Thursday, March 12, 2015

I am a Muslim and I am not afraid to say I visited Israel

by Farah Karim*

I met Esther in my first Semester at San Diego State and we became BFFs instantly. We started hanging out and take classes together and our bond grew stronger and stronger. By our sophomore year we started planning our graduation trip, Europe? China? , South America? Esther suggested “Israel?” and I was taken back by her suggestion. “But it is not safe Esther I replied and they will not welcome me as  a Muslim”. I grew up having a very negative perception of Israel, I know they are at war with Muslims and I know from my friends who used to frequent the mosque that Israelis are not fond of Muslims . They don’t like us and we don’t like them. I came to know that Esther had gone to Israel in High school in the summer after graduation organized by “Taglit Birthright Israel” and had the time of her life. She told me Israel is not as evil or bad as it is portrayed in media and that It is a beautiful country that I should visit and see for myself what it is all about. #BeOpenMinded

Lucky for me The David Project on campus was planning a free trip to the Holy Land so I packed my bags and headed over there with a diverse group of students: Jews, Muslims, Latinos, Gays and even a few African Americans. #SpringBreak

I consider myself a moderate Muslim: I pray, I fast Ramadan, I observe Eid and eat Halal meat. I don’t wear Hijab but my mom does. I plan to marry a Muslim and go to Mecca for Hajj. I don’t speak or understand Arabic but I can read it and read the Quran in high school. I am a “Sushi” my Father is Sunni and my mother is Shia. I voted for Obama and I listen to NPR. I am a regular American girl who just happens to be Muslim; I watch reality TV, love Football, go to school and enjoy Mexican food. #MuslimAndProud

When we arrived to Tel Aviv  the moment we stepped out of Ben Gurion airport I sensed that Israel is a lot like California: the weather, the diversity, the traffic, even the air smelled and felt familiar kind of like in the same way how you see Mexicans in Southern California. It was here that we were told that Israel is full of 7 million different Israeli opinions of what to do with their portion of the land. What surprised me most about Tel Aviv was how diverse and tolerant it was, I saw Russians, French, American, Canadian, Iranian and African Jews all living side by side , all speak English very well, all educated , stylish and cultured.  When I closed my eyes at night I felt like I was in La Jolla but with a zestier ambience. #HolyHolyLand

The following morning we went to Haifa or what we were told “The Muslim Quarter” of Tel Aviv, here we saw where the Muslim population of Israel lives.  Little known fact Israel is home to some 1 million Muslims, who live side by side peacefully with their Jewish neighbors. It was here in the Muslim Quarters that I had the best Hummus I have ever eaten. It was better than Sabra or anything CPK or Cheesecake Factory ever served.  The restaurant was tiny (in fact it was so small I could not do a Facebook check in, or post a review about it on Yelp) the staff was very friendly, it was family owned and every one seemed very happy to see us. Thank God I took picture of my meal and uploaded it to Instagram #HolyLandHummusIsTheBest.

After our time in Tel Aviv, we traveled to the West Bank a place where Muslim live above ancient Jewish ruins, the kingdom of Solomon. West Bank also has a lot of Jewish explorers, anthropologists, and curators, these people take posts in the middle of nowhere, and they spend their day and night digging for relics.  Along the way, we unearthed Israel's nuance and complexity and we made sure not discuss any legal basis for the presence of these post. One contrast between the West Bank and Israel is Internet speed and lack of Wi-Fi, but the landscape shifted continuously and thankfully to our selfie-stick we captured every streaking moment and posted them on Instagram with #HolyLandFun.

The West Bank is home to many Muslims and everyone I met was happy and friendly. Many of the Muslims I met were Graffiti artists, and unlike in California they were allowed to express their artistic creativity on a special wall built just for that. I was so inspired by them. I came to learn that the wall that lay in front of us was a wall of solidarity, built by both Palestinians and Israelis together. Built to protect the innocent. The tour guide mentioned it was 25’ feet in elevation and over 400 miles in length, and I immediately thought: wow that is like a trip from San Diego to Las Vegas and halfway back #IMissVegas. My friend Youssef who was accompanying us made a joke, he is a Arab-Israeli and a Muslim very modern and open minded he even likes to eat Sushi, Youssef said: imagine you stack 3 Michael Jordan on top of each other, and then add Spud Webb to the top and you still can’t see to the other side. We were 15’ people on the tour, and Youssef made us all laugh out loud #LOL. After our visit to the border, I decided that my next trip will be the Great Wall of China. #HolyLandWall #Inspired #ChinaNext

It was after our time in the west bank that we made it to the Golan height. The mountainous area is one if Israel’s best tourist attraction, from wine tasting to snowboarding to hot natural baths Golan has it all. Our host respected my religious restrictions and did not take me wine tasting, but the rest went. Here again I was reminded by Temecula wine country, with the wineries and the communities on all the hilltops and in surrounding areas. Like Southern California in Israel you can snowboard and sunbathe in the same day. #HolyLandCoolness

Finally we made it to Jerusalem. What a magnificent city. It is here that all 3 Abrahamic religions have roots. Here Jesus walked, Mohamed ascended to the sky and Moses built his temple. Jerusalem was sublime, and a shinning example of how all three religions co-exist. Watching Jews pray at the Wailing Wall, Muslims have their Khutba in Al-Aqsa mosque, seeing Christians congregate in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre made me feel closer to Allah and realize nothing is impossible. We can all put our hate and differences aside and celebrate each other and respect our religions, if they did it in Jerusalem we can do it everywhere.  #HolyLandBliss

What I realized after coming back home to California is that we as Muslims can learn so much from Israel: here is a nation that brought together a wide diverse Jewish population and they were able to co-exist peacefully and build a strong nation with a powerful Jewish identity. As I see Muslim nations torn apart by civil wars and Muslim societies driven to extremism and terrorism, it is a gentle reminder that we can be Like Israel, if we apply ourselves more and celebrate our diversity and understand others better, instead of being consumed by irrational hate and negativity. #HolyLandHope

*Satire by Z & Z

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