Before I converted, I briefly dated a very intelligent, thoughtful, open-minded man who happened to be a convert to Judaism. I forget his Jewish name, but his birth-name was Steve. We broke up for reasons unrelated to either of our religious beliefs (I was pagan or agnostic at the time; can't remember which).
Steve and I talked a lot about faith. I miss our conversations. We could spend five hours talking about anything and everything. He had a great respect for all faiths, and told me about staying with a group of people (I think a family, or two families together --- this was in 2008; cut my memory some slack) who included Jews, Muslims, Christians, and I think Hindus. The Muslims would do the call to prayer, and they would all pray together in the morning, and then they'd observe the Jewish prayers in the evening, and the other faiths' prayers and practices were also included. All these faiths, living together in peace, in harmony, without any ill-will between them --- that is what life is supposed to be about, what God wants from us. Not violence. Not murder. Not all this bitching about which faith is the best, which one is the One True Faith. Living together, worshiping God as we as individuals see fit to ... or even not to.
Steve also said that if he had to choose any other faith aside from Judaism, that he would choose Islam.
That's a powerful statement. It's powerful on several levels. Here's a man who told me that there are places in Jerusalem that he can't go into simply because he's Jewish, a man who volunteered as often as possible for the Israeli Defence Force, a man who had been in combat as a volunteer member of the IDF, saying that if he couldn't be Jewish, he would join the faith professed (if not practiced) by the people he volunteered to fight against, had fought against before.
He knew, you see. He'd read the Qur'an, and had been friends with Muslims. He knew the faith as it's practiced by people who love it, who understand it, not by people who twist it to their own ends or know little to nothing about it. I found his blog and read through it just now, and he still loves Islam as it's supposed to be practiced, and despises the fools who carry around signs saying "Behead those who insult Islam" and such crap.
A Rift I Can't Stop
The reason that I'm writing about Steve now is that my younger sister, in all of her 16-year-old wisdom, has become passionately pro-Israel, and I highly doubt, from our few conversations concerning religion, that she has much of a clue that there's a huge difference between Israel and Judaism, and Zionism and Judaism, and Palestine and Islam. She's been in tears, telling me that I'm different after my conversion and that she hates it, that I used to love having people see my hair and now I keep it all covered up, that I used to love going to karaoke but now I don't anymore ... never mind that I do, on occasion, go for a year or so without going to karaoke, simply because it ceases to be a big part of my life (or I'm trying to avoid semi-stalkers). She'll go on and on about battles between Israel and Palestine, how Israel kicked Palestine's rear and the Arabs call it "The Great Defeat" or something ... She's overwhelmed by the political, and refuses to see the spiritual. Forget that I have the persistent feeling that my father and stepmother really don't like that I converted to Islam, regardless of what they say, or of Dad coming with me to my Shahada, or testimony of faith that made me publicly Muslim. Dad is, in fact, also rather pro-Israel ... Well, he's anti-Palestine, and thinks that Palestinian views are the way that Muslims think, and despite being a "student of history" (his words), he's stuck with the errant notion that Islam was spread mainly by the sword, and not by peaceful conversion; that the military battles the early Muslims fought were political, not religious, in nature.
I was talking with Dad a month or so ago, and was talking about events at the masjid when I stopped myself and apologised to him, saying that I was trying to keep the "convertitis" excitement down, and to not talk about Islam a lot. What he replied with hurt. A lot. Instead of saying, "Yes, I've noticed you making that effort. Thank you," instead of saying, "I know it can be hard, but you're doing a good job," my own father told me, "I've noticed you making the effort, but you're still doing it." But you're still doing it. This makes me want to cry. Instead of being supportive, instead of being understanding, he knocked me down. And not even in an outright manner; no, he started out optimistically, made me think (as any child would think of their parent) that he was going to continue to be nice and understanding, and then he cut me down. It's like before I converted, when I told him that my old Restaurant of Awesome manager had to ask the general manager about me wearing hijab at work, and he asked me how my spiritual progress was going. Thinking this was a good opening to talk about wanting to convert, I innocently told him great, and that I was probably going to convert soon. Dad snapped back with, "Well, are you going to pray five times a day? Because that's the difficult part, as opposed to dressing up."
I was almost in tears. Here I was, hoping to have an honest conversation with my father about my spiritual growth and journey, and he all but tells me that I won't be able to hack it as a Muslim once I have to start doing the real work, once it's not just me playing dress-up. I went to school hurting badly, and came home chocked up. I confronted him about it, about how much it hurt, and how he was wrong to tell me that, and he tried to justify it by saying that he'd been upset because I'd just smacked him with the possibility of not being re-hired at RoA (I'd been jobless for about a year at that point) because of wearing hijab. He never apologised, he just made it my fault. Then it got into politics. I don't give two fucks about politics. I hate that the Middle East is in a shitty situation right now, but unlike Dad, I realise that the Western world had a lot to do with that situation. I hate that Palestine and Israel can't get the fuck along, but I recognise that both sides are doing shitty things. I hate that people are teaching that Islam means you have to go out and kill people who aren't Muslim, but I realise that those people are speaking out of ignorance. Dad, in all his 47 years of wisdom that make him right and me wrong, doesn't seem to get that. This "student of history" is looking at the wrong history. He's looking at the propaganda-history spread by the Crusades and taking it as gospel, he's looking at issues that started in the 1900's and pushing them back to the start of Islam.
Hell, Dad outright said, when I told him I was trying to not go overboard with Islam or to take it too conservatively, that he and my stepmom had been worried about that. My own damn father, who constantly talks about how smart and intelligent and good his children are, is suddenly afraid that I'm going to become a terrorist, or something like one. My own father.
This tears me up inside. I can't talk with him about it, because he always twists things around and makes me wrong and him right. He hears what I say, but he doesn't listen, he doesn't comprehend. Neither does my sister, and because of that, now my baby brother, all of 8 years old, is starting to repeat that he wants the old me back. I honestly don't know what to do, because nether Dad nor my sister will read the websites that I offer them, will really listen when I talk with them, in an attempt to help clear their misconceptions. There's a rift happening, slowly, and I don't know how to stop it. I don't know if I can stop it.
Thank God for My Stepfather
My mother married my stepfather in 2008; the unofficial theme of the wedding, for both of them, was, "It's About Damn Time!" They're twelve years apart, my stepfather being the elder of the two, and they'd met briefly twelve years prior to them starting dating in 2007, I believe. My stepfather is a true cowboy, rough and grizzled and set in his ways, but surprisingly flexible. He's a Vietnam vet, stubborn and pig-headed, and adores Mom above anything else. As for Mom, he makes her happier than I've ever seen her, and I sent him a long letter about it, once, about how grateful I am to have him in Mom's life, in my life.
The weekend before last was their housewarming party (a year after they moved in, lol). They live out in Fallon, Nevada, in hick-central. I wore my hijab. Mom made sure that I knew that for everyone, religion was off-limits. It was fantastic, seeing them again. My two brothers by Mom were also there, as was my older brother's girlfriend (we all three drove up together). At one point, my stepfather and I were in the kitchen, talking about his relationship with Mom. He told me that he loved her so much, that she was the best thing to ever happen to him, and that since meeting her, everything in both their lives started going right, emotionally, financially ... everything. He said they never run out of things to talk about, that no matter how much they fight, they always make up ... They had a fight that evening, in fact, and in the morning my stepfather was the one who apologised, admitted that he'd been wrong.
Then he put his lanky arm around me and pulled me close, and asked if I was really sure about converting to Islam, said that I'd picked the worst time in history to do it. I told him that yes, I was sure, and that I'd converted for me, that I hadn't thought suddenly, "Hey, let's be Muslim and freak people out! Right on!", that it had been a slow spiritual progression, and that I was more spiritually content than I've ever been.
My stepfather smiled and squeezed me tight, and said that in that case, I had his full support, as long as this was what I really wanted and believe, and that he loved me no matter what.
How could this happen? How could my stepfather, a man who met me when I was 23 and had no hand in raising me, be more loving and accepting of my journey and choices than the man who gave me life? I'm not ungrateful for my stepfather --- on the contrary, and sadly, at times I'm more grateful for him than for my own father. If asked before this, I would have thought that a stepfather would be more prone to thinking his adult stepdaughter would become a conservative extremist than the daughter's own father. I'm shocked and amazed in both positive and negative ways, and every time I pray (the 3-4 times a day I manage; the pre-dawn prayer will take a lot more work), I thank God for my stepfather, ask for the maturity to earn the sort of relationship he and Mom have, ask God to bless all four of my parents, and ask God to help my father accept me like my stepfather accepts me, to learn the difference between political Islam and my Islam, and I ask God to bring my family and I closer together in love and understanding.
A Plea for Help
So what's my Jewish convert ex have to do with all of this? We didn't part on easy terms, much to the sorrow of both of us --- I won't go into detail, but I'm sorry for my part in that.
But I need help right now. I need someone like Steve, who can explain to my family that Islam isn't what they think it is, that the Palestine-Israel mess doesn't represent the views of real Muslims, that their own flesh-and-blood daughter and sister isn't going to become some crazy terrorist. I need an outside influence in this matter, because my family won't listen to me, and I'm horrible at trying to talk with them. Dad always makes me feel like an errant child --- "Father Knows Best" syndrome is deeply instilled in me, and it's difficult to fight it even when I know that I'm right, and that Dad's wrong. I need someone to say, "Hey, I'm Jewish, and I love Islam. Here's what it's all about, from someone with every emotional right to hate Muslims, but who doesn't."
Because dear God, my efforts aren't helping one bit.