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Lost in Transition

I was born and raised in Jerusalem Palestine under the Israeli Occupation in 1984. Being Muslim deemed me not one of the "chosen ones" and as a result I was not allowed to have citizenship in the country in which I was born, the country in which my grandfather lost his leg fighting for our identity and the land in which my entire lineage was born and raised. Although my birth certificate states "Israel" as my birthplace, I was given Jordanian citizenship and an Israeli ID card that will allow me to pass through certain cities but prevent me from voting. This ID was later taken back and I will never be allowed to become a resident of Palestine or Israel because I'm Muslim. This sent a clear message of unworthiness from the moment of birth-simply because I was born to Muslim parents.

Although I was born Muslim, I didn’t accept Islam as my faith until the tender age of eight. It was a sunny and bright calm day. My brother and I were playing on the balcony in Jerusalem when we decided to question this whole existence of a "God" that seemed to be causing so much bloodshed and chaos in our homeland. Across the street from us, a neighbor was hanging up some clothes to dry as they did not have a dryer. The young lady was in the middle of hanging up her laundry but the basket was fairly full. We innocently challenged God himself and said "If she stops hanging up the clothes, takes her basket and goes back inside-then there is a God." I objected to my brother that it would be an unfair way to test God. Why would she do that when she hasn't finished her task? He said "if there is a God, and he can do anything, just like he prevented that tear gas from hitting you on the way from school, and gave me strength to get up after being slapped by an Israeli soldier for wearing a necklace in the shape of the Palestinian map, then he can do this." Within seconds, the young lady stopped hanging up her laundry, took in the remaining clothes and went inside her house. From that moment on, I believed in God and inside me grew an unwavering faith that has not left me to this day despite the baggage and hardships associated with being Muslim.

During my early childhood, the first intifada broke out. My Dad, a physician who owned an ambulance on several occasions would come home and we would help him clean out Palestinian/Muslim blood from his Ambulance. One clear memory I have of this was after the Aqsa (mosque) massacre in which unarmed Muslim worshipers were massacred inside the mosque. My father described it as a raining of bullets, so severe you can barely see in front of you. When my Dad came home that day and opened the Ambulance door, blood which had flooded the Ambulance’s inside gushed out like a waterfall.

My parents finally moved us to the United States at the age of 12 for a safer environment and to get a better education. Growing up Muslim in America was free of bullets and tear gas but came with its own challenges and identity crises. From bullying at school, death threats after 9/11 to an identity crisis of trying to uphold my Islamic faith while assimilating to my peers and into corporate America as a young adult. My main conflict was that I was raised to believe certain things were wrong and only bad people did them. Things like drinking, going to clubs, speaking to strange men and dating.

After graduating and starting a career with a multi-billion dollar distributing company I started interacting with people who seemed very good but did “unislamic” things. Almost every business meeting included a happy hour or an open bar. This caused an internal conflict. How could it be that someone who did not follow Islam be good? To further complicate things, I even met American Muslims who assimilated to American Culture and were genuinely good well educated people but also did “unislamic” things.

After a few years of thinking, researching and interacting, I've come to the conclusion that Islam is just an Arabic word meaning complete submission to God. People express their submission in different ways. Islam is not meant to complicate one’s life but to make it more simple. I've reached internal peace when I was able to differentiate between Islam and Muslims.

Islam is not a terrorist killing in the name of God, nor is it a man taking four wives but never kneeling to pray. Islam is the man who lost his son in war and people came to give their condolences, he was very content and thankful. When questioned, he simply answered “God gave me four children, took one but left me with three. For that, I am thankful”. This to me is Islam and this is a great example of a good Muslim.

Islam to me now is a feeling inside my heart. It is a faith there is a higher power looking over all of us amidst the chaos in our world. Islam is the feeling I got when I visited the birth place of Jesus and the Aqsa mosque. Islam is the feeling I had after running the 33rd Annual Marine Corps marathon to raise funds to educate people I don’t even know and will probably never meet. Most of all I see Islam in my 6 month old baby niece. Born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, unaware of the complications she will face. Living in blissful oblivion, an innocent child who is completely helpless but giggles plays and sleeps because she is in full submission.

I strive to become that kind of Muslim and to submit completely and fully despite any adversities I may face. To giggle smile and keep the innocence of a child in my heart because I am completely submitted to a higher power that will watch over me.

I was once told that there will come a time when being Muslim is like holding a hot coal in ones hand. I believe we are living that time, and although I dropped that coal when I felt it burnt too much or it was hurting me. I quickly picked it up, because that same coal that has been burning also lit my path in my darkest hours since that day I was on the balcony and chose Islam, chose to submit. I hope that coal will continue to burn and be fueled with my faith and passion to show the world the truth about Islam and distinguish it from the Muslims who have tarnished its name.