We Had Been Friends

Muslim Matters

We Had Been Friends

Never suffer the prejudice of the eye to determine the heart.
– Johann Georg Zimmermann

By Yousra Hashmi, Independent Submission to TMO

“At around 9:00 AM local time on 12 July 2006, Hezbollah launched diversionary rocket attacks toward Israeli military positions near the coast and near the border village of Zar’it[41] as well as on the Israeli town of Shlomi and other village.” (Zar’it-Shtula incident BBC news)

Amanda and I had been friends–more like sisters–for three years. Although our first encounter was not the friendliest, our differences eventually subsided, mostly because they had to. Our family and close friends were shocked to find out we of all people would be ‘stuck together’ as they said, sharing a room together for a semester. Brainwashed into the stereotypical mindset that we were somehow supposed to be sworn enemies given our differing faiths, we were both reluctant to start the new semester living with each other. It was too late to request different roommates because the semester was already beginning, and our request would be deferred until the spring. We both had realized that life was going to be very difficult if we were each to stay in our confined prisons and not reach a compromise. And believe me, you do not want be in the position of asking the person you might absolutely detest for some extra toilet paper. So with that thought in mind and after an initial phase of heavy awkwardness, we not only reached a silent compromise, we actually became inseparable.

“At 9:00am Hezbollah ground contingent crossed the border into Israeli territory and attacked two Israeli armored Humvees.”

Our friendship conquered all stereotypes. The one irony of it was our strong lust for holidays that we did not traditionally celebrate. And so in our home away from home we indulged in the building of gingerbread houses, the ornate embellishing of wintergreens and the ingestion of eggnog, candy canes and Christmas turkey.

Moreover, when our own religious and cultural traditions swung into action we both were equal and eager participants. For example when the fasting month rolled around and the moon was still smiling, Amanda too would awaken before sunrise to participate in the traditional breakfast of parathas and chai before the fast. Moreover, she would drag me to the drawing room making sure I would not miss a single day of the holy fasting month. However, when it came to the physical advantages of fasting, Amanda benefited the most, shedding all calories consumed from the previous feasts.

We visited each others’ families during the holidays–the night before the 30th of Ramadan, after twenty nine days of fasting and craving I made sure Amanda got a taste of all the Pakistani traditions. We put henna on our hands, dressed glamorously, and ate all the delectable foods that are a trademark of Pakistani culture.

“Israel Defense Forces attacked targets within Lebanon with artillery and air strikes hours before the Israeli Cabinet met to discuss a response.”

When you conform to others’ beliefs, whether they are those of your family or friends, you may sometimes leave your own in limbo. Conformity can come in all forms, whether it is in the shape of traditional beliefs, historical grudges or ego/ethno-centric philosophies. When you yourself become the stereotype, you loose your own identity becoming what others believe you to be or what they think you should be. By unifying and breaking the barriers of stereo types you open your mind and can be appreciated by who you really are not solely upon race, religion, class or ethnicity. The friendship and trust between Amanda and me, despite our religious backgrounds was a testament to our individual identities, and the fact that we had evolved into people who we wanted to be and not who we had been told or conceived to be.

Things were not always so simple. There would be sometimes moments of anguish for both of us in our relationship– the world outside our own was not always as peaceful and beautiful as ours. We would watch the news or read the paper and come across heated debates amongst Muslim and Jewish groups in college that harshly brought to light the turbulent relationship among Muslims and Jews in the Middle East. It made us think a lot, and it also made us both take time to study each other’s faiths, the crucial history and also make a conscious effort to understand the prejudices that have sprung amongst the followers of both faiths over the years. Of course, we had our moments of disagreement when we debated history and had our own unpretentious and honest inter-faith dialogue in our room night after night. But there was one thing that we managed to reach a consensus on, something that did a lot to strengthen our friendship forever. Whatever political injustices plagued Muslims and Jews around the world historically, neither of the two faiths propagated hatred, bias and injustice. Once we agreed on this, it was so easy to transcend every difference and every bias. It was so much easier then to bask in the light of our natural friendship while being strong believers in each of our faiths. And in our hearts we knew, that once the Muslims and Jews around the world reached the consensus that we had attained after that hard work, and for once took the road not taken instead of conforming to history and their peers, things could change for the better.



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