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Growing up As a Muslim Amongst Jews

Personal Encounters with Faith - Part 2

Editor’s Note:

In this series, we will present some stories of followers of different religions who took the chance to encounter with their religious identities. As you will read through their stories, they all aimed to build a bridge of understanding and coexistence.

As a Muslim-American, I realize that my diploma from the Hebrew Academy of Toledo is an unusual credential. But in the context of my family and our identity, it makes perfect sense.

My mother emigrated from India to the US in 1963, settling in northwest Ohio two years

before the quota laws changed to allow a significant wave of emigration from South Asia and other non-European countries.

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My father, who had gone to school with my mother’s brothers and was seeking a better education for himself, arrived in Toledo, Ohio in 1967. A year later, my parents married.

Ethnically alone, they found commonality with the local Muslim Arab community of Lebanese and Syrians who themselves were the children of immigrants that had come a century before to help build America’s automobiles at the Ford plant in southeastern Michigan.

The Arabs welcomed my parents with open arms and quickly folded them into their community; teaching my mother how to make stuffed grape leaves and helping my father perfect his Arabic.

While I imagine that these early years must have been difficult for them, my parents were and continue to be deeply religious Muslims and found the shared faith a comfort that allowed them to settle and raise their family within the Arab community in Toledo.

They helped build the city’s beautiful mosque (which, in fine Ohio fashion, is right in the middle of an endless cornfield) and became active members in the community.

New Comers

Eventually, when the Indians and Pakistanis finally arrived, my parents somehow could never entirely fit in with them.

My parents’ experience was uniquely theirs – arriving in the US without their ethnic community, they held on to their South Asian heritage but at the same time welcomed the Arab community into their hearts and home as part of their newly forged Muslim-American identity.

Growing up As a Muslim Amongst Jews

Their cultural identity was a summation of the South Asian heritage that bore them and the Arab community that nurtured them, both parts inextricably linked to one another to create the home culture in which I was born and raised.

It was in this home environment that celebrated cultural pluralism that my parents nurtured my cultural identity as a Muslim-American. They shared their love of faith and country, demonstrating in word and deed the connection between being a faithful Muslim and a patriotic American.

By the age of four, my father was already bringing me door-to-door with him to collect money for the homeless. On a typical weekend home from college, my mother dragged me from my bed to build houses with Habitat for Humanity.

Giving back was a duty and a privilege because we were Muslim and American. But this is only half the story. Like my parents before me, my home environment only partly shaped my identity. The other part came from my daily life with friends and an even wider notion of ‘community’.

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