Growing up As a Muslim Amongst Jews

Personal Encounters with Faith - Part 2

Testing Identity

My parents’ commitment to their faith and their country not only led them to give back but also led them to push me to test my notions of identity and to take true ownership of who I am.

With this belief, they enrolled me at the Hebrew Academy of Toledo, a small Jewish day school nestled in the suburbia of northwest Ohio.

Being the only non-Jew in the school, I learned Hebrew and prayed in the synagogue alongside my classmates. On Sundays, I attended Arabic and religion classes at our mosque and prayed the mid-afternoon prayer with our Muslim community.

There was no contradiction in these actions in my mind or within our family. For nine years, this routine was my definition of normalcy. The seamless and daily transition from my Jewish environment to my Islamic one allowed me to genuinely appreciate the faith of my friends alongside my own.

My parents made sure that I knew the differences between Islam and Judaism, explaining the Islamic perspective on every topic I was taught at school. At the same time, they were ever careful to explain the respect we as Muslims should have for our Abrahamic brothers and sisters in faith. Our different perspectives did not negate the validity or the truth in the other faith.

I graduated from the Hebrew Academy in 1993 and moved on to a nonreligious school for junior high and high school.

As far as I know, no Muslims besides my two siblings and me ever attended the Jewish school. Similarly, as the Muslim community grew and began to set up its own elementary schools in town, no Jewish children ever enrolled.

There is Always a Thing to Share…

The embrace that my parents felt from the Arabs when they arrived to America found its echo for me within the Jewish community, which welcomed me in as family, ensuring that I always had a kitchen in which to break matzah, and a sukkah in which to shake the lulav.

I know that much of my own adherence to Islam as an adult can be traced back to my Jewish friends from my youth who shared with me the joy and spiritual fulfillment they felt from practicing their faith. Their commitment to their faith inspired and encouraged me to explore and appreciate the complexity of my own.

Read part one

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