Bismillahi Rahmani Raheem
”This is not true!! Liars!! How can you even SAY THAT?! You make my heart cry!”
That’s how I first interacted with Islam (before then I had spent a good month and a half looking into Islamic websites, feeling like a traitor as I marvelled at the peaceful logic).
I read that Muslims think that Jews eat pork, and that they perform unmentionable abuse to baby boys as they circumcise them. Immediately, as a well-trained media controller from a renowned Jewish religious youth movement, I contacted the source of these “lies” I had read. Eloquently yet passionately, I refuted his claim and asked him for references to the immoral teachings he was spreading, adding what a “Chillul Hashem” (disgrace to God) he was to the Jewish People. Within days, I got a reply, as eloquent and well-mannered as the one I had sent out. It clearly stated where in the Talmud (Rabbinical commentary) and Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law, lit. “Set Table”) I could find the sources for his “accusations”, and a polite invitation to confirm it with my local Rav (Rabbi).
I did. And as I had proudly marched to his office, thinking he would tell me that the accusations were just that, instead, he simply confirmed the horrible facts I had read online, leaving me wandering out of there in a state of disillusion. What had I believed in?
“Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is everywhere”
…except in the bathroom, which is why you as a religious person find yourself reading classic, contemporary literature in there, in an attempt to save the rest of the house from the “tumah” (impurity) of these books. Or having a secret milk chocolate bar after eating meat…
I started looking for God. I knew where He wasn’t. I went into a website presenting Islam’s interpretation of God. In Islam, God is above the 7th heaven & with us in His knowledge, and always aware of everything that happens to everyone. Content, I agreed and thought that such is the case in Judaism as well, but just to make sure, since I wanted to battle it out in a good conversation with non-Jews, I tried finding a Jewish source that would confirm my beliefs. I could not find this anywhere.
I come from a very varied background; Jewish, Christian, Atheist, liberal, intellectual and empathic people line up in my family tree. When I was very young, I chose to bring forth my Jewish heritage. Since Jews only recognize you as being Jewish if your mother is Jewish, I had to convert. For me, this involved six years of intense studies, including everything from Torah and Halacha (Jewish Law) to Tzniyut (Jewish modesty laws) and Chassidut (mystical, sometimes heretical teachings). After countless begging and pleading, and even marrying a Jew according to civil law, I finally converted to Judaism some three years ago.
Converting was such a relief, but more than anything, my mind was weary and drained, having lived through all the pros and cons (ignoring the cons however) of Yiddishkeit (religious Judaism) for such a long time.
Throughout my Jewish life, when praying, I always had the feeling that mine was the role of a pupil being sent to the principal's office. I was begging Him to please listen, if just for a minute. Many times I would spend the whole day in prayer, begging for a way out of my situation and for Him to keep his people close to Him. Due to personal hardship, I underwent a series of negative experiences with the Jewish world, and although I do not hold them accountable for them, I nonetheless lost my faith in Judaism. This opened up a door to the outside world, which I had shut closed three years earlier. I started seeing that my perfect people were the source of other people’s misery.
It got to the point where I couldn't pray anymore, simply because I didn't think that the Jewish People were deserving of anyone asking God to keep them safe and "speedily uproot the wanton sinners". The more senior citizens I saw being denied to see their home in Palestine one last time before they die, the more traumatized children crying in the street I saw on TV, the more flyers I saw begging the public to donate medical equipment and clothes to the Palestinians...while hearing the Israeli politicians talking about striking back even harder at them...made it all start to feel a little too much for me to accept, let alone give my prayers to.
Feeling a little uneasy about my newfound soft attitude to the “Goyim” (the non-Jews) I figured I must have become a liberal Jew. So I became a supportive member of Peace Now, in an effort to identify with them. At some point, I felt that I was too liberal even for them :-)
At the same time, I ordered booklets on Islam, from Kuwait. When I received them, I was taken aside and questioned by my community. Was I dealing with terrorists? Was I a security threat? Did I become Muslim? And if so, can I kindly remove myself and my family away from the Jewish neighborhood?
The turning point was when I saw a video about the suffering in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I had seen things like this many times. Only this time, instead of the usual reaction I would have had a year ago - sighing and belittling Muslims - instead, I broke down and cried. For hours.
From then on, a remarkable change in my prayers started to happen: I remodeled them to suit my own needs. I cut out Am Yisrael and replaced them with their Islamic counterparts. I started praying for the welfare of the Ummah. I started praying for the children and mothers in Palestine, not in Israel. I started directing my heart away from the Kotel Hama’aravi (the Western Wall). The Kotel became more…like the ruin it is. To quote a dear friend of mine: “The Third Temple IS rebuilt – it stands there NOW in front of their eyes, with a roof of gold.”
I went into an Islamic chat room to see if I would be kicked out when I’d say I was Jewish. At this point, the term “Jewish” served only to describe my creed. I had removed all the traces of Jewish religious life from my family and myself and replaced it with a big empty, anticipating hole.
“Asalaam Alaikum W/r W/b”
As I announced my presence, I was greeted politely by a written choir of “asalam alaikum w/r w/b” to which I replied, clumsily, “hi”. Curious at the incoherence of basic Islamic greeting phrases, I was asked if I was Muslim. “Not yet” I replied, and felt life rushing inside me. “Where are you from?” was the natural follow-up. I folded and told everyone that I am Jewish. And that was OK. Nobody came to kick me out, or speak indecently with me. I was respected as I was, but the mere fact that I had said “not yet” prompted a few people to try talking to me. Most of the time, I would leave people feeling helpless since I would ask how I could be a Muslim if I don’t know the Koran very well, and Islamic Law, and commentary, and new books, and, and, and…everything I used to know in Judaism, only mirrored into Islam. Most people would tell me that they didn’t know what to say. Except one.
One night, a man and his wife from an Islamic country spent hours on end talking to me. Out of all the things we were discussing, one talk stuck to me:
“Let’s say you admire an author, he is your favorite one, but he’s only published one book so far. You’ve read it over and over and you love it. Then one day, the author announces that he is publishing two new books. Will you read them? Or will you say that only his first book is valid and any other works are not worthy of reading? Surely you would not.”
These words took me off guard. I remained silent for what seemed an eternity.
“How about taking that shower now, sister? We will wait for you.”
As the days went on, a small yet clear and strong feeling, a kind of gentle energy inside me, called out to say the words. I rehearsed them over and over. I even wrote them down on paper and carried with me wherever I went, just in case I would brave myself and go ahead.
A few weeks later, I decided that I could not wait any longer, and what was I waiting for anyway? Or who? I was waiting for myself. And when I realized this, things started making sense to me again.
So one evening, as I was about to go online again and talk about talking about Islam, instead, I poured up a hot bath, and pacing up and down the hallway and while the tub filled, all the doubts were racing in my mind: “What will my family say? The Jews will think I have gone mad! There’s no such thing as a Jewish Muslim!” In the midst of my own little inferno, I could hear my soul gently whispering: “Bismillahi Rahmani Raheem”. As if it was pushing me in the direction I wanted to go into but wouldn’t dare to. Staring at the image in the mirror as I got up from my bath, I heard the logic in the talk I had been part of only nights before. I got dressed. Washed. Silently, I slipped into the armchair by the computer, and contacted the people who had been so patiently bearing with me as I was talking about talking about Islam. I was ready.
As I said the Shahada, I trembled, not out of fear but rather from love and the intensity of knowing that the truth lies in such a misunderstood religion. May Allah guide you to a life of peace and knowledge, and may He open your heart to the truth, justice and serenity of Islam.