What is it like being a Muslim American Jew?
You might be wondering this since you came across my site called muslimjew.tumblr.com. There aren’t too many Muslim American Jews, but there is a sprinkling of us around the country. I know some Jews who became Muslim more than 30 years ago, and on a personal level, I only know about three other Muslim American Jews. I think most converts tend to be from Christian and atheist backgrounds as well as other miscellaneous faith traditions. Since I embraced Islam while living abroad in a Muslim-majority country - Egypt - it felt natural and normal to be Muslim there, since 90% or so of Egyptians are Muslims and pretty much all of the Egyptians I knew were Muslim. So I quickly slipped into being Muslim, I didn’t really go through any dramatic change as I might have in the US. Wearing the hijab was no problem because most women wore one and it helped me fit in and avoid harassment and being obviously a foreigner. With my Jewish, AKA, Mediterranean features, once I stuck a scarf on my head, Egyptians couldn’t tell I wasn’t Egyptian until, of course, I opened my mouth. Since anti-Semitism is pretty rampant in the Arab world, I didn’t tell anyone about my real background, and made up different stories about where I was from and where my family was from - one day I could be from Turkey, sometimes Kurdistan, Uzbekistan, Bosnia, and other random countries. I got into many conversations when people would talk about their views on Jews, and I was glad they didn’t know who I was!
When my Arabic started to get good, people would start guessing I was from random Arab countries, quite often Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, or Syria. They couldn’t place my messed up accent, but they thought I was just an Arab woman speaking a funny dialect of Arabic. I thought that was pretty cool!
So for years, I pretty much forgot I was Jewish and even started to believe for a time that my parents really were Turkish, and I was a Turk! Well, not really, but almost. But it had gotten so ingrained in me that I couldn’t tell anyone the truth. The only person who knew was one close friend and my future husband.
I ended up living in Egypt for more than five years, and when I came back to settle (at least for the time being) in the US, I still had the in me. I’ve been back in the US for nearly three years now, and only very few of my friends know I have a Jewish background. When I have told friends, I felt as if I were revealing a deep dark secret, and they responded casually, with “oh, that’s nice,” kind of responses, as if it didn’t mean much. I guess it doesn’t mean much, there are lots of Jews in the US and it’s not a big deal. Although I guess the media likes to remind us that Jews and Arabs/Muslims can’t be friends, so how could a Jew actually become a Muslim? I still think it’s kind of controversial for some people and I still have trouble tell people, but I hope it will get easier and that I can let down my defense a bit and embrace my contradictory identity and wear it proudly on my sleeve. Since I understand Jews and Jewish culture so well (including having participating on two Zionist brainwashing trips to Israel as a naive teenager), I hope I can use this knowledge to my advantage to engage in interfaith dialogue and relations with Jewish Jews.