At the weekend, God willing, I will be working at the Palestine Expo in London. As I prepare, I find myself reflecting upon how much I have changed my approach towards the Holy Land since my teenage years.
When I was a sixth former, my history teacher set me and my classmates an essay and for this assignment we were not allowed to sit on the fence. The Arab-Israeli Conflict. That was what the topic was named. We had to argue for a side.
I was Christian. And I felt sure that God had led Moses and the Israelites to live in the Holy Land, and that I therefore had to side with contemporary Israelis. To identify goodness in every move they made. So I did. And I thought I was doing the right thing.
I tucked away my decision in the back of my mind and held onto my assumption that I was interpreting responsibly and acting correctly, for years.
Thought, Compassion, and Kindness
Nowadays, reflecting upon my teenage behaviour helps me empathise with people around me. People who shun me for being Muslim, as if their behaviour is in accordance with what is right, proper, and good. As if they are compelled by arbitrary common values take a side against me and stick to it.
In particular, there is a lady who works at a shop I go to frequently. I witness her try to maintain dismissal of me, avoiding eye contact, neglecting greetings. And when she accidentally smiles in response to my kindnesses, she lingers in the moment briefly before recomposing herself and glimpsing about as if a little nervous of being detected committing a friendly deed with a Muslim.
As we go about our daily lives, walking, meeting people, and shopping, etc, we are not answering an essay question to be graded by a human with marginal criteria. And we are not teenagers.
We Are Always Interacting
We make choices when we interact and don’t interact with people, all the time. We can change them. And there is One Judge of our intentions, speech, and actions in the end.
When people oppress, claiming to have the same religion as us, we can choose to carry on walking the walk of compassion.
When people oppress, claiming to represent us as members of the government of our homeland, we can choose to carry on walking the walk of kindness.
Part of me wants to talk about this. With the lady in the shop. With the man in the car park who shouted foul language at me as if it’s okay to yell at ‘my sort’ that way. With the man who shouted at my children so much his dog set to barking and then he claimed they upset the animal.
But I can’t awaken those who don’t want to wake up.
God can. The Compassionate, the Kind.
We all make mistakes. Thank God for repentance from us and guidance from Him.
When Did You Last Refresh Your Intentions?
Eighteen years ago, I didn’t know any Muslims when I ‘studied’ the ‘Arab-Israeli Conflict’.
After sixth form, I still remember my first encounters with historical ‘Muslim’ decisions as opposed to ‘Arab’ retaliations with my university tutor. And my first conversations with two young Muslim women.
Today we have wikipedia.
And today we are adults.
Like my old history teacher, I say we need to pick a side. But my topic is different, its domain is inside us, and research for it is both through acquiring knowledge and self-reflection–reading our hearts. My topic is propriety.
Choose Love, Spread Love for Palestine
Today and everyday we make new choices. We can recognise old decision routes that are not good ones and subsequently let them go. And we can consciously tuck new maps into our subconscious minds to drive us.
When I meet with haters, I am not telling myself there is goodness in action despite contrary evidence. I have learned my lesson, thank God. But I am not giving up hope that people can wake up, change, embrace and express their potential for compassion and kindness.
Perhaps my thinking is more immature than that of a teenager. So perhaps I am childlike.
‘God can do anything.’ That is my refrain during my interactive storytelling sessions at the Friends of Al-Aqsa Expo in London this weekend, God willing. My sessions are focused on prophets Dawud/David and Sulayman/Solomon who loved God and the Holy Land He blessed, and who ruled with peace in Palestine. Come ready to interact, to stand up, and to fly!
In Islam, we say God is as His servant expects Him to be. I expect His mercy, His kindness, and His forgiveness, and I approach this weekend with hope, and gratitude, and humility.
So, if you are coming to the Palestine Expo, I hope to meet you there.
I first published an similar (non-SEO edited) version of this article about my experience of Palestine as a teenage Christian and adult Muslim on Facebook here.