Are you a Christian? Are you a Muslim? Are you a Jew?
Throughout my life, I was systematically interrogated about my religion. Unfamiliar name in the Middle East is not really a blessing. In this part of the world, religion is an important pillar of your daily life and your activities.
Some families would be angry if their children play with kids from a different religion. Even if they tolerated it at childhood, they would probably point it out when their kids grow up. After all, the last thing any family need is a bride or groom from a different religion.
The famous Lebanese poet Gibran highlighted the problem in his memoir. His mother didn’t want him to play with a Greek orthodox boy. What a crime?? The Palestinian American writer, Edward Said had similar experience
I encountered the same problem from a very early age. A school teacher took me to one side & gave me a clear warning “ don’t mix with …..,, She is not from your religion” .My teacher didn’t even give me any explanation, I was just expected to obey.
University years were even worse. I encountered people who try to preach their religion & try to convert me. Ironically when I started to show some knowledge & argued back, they didn’t like it at all and started to curse me.
Many others encountered the same experience, In a Muslim dominated society, any women who don’t wear the Hijab (Islamic head scarf), will be automatically labeled as non-Muslim until prove otherwise.
Women are expected to wear some sort of a religious symbol as a form of identity, usually in the form of a nick lace with either a cross or a verse of the Koran. In countries with Shiites population, women wear some sort of symbols of Shiites belief. Ironically even the Liberal secular state of Israel had the same phenomena. Orthodox Jews like to wear Jewish symbols to assert their identity.
In Tunisia, I bought a necklace from a Jewish guy, (a Hamsa), That was it. People started to wonder wether I am Jewish? My reply was “ Is it a crime to be Jewish?” It was really shortsighted, if not foolish from me! Even a passionate Zionist will probably keep a low profile & avoid being provocative in the same circumstances. Luckily, I survived the encounter but only just.
Since 1948, Jewish population in the Arab world started to reduce massively paving the way to the rise of anti-Semitism . Any suspicion that you are a Jew, could have a tremendous consequences.
To make it more exciting, it turn out, the Hamsa is similar to a Shiite symbol of Ali & his family. So it turned out I was Jewish & Shiites. Hurray!! I managed to solve the Arab-Israeli crisis. Well, not really. It turned out that I upset both sides; neither was pleased with me. My visit to the Republic of Iran ( a majority Shiites country with Jewish minority ), was one of a kind. But that’s is another story for another time.
Even on Twitter, I had no joy. I deliberately didn’t mention my religion on my profile; still didn’t stop people from asking me. Many push the un-follow button once I told them the truth, oh dear!
I must admit, I was really surprised by the number of people who identify themselves on Twitter by their religion.
Perhaps I should say I am Buddhist, referring to my name. It will clearly unit all the children of Abraham in despising me. That will be an achievement!
Now I learned to keep quiet & refuse to answer even If asked, my religious belief is between the Almighty & me. Nobody else needs to know.
As I watch the sectarian tension in Egypt. I hope many in this troubled part of the world do the same. If people in the Middle East spend more time practicing their religion than talking about it, their life will be a lot better.