allah to bridge the gap. In a way, whether or not I get the job, I am happy to have had that moment.

Oh, and as we were saying 'goodbye,' I asked him his name. Had he mentioned it before? Turns out that he is a rabbi. A RABBI! Can you stand it? I don't think I've ever spoken with one before. It was a bit of an honor. I'm so glad I didn't know who he was in the beginning, or I would have been more nervous.

The second phone call forcing me to examine my level of acceptance was yesterday.

Yesterday, y'all, was my sixth anniversary of taking shahadah (and why NOBODY on the Blogosphere thought to send me one solitary word of good wishes actually bewilders me). It was also my mom's birthday. I didn't plan my shahadah that way, but that's the way it is.

The phone call was for my mom, but she was gone celebrating by herself---which I am going to say again---gone celebrating by herself, so I picked up. It was her old friend from decades ago. This woman lived in the horrible small town we moved to when I was in sixth grade. My mom was the new FEMALE minister in town; a first, which either makes you a star or ostracized. We were the latter. This woman, who belonged to the church was just about the only kindness we got there.

She would take care of me for hours and days when my mom's busy schedule didn't allow for me. She was a simple woman who laughed easily and helped easily. I did love her for all she did to make my sad childhood a little sunnier.

After we left, she came out as a lesbian. It saddened me a lot at the time. As a Muslim, I wondered if I should have anything more to do with her. I knew my Arab husband wouldn't approve. It wasn't that she was still in our lives very often, but occasionally I would wonder how she was.

Years went by and one night, while I was watching the news, I heard them announce the name of her youngest daughter. She had been killed by a drunk driver. It chilled me and I made the phone call right away. Death helps you cut through to the truth pretty quickly.

So, we reconnected and she drove with her eldest daughter down to see my mother and me last year. It was hard to see the pictures of her with her partner. But, she was alive and she was finding her way to be happy in the world after so much sadness.
Do I wish her to find the peace of Islam? Of course, I wish that for a lot of people. I wish that for me! For you! None of us have the right to decide who is close to Islam and who isn't.

When I was newly Muslim, I heard a khotba about not judging others.

You could see a man out on the street smoking a cigarette and think he is dirty and evil because of his habit. Well, that same man could be doing all the other things in his life so terrifically! He could be doing all his prayers, loving and providing for his family and helping out in the community for the sake of Allah.

You could see another man who is helping someone on the street and think he is worthy of praise. But, he could be doing that perceived kindness for some personal benefit, rather than to please Allah. He could be missing all his prayers, beating his wife, abusing his kids, and stealing money.

You just don't know the whole truth of people. Only Allah knows.

And if someone has a fault, that doesn't mean you throw out the whole person. Lots of us reverts have parents who still drink. Does that mean we hate them? Or our co-worker who plays the lottery--do we ignore the warm clothing drive they have for the needy kids?

It's the same, for me in my sensibilities, with those who are gay or lesbian. They have a lifestyle that I don't want for me or for my children. I don't always understand where they are coming from. I do, however, want to respect them and accept them as valuable people on this earth.

Yesterday, this woman, who helped raise me, gave me a gift

"Oh, I'm so sorry it's been hard for you to be living with your mom," she said in response to what I told her. "I always felt so sorry for you growing up. You really had to take care of your mom. You were always more sensible than she was. You were like the mom to her! She was always out doing her thing and you'd be home alone. That's why I tried to give you as much as I could. I knew you needed someone to take care of you for a change."

Those words of understanding after a tough five weeks made me cry. I have felt everything she said. My friends have voiced similar thoughts before. But here was a formerly close friend to my mom saying the same thing. It really validated what I've gone through as the child of my mother.

No one could have said those words to me better than her; the lesbian, but really so much more than that. She was just a godsend to me yesterday when I needed that. I was home alone once again and needing someone who cared how I was. She did care and God bless her.

The Jews!

The homosexuals!

Two groups often wrongly hated by Muslims.

I love them.

Which group do you hate?

Learn to love them and release yourself from hate. Hate is a poison you mean for someone else but end up taking yourself.

That last line was a quote but I can't locate who said that. Might have been Dr. Phil.

The following quote is from C.S. Lewis, who is famous for Chronicles of Narnia, but mostly wrote on theology.

"The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out.
Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?

If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black.

Finally we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred."


egyptchick7 said...

...clearing my throat...Congratulations on your 6 year Anniversary taking the Shahaddah, May you have 6 jk :)

In Brooklyn, we love Jews...They made the bagels, what's not to love? MY father , when I was in Egypt, threatened to not take me to a resort if I didn't take back my love for the Jews. This coming from a man who used to gamble at our local Jewish Synagogue.

Teaching religious orthodox Jews however is a different story. Not to generalize but I have heard from many and have experienced first-hand that it can be hell. They are badly badly badly behaved and so difficult to work with. So be careful who you teach especially with a Hijab. You may not hate, but you don't know if they will.

ammena said...

salam, im sorry i never congratulated you sis, i was workin all day yesterday and very tired after getting home... i try to down my conversion date for some reason.. was it oct 3rd, or 1st? lol.. i would only remember as its the 'official' bday of a friend lol.. insha'allah u had a nice day. Cant wait to hear about the job interviews, insha'allah it works out for u

Bosnian hijab girl said...

mashaallah,very nice blog!visit me!

dramamama said...

Congrats and alhamdulillah to your 6th year shahadah anniversary!

Kathryn said...

Hello Yosra!

I gain so much from reading your blog. I love that you have such an open mind and are continously trying to open it even more and accept people of all types. In Germany there are many Turkish Muslims here and just today I saw a poster on the train celebrating Ramadan and I thought of you :o)

Shabana said...

salams! so sorry, i didn't know it was the anniversary of your shahadah. Congratulations, masha Allah! your blog is really awesome masha Allah. lot's of great reminders during this month. jazakallahu khair, sis :-)

Yosra said...

Asalamalaykom EgyptChick, Ammena, Dramamama and Shabana,

Thank you for your good wishes on my shahadah anniversary. I know I'm needy at times, but thanks for playing along :)

Asalamlaykom Bosnian HG,

Thanks for stopping by. I did add your interesting blog to my links.

Yosra said...

Asalamalaykom Kathryn,

Isn't blogging great?! I love that you are sitting there on the train IN GERMANY thinking of me. How cool is that?!

I also love that you gain something from the blog. I also learn from yours :) Alhumdulillah.

I'm thinking of finally sharing my blog link with the huge audience for the internet star we both know. Should I? Shouldn't I? I think I will on the 17th.