Since I wrote my first blog for The Times of Israel, many have wondered how a Muslim like me came to be a Zionist. Like many Muslims, I started out being very anti-Israel. A few years ago, I would have fully supported BDS, Students for Justice in Palestine, and even the Intifada. I saw Israel as evil. All I heard about Israel was bad – Israel was an apartheid state, Israel was slaughtering children left and right, Israel had no right to exist. Zionism was racism. My undergraduate university taught us that Hamas was an “interest group,” not a terrorist group. Everyone that I knew hated Israel. That is, until last year, when I learned the truth.
In 2015, I became more devout and dedicated to my Muslim faith. I started praying every day and strived to live by the principles of Islam. So imagine my surprise when one day I woke up with an urgent yearning in my chest to learn about Judaism. In what I can only describe as the Will of God, I was drawn to the Jewish faith. My relatives are Jewish, and I grew up with many Jewish friends, but it was not until then that I finally opened my heart to Judaism.
I began to research Judaism and talk to my Jewish friends and family. I learned that my aunt and uncle met in Israel, after my aunt’s family fled Russia due to anti-Semitism. I learned that many of my friends had been shaped by their Jewish identity. A rabbi gave me a book of Hasidic prayers, and I was shocked to see the similarities with my own Muslim prayers. I began to realize that so much of the person I had grown up to be was because of Jewish role models. But I was still anti-Israel, because I avoided honest research about Israel. I thought that I already understood the situation. I could not have been more wrong.
It is by accident that I started to learn about Israel. It occurred in my senior year of university. I decided to gain access to the Kosher Kitchen at the university’s Hillel because most Kosher food is Halal. Instead, I accidentally signed up to join the Hillel Israel Committee. I did not have the heart to tell the Israel Fellow “no,” so I went to meetings, begrudgingly at first. As time went on, I realized that most of what I had learned about Israel was anti-Semitic propaganda. Israel was a country just struggling to keep her people safe. It was not an Evil Oppressor like I had been told all my life. The Hillel became a place where I could be happy and safe, and an environment in which I could grow in my understanding of Israel and Judaism. I attended Shabbat dinners each Friday before my evening mosque services. I started planning events and programming with the Israel Committee.
In November 2015, we brought a gay Israeli filmmaker to campus to speak about homophobia in Israel. There was a huge protest against the event, which escalated until the event had to be cancelled early. Anti-Israel protestors had hijacked the stage and chanted awful lies. At a university known to be very Jewish-friendly, this was unbelievable. Afterward, my Jewish friends felt defeated. Some were crying. Some were fearful to go to classes the next day. People had shouted horrible things at them. I wanted to help, but I was scared. The filmmaker said something to me that left a lasting impression. He said, “You’re scared? Too bad. If you want to make a difference, you have to be willing to speak out.”
So I spoke out. I became a pro-Israel advocate. I signed up for the Makom program to learn about Israel. I learned that Israel had tried many times to make peace agreements. I learned how the Arab states banded together to try and destroy Israel in 1948. I learned how accommodating and welcoming Israel is to all peoples, including Muslims. I became friends with people who had served in the IDF, and they told me about what it was like and what they had seen. I learned about the 800,000 Jewish refugees that Israel took in from Arab states. I learned that Jews really do need the state of Israel, and that it has been their land for over 3000 years. It is the only place on Earth where Jews are completely free to be Jewish. Zionism affirms the right for Jews to live safely in their indigenous homeland. Even the Quran speaks about how the Children of Israel would return to their eternal homeland from all corners of the world. All this knowledge shaped my identity. Today, I am proud to be both a Muslim and a Zionist.
It is my goal in life to build bridges between Jewish and Muslim communities. I have met many other Muslim Zionists with the same goal, a lot of them former anti-Israel extremists. Anti-Semitism in the Muslim community comes from anti-Israel lies and false religious teachings against Jews. The Muslim community must be educated about the realities of Israel and Israel’s true history. Only then can there be peace.
To everyone reading this, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, Arab, Israeli, or anything else, I invite you to build your own bridges. Meet someone new. Invite your Arab neighbors over for tea. Have a conversation with the nice Jewish girl waiting in line at the coffee shop. Seek out friends of different faiths and different ethnicities at your university. Talk to a rabbi or imam. If possible and safe, go to a synagogue or mosque and ask honest questions. Join an interfaith group in your area. If you cannot find one, start a group, like I did. Work on community service projects together. Hold an interfaith Shabbat dinner. Learn about each other. Affirm each other’s humanity. We are not so different. We are all God’s children, we are all one humanity, and we must act like it.