Last September, something happened that forever changed the way I looked at Jewish-Muslim relations.
A post I wrote, “I Didn’t Love My Wife When We Got Married” went viral. Despite the title, the point was very traditional, very non-contemporary-American-romantic: it was that love isn’t a feeling, it is an action.
Like any good blogger, I obsessively watched my stats throughout the experience. Especially the “live stats” that told me how many people were on my site at once.
And something fascinated me from the very beginning: besides America, the country with the highest hits on my site for two days was Egypt. Egypt. Coming to a site called “Pop Chassid”, which, at the time, contained 80% Jewish-themed pieces.
Then it was Malaysia. Then Pakistan.
Amazed, I tried to tap into why this was. There had to be a reason. Why Egypt and not, say, Britain or Canada, where there were surely more English-readers? Was it just a coincidence?
If I’ve learned anything from studying marketing, it’s that, at that scale, nothing is a coincidence. I could learn something from those numbers.
So I started to pay attention to my comments, looking for Muslim-sounding names.
And soon, I noticed a pattern.
One after another, they identified with one particular part of my post: the idea that Hollywood, Disney, and media in general had skewed our perceptions of what love really was. That traditional marriage was much more powerful than new-fangled romance.
Tradition, connection to roots, a more “conservative” outlook on life in general… I could see this is what brought them to my post, and what caused them to share it so much.
From that moment on, I started to see something that I feel most of the world hasn’t realized: that there is a huge potential for Jews and Muslims to unite. But not in the way the world expects us to.
Right now, Israel and Palestine are fighting. As far as I am aware, Israel declared a cease-fire, but Palestine is still shooting. Either way, the fighting, the core of it, hasn’t stopped. It started in 1948, and it looks to keep going.
It seems to me that the whole world keeps telling us Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, that the way forward is through increased secularization. Through letting go of beliefs and focusing on democracy and our “human connection”.
I think that’s hogwash. It is democracy that gave terrorists their own state in Gaza. Secularization also doesn’t help the liberal Israeli world connect with their far more traditional neighbors.
The answer, I’ve come to realize, was in my experience with my blog post. It is, not in connecting as humans, but as children of G-d, and as people who hold so much in common.
I’ve noticed, since that post, how much of the frustration with being traditional and religion in a modern, secular world is shared by Muslims and Jews. Both deeply value modesty, for example. And in a world that is becoming more and more hostile to modesty, it is the Jews and Muslims who have most committed to this ideal.
This blog post, in fact, was inspired by a friend of mine, Mimi Hecht, who runs a fashion line that sells modest clothing. A Muslim woman bought one of her skirts and shared a picture with Mimi. Mimi shared it on her company’s Instagram profile. Almost immediately, the account was assaulted with Jews offended that she had shown a picture of a Muslim. They said it “wasn’t the right time”. They got angry and in a huff.
And then, Mimi posted this beautiful response:
Mimi’s post reminded me the lesson I learned from my own experience of connecting with traditional Muslims. When we move beyond politics and towards beliefs. From our connected origin to traditional marriage to valuing modesty.
Since Israel was created, it was the secular folks who have been in charge of the peace process. The religious ones who stood on the side and smirked that it could never happen. Meanwhile Israel’s leaders made peace with other secular Middle Eastern countries that were based purely on self-interest. They promoted despots like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. They tried to influence the Middle East to be more secular.
Now, it is the secular people who are beginning to shake their heads and murmur that there can’t be peace.
I wonder if, perhaps, there will be switch among the religious. If they will start to see that they are the key to peace not just with Palestine, but the entire Middle East.
The secular peace that stands with Egypt, with Jordan, with all the rest in the Middle East… it’s unsustainable. Secular despots in a world full of traditional people. Peace that is based off of self-interest.
True peace can only come through connecting to ideals. Connecting to a common core, seeing not just the humanity in the other, but the shared vision, shared ideals.
Today, I am fasting. It is the 17th of Tammuz, the day the gates to the Temple were breached by the Romans (among other tragedies). Today, billions of Muslims are also fasting for Ramadan.
We may have huge gulfs separating us. We may be different in many ways. But our core beliefs hold so much in common that a shared fast, a viral post, a shared vision on modesty… these are all just scratching the surface of a potential that Jews and Muslims haven’t even begun to tap into fully.
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