I met a Jew who didn’t judge me for being a Muslim or a Pakistani

Published: January 28, 2017

An Israeli flag waves in front of the minaret of a mosque in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, November 14. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he backed a bill limiting the volume of calls to prayer from mosques, a proposal government watchdogs called a threat to religious freedom.

We believe we live in a connected world today, but is that really true? A few days ago, I asked my friend what she thought of it and she said,

“We can connect to any part of the world with one click. We can access any information in the spur of a moment. What else is connectivity?”

I partially agreed with what my friend had to say but I still wondered if we really are living in a connected world.

We live in a world where we are limited within our own small worlds, which are usually only as big as our mind-sets. And the territorial limits of our mind-sets are set up by the societies we live and grow up in. We develop perceptions, good or bad, over time. We cultivate perceptions about people, places, things, cultures, and religions we have never known, solely on the basis of hearsay.

I once read that if you want a lie to become a truth, you just repeat the lie several times until people start believing it unless they’ve experienced otherwise.

The sad part is that we are never bothered by our ignorance and more often than not, we make assumptions about people without any evidence at all. We aren’t ready to break out of our bubble – I’ve noticed how sometimes these notions become too hard to crack and lead to a certain hatred and disgust for others, so much so that if we even try to engage in a dialogue to render their perceptions, they get offended.

Let’s take a look at the bigger picture – despite all this apparent connectivity, non-Muslims still have the perception that Muslims are fanatics and terrorists, and unless they have a first-hand experience with a Muslim, that perception does not change.

Recently, I met a lot of people from different religions, faiths, races, and backgrounds in the United States, and their views about Muslims were no different. When I told them that I am also a Muslim, they didn’t even believe me. That is how far circumstantial assumptions can go. I overheard someone saying that if they hadn’t met me, they would still believe that Muslims were fanatics who kill others over difference of mind-sets.

It’s a universal problem that doesn’t solely exist in the West. In Pakistan, this problem isn’t any less intense. We are quick to assume and judge what we do not understand. For instance, when I visit other cities in Pakistan, people never believe that I’m from Peshawar simply because they assume that the city only has burqa-clad women that are not even given the right to basic education. If such vacuums can exist in our country, how can we claim to be so connected?

Recently, I had the privilege of meeting a Jewish family in the United States and honestly, it was no less than a treat. During the first week of my interaction with my facilitator, Eileen, I did not know that she was a Jew. We would speak about Pakistan and the United States, about culture, tradition, food, music, and the weather during our car rides. I remember the day when Eileen mentioned in passing that she was a Jew. I was delighted to hear that because I had never met a Jew before, and I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of the situation – here I was, in a different country, befriending someone of a faith people had told me negative things about all my life.

Ideas such as the Jewish lobby working against Muslims, that Jews always conspire against Pakistan, Israel does not like Pakistan, and the Israel-Palestine issue flashed through my mind. And then I remembered my green passport which states that it is valid for all countries of the world except Israel.

From that day onwards, Eileen and I would have discussions about religion and she would tell me about Judaism. The more she told me about it, the more I realised how similar our religions were. One day, while at a restaurant for lunch, I told her how I only preferred Halal food, and she told me how Kosher and Halal were one in the same. For someone who didn’t know, I was amazed to hear that. She also told me that in some orthodox Jewish communities, women and men don’t intermingle, the women cover their heads, and some don’t let their kids go to schools. I was fascinated to learn how connected we were, and how no one ever speaks about our similarities because we are too busy nit-picking at our differences.

I went to see their temple, saw them performing their religious rituals, and heard them reading from the Torah. I met the Rabbis and other Jews, and was overwhelmed by their warmth. I never felt that they hated me for being a Pakistani or a Muslim, even for a moment. They welcomed me into their community, and were curious to know more about me and my country as I was about them.

Eileen made me meet her entire family – her mother, a graceful lady who lives independently and is a librarian, her elder sister, brother-in-law, two little nieces, her husband, and even a family friend who is an Israeli and worked as a professor at a local university.

Since Eileen knew that I only ate Halal food, every time they invited me over for dinner, they took the liberty to prepare a Halal meal especially for me.

I remember how her mother never allowed me to take any form of public transport while I was there and insisted on dropping me all the way to my door every time.

“Just like I don’t like my daughter taking public transport at night, I don’t like you taking it either,” she would say.

One day, while crossing a temple, she pointed towards it and told me that this is where she got married. She went on to ask me about the weddings in Pakistan and I briefed her about the average four or five-day wedding functions, the average cost we bear for a wedding and the number of guests we invite. She was shocked. I also told her about certain traditions in rural areas where the whole village is usually invited to attend the wedding.

In response, she told me,

“My friend once went to Afghanistan and came across a wedding ceremony. They invited him in, and he felt extremely privileged to have garnered an invitation. When he arrived, he noted that there were hundreds of people there. So he asked someone why, and the man replied telling him that there, everyone is invited to every wedding.”

She spoke to me about her husband and her step-daughter quite often. I never heard her say a single negative thing about her step-daughter, and that made me so happy, since in our society, people are usually so spiteful towards step-relations.

I saw her crying the day Donald Trump won because she was really worried – worried about her people, about the immigrants, the African-Americans, the Muslims, and other minorities living in the US.

Before I was leaving the US, Eileen had given me a pair of socks and a note with it. At the time I didn’t quite understand the purpose of the socks, but once I read the note, I realised what a kind-hearted person she is, and how it’s so naïve to assume things about people on the basis of their faith or locality.

After meeting and spending time with Eileen, I realised that the only way to eradicate our misconceptions and break out of our little bubbles is to meet people, to come forth and try to understand other religions, cultures, and values with an open mind. We must always remember that there are two sides to every story and every person and it’s unfair to label others based on certain stereotypes.

Thus, connectivity isn’t just about technological advancement; it’s about cross-cultural interactions and the development of new relationships. Because technology can never replace personal contact, even though today, it seems like it can. We have to realise that in order to grow, we have to expand our bubble, and the only way to do so is through interactions.

Asma Bangash

Asma Bangash

The writer is a peace activist and a law graduate from Khyber Law College, Peshawar. She has been a fellow at Swedish Institute Stockholm Sweden and is also a Fellow at Social Justice Institute of Case western Reserve University Ohio USA.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • wb

    You Muslims and particularly Pakistanis are strange creatures. You met a jew?!! You met a Jew!! And you wrote a blog about that?

    Jews are not Martians. Jews are not great white sharks. Jews are not dinosaurs. Jews are not piranhas. Jews are not Titanaboas. Jews are humans.

    Remember, 1450 years ago, all of Arabia belonged to Jews and Pagans. Keep in mind, that includes Maccah and Madina and of course Jerusalem.

    To add to that, Hindus existed in Pakistan even before Islam came into existence.Recommend

  • Anon

    What is your taking on “Two-nation Theory”……..?Recommend

  • quatro

    Most Muslims are taught to hate Jews and usually have never met a Jew. Same Muslims usually don’t know that Israel has a population that is about 25 percent Muslim and they vote, hold political office, make more money, live longer than the vast majority of Muslims on this planet … and those Muslims don’t hate Jews and NEVER leave Israel to migrate to Muslim countries. Most bias in this World is taught – it’s not from experience …. that s/b obvious but it’s often ignored.Recommend

  • Jamil Doe

    “I met a Jew who didn’t judge me for being a Muslim or a Pakistani”
    Many congratulations. Could a Pakistani Muslim ask for more? Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was nicely told……. I too believe that people on their own are inherently good.Recommend

  • Mohammad Azeem Khan

    Wow a beautiful story. All mullahs should study Judaism in proper sense and not make negative propaganda against them . You will see how close and connected we are. Jewish Rabbis have started to study Islam religion , Quran and Islamic history some even have more knowledge of Hadith than the mullahs themselves. Pakistan mullahs have the worst knowledge about Jews Christians and Hindus and other sects of Islam and they always look for negativity to make propaganda while Arab Mullahs have some knowledge of Judaism and Christianity and at times interact with their Rabbis and Priest.Recommend

  • surprised

    Like most Muslims she had probably never met a Jew.Recommend

  • rationalist

    “The more she told me about it, the more I realised how similar our religions were.”

    Jews follow most of the Old Testament teachings. The teachings of Islam mostly follow those from the Old Testament. Jews and Muslims lived side by side during, before and after Prophet Mohammad’s time.

    The God of Abraham is the god of Muslims too.

    So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are a lot of similarities between Islamic and Jewish practices and beliefs.Recommend

  • fze

    My next bed neighbour in hospital was a young Jewish lady. We got along very well. In fact the family was very religious. She would wear a head cap all the while and so would all the women in the family.They all wore long dresses, never baring their legs or arms. We had a good time together chatting, laughing n sharing all the time. Just yesterday, 27 January, while attending holocaust memorial service I sat along side a lady whose father was an inmate of auschwitz during world war n she shared his memories with me. Yes, the religion of Islam and Jewish share many things in common. If only the two could realise that.BTW I’m a Muslim and carry no ill will against any religion. To each, whatever they believe in, is my policy.Recommend

  • shaqus

    Very interesting article, but i doubt pakistan hates jews, it is more political nothing related to religion.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    Nothing is against jews. Even jews are against the illegal occupation of Israel.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    It is good she highlighted how certain vested interests brain wash young minds about other faiths. That makes the people radical later in life.Recommend

  • omarsadiq

    Heart-warming story and encounter!Recommend

  • Fair Reforms

    Wish there are more civilized Muslims like you. Well done Asma for being honest and straightforwad.Recommend

  • Genie

    I may be able to enlighten you dear learned person if I am ever qualified to do so. You met some one you thought was a Jew. Do we know how many versions of Judaism are there? Most likely No. Are we not told that you recite the Kalimah three times and lo and behold you become a Muslim. What we are never told that it is the Kalimah in our deeds that determines whether we are Muslims or not.

    Thus there are all sorts of people claiming to be Jews, Christians, Muslims etc. etc. The people who are true to their religion show it in their deeds and are bound to be very pleasant in their behaviour and absolutely certainly peace loving people.The truest Jews are those who show it in their deeds. The true Jews uphold the sanctity of the holy Torah and thus lay no claim on the replica of the “Roman outpost in Asia” that has been created once again by the European invaders some 100 years ago. It is a historical fact that the European invaders have been coming to this land time and again since 2100 years ago. Twice before they have been thrown out of this land by the Asian owners of this Asian land. Did the Europeans learn any lesson from the history of this land? No. Recommend

  • hercules too too

    The love of my life and wife to be is Jewish Israeli :)Recommend

  • yamuri

    Nice and true!!! I have also similar experience and that with the Jews again. There are lots of wonderful people out there amings Christians and Jews. We ourselves have to make sure we are correct, respectful and connect to others while respecting their values.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Most Jews don’t care about other people’s religion.Only Pakistanis due to their bogus ideology careRecommend

  • 19640909rk .

    Jews have always been decent honest people. Its the treatment given to them in the Islamic world which is bad to say the least. Recommend

  • ab

    ok good for you but recognizing illegitimate state, that will not happen.Recommend

  • wb

    LMAO…it’s not difficult to meet tens of millions of Jews, Hindus, Christians, Atheists and others who don’t ever or mostly judge anyone by their religion.

    But, it’s extremely difficult to meet a Muslim who will not judge anyone else by their religion.

    This very blog is based on your prejudgement of Jewsz that Jews judge Muslims by their religion.

    Heck, you’ll rarely come across a Sunni Muslim who will not judge a Shia Muslim for his sect. Heck, you’ll rarely come across a Wahabi who will not judge a Barelvi or a Deobandi or a Sufi for his firka. Heck you’ll rarely come across a Wahabi who will not judge another Wahabi for no reason whatsoever.Recommend

  • rationalist

    “This very blog is based on your prejudgement of Jewsz that Jews judge Muslims by their religion.”

    Good catch. Yes, without realizing it, the author has an inherent negative bias about Jews. However, I am sure she means well.Recommend

  • Fahim

    What about people like you who having a bogus ideology and try to judge Pakistani based on religion ?Recommend

  • Feroz

    Good and bad exists everywhere and is never confined to one country, ethnicity or religion. Only the ignorant refuse to see it as it is.Recommend

  • Apoorv Swarup

    Found the title of this article to be extremely ludicrous. I am Indian and we take diversity for granted here (e.g. we have some of the oldest jewish synagogues in the world, which often have muslim caretakers! and that is considered completely normal). Only realized how lacking multiculturalism is in the rest of the world, and the big deal they make about it, after having spent a substantial time in Europe now. Its a pity that the neighbour (which at its inception had a similar cultural fabric as us) in its quest to build a homogenous state has instead built an insular state with a misleading narrative that it feeds to its masses.Recommend

  • Sane

    All your relationship and policies are based on religion. You have the largest population of racists and discriminate on the basis of religion.Recommend

  • only truth is nature

    A few years back Israel gave best writer’s award to a muslim palestinian.Recommend

  • Milind A

    You stole my words!!! Its perfectly normal to come across Jews, Hindus, Christians who don’t give a toss about other person’s religious or sexual leanings. However its normal to find a person who not only judges people from other religions, but also his own (different sect though)Recommend

  • Vish

    Pakistanis are obsessed with religious identity. Pakistanis only meet Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Parsees, Buddhists, and progressively Ahmadis, Ismailis, Shias, Sunnis etc. but never human beings. I guess in Pakistan there are only religious identities.Recommend

  • ab

    LOL. You don’t know anything.Recommend

  • wb

    Are you confusing yourself for the other guy.

    Let me enlighten you…none of the Indian languages even have a word that actually means religion. We simply don’t understand the stupidity called religion. My dearest, you really need to read more. I suggest, you start with third grade social sciences.Recommend

  • Kasturi K

    wb, Milind A and others – Here come the Indians with their up turned noses and narcissistic attitude.Recommend

  • Rex Minocertain quarters

    Recently, I met a lot of people from
    different religions, faiths, races, and backgrounds in the United
    States, and their views about Muslims were no different. When I told
    them that I am also a Muslim, they didn’t even believe me.

    Reading this article I find it difficult as well that the author is a muslim? There is nothing uncommon to meet a decent individual or a family of jewish faith or for that matter of christiian or other faiths. The key difference of the people of Ibrahimic faith with those of other faiths is that while the fomer derive their ethics and morality from the scriptures, the others do not.
    Every fourth person in the world today claims to have a muslim faith, speaks a different language and lives in diverse cultures but they all say their prayers in arabic language. This gives them uniqueness and transparency but a faulty perception too from certain quarters on account of rivalry and as a direct result of the actions of some which do not conform to the civilised standards. Miss Bangash has to learn a lot about muslim faith to be able to know about the association of others. faith with their way of life.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • wb

    You always confuse Muslims with others. So, everything you wrote is true about Muslims.Recommend

  • wb

    Pakistan was created based on religion. So, Pakistan should absolutely be judged only and only based on Islam. To make it more perfect, Islam should be judged based on Pakistan, because Pakistan is the land of the purest of Muslims.

    And which ideology is bogus and which is not? Do you have any scientific basis to prove it or just a mind that’s brainwashed from the age of 2.Recommend

  • wb

    True. But when it comes to Hindus, most or all of them are evil. And of course, atheists are so badRecommend

  • wb

    Would you call the Ulema e Karam as vested interests?Recommend

  • Rohan

    I’m Indian not Chinese or PakistaniRecommend

  • Sane

    But, for one thing I’m sure..you are a member of paid Troll ArmyRecommend

  • Sane

    One nation (hinduwta) theory broken in pieces.Recommend

  • Fahim

    Pakistan was created on base of Islam but we are struggling to implement Islam at government level and personal life level. Love of money is the biggest problem here. I don’t agree that Islam should be judged basis on what muslim are doing. because neither muslim claim this nor Islam. I hope you understand if you want toRecommend

  • wb

    Yes. You even insulted me that I work for 25 paise. And what the heck is your point? Or you never ever make a point?Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    You Sir belong to those that accept the name of Hindu and Indian given by the Persians and the colonialists respectively..

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rohan

    You’re a minor,argue when you become an adult Recommend

  • Ahmar

    The writer’s intentions were good. There is a lot of anti-Jewish, anti-Hindu propaganda in Pakistan about global conspiracies and secret agencies out there to destroy Pakistan. Jews are vilified to the extent that they have been dehumanized. The blogger’s intention, as I see it, are to show that Jews too are regular human beings like us. They don’t hold prejudice against Pakistani Muslims unlike how most Pakistanis do against them.

    To most Pakistanis, Jews have become Martians who they will never meet in real life but will judge to be evil miscreants from a young age. Hindus too are being vilified the same way, by radical religious publications.

    More needs to be done and written by Pakistani moderates and liberals to bring some sanity back to the country and counter the narrative of religious extremists. I can understand where she is coming from.Recommend

  • wb

    And you sir belong to the group of people who name their children after those who have once plundered, looted, murdered and raped you ancestors.

    I can’t imagine naming my son after a man who had raped my grandmother or great grandmother or great great grandmother. But, your kind have no problem with that.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    I did not mean to be rude Sir; the name ‘ Hindu’ or the ‘Indian’ simply describes the characteristics of the nameless people found by the invaders not only in todays Bharat but also in Americas. You people have the ability today to search in the vedas and discover the true name of your folks. By simply accepting the unkind name given by the invaders is not an act of bravado and intelligence .

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    We simply don’t understand the stupidity called religion.

    Religion is a Belief not a stupidity. Even Donald Trump admitted this week that America is the land of Believers.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • wb

    I don’t think you understand the word bravado. As far as intelligence goes, it is the most intelligent thing to do. Why not embrace an identity that has been established. Doesn’t matter who gave it.

    But, you should think about naming your children after rapers and looters. Now that’s really a sign of slavery, isn’t it? Recommend

  • wb

    Religion is not a belief. Religion is a blind belief on something for which not an iota of evidence existed in the history of universe.

    And glad to know that Trump is the new role-model of intelligence and knowledge for Pakistanis.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    They are the worst. Mullahs are curse for humanity.Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    There is hardly any difference between Islam and Judaism. In-fact Islam is derived out of Judaism. They have the same prophets, believe in Old testment, Dietary rules are same. Attire is same.Recommend

  • Alex Sal

    If anyone Jews in the US are standing up for muslim rights.Recommend

  • http://solomon2.blogspot.com/ Solomon2

    Not surprising. According to Pew only 2% of Pakistanis have a favorable view of Jews: http://www.pewglobal.org/2011/07/21/muslim-western-tensions-persist/. So for a Pakistani to discover that a Jew as actually human and likable must have been a real shock.Recommend

  • Hassan

    Some Jews are good but majority of them are against Muslims and PakistanRecommend