Guest post by Ashmath,
I have taken the title for this post from a description of Muhammad Asad, the former Leopold Weiss, who played an important role in bringing me to Islam. Unlike brother Asad, I am no world traveling adventurer, nor a renowned author and journalist. And although I hope to touch the lives of converts to Islam by means of my humble blog posts, I have no illusions about the quality of my writing or the depth of my insights. But the way in which I find myself similar to brother Asad is in my disillusionment with both the modern religious applications of Judaism and the hollow, cold strivings of secular Western society.
As a Jew, born to Jewish parents, who came to Islam during what are, Inshallah, his middle years, a part of me will always be a Jew. However, the meaning of the word Jew has grown so muddy and so contentious that I am forced to make explicit what exactly I mean by this. And this clarification is crucially important – to me if not to you.
Like many Jews of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) descent, I was raised with no ethnic heritage other than “Jewish.” We were Americans, true, but in immigrant-rich New York, where I grew up, everyone – no matter how patriotic – was a hyphenated American. My best friends were Italian-American, African-American, and Hispanic-American. In everyday parlance, we were Jewish, Italian, Black, and Puerto Rican. So, despite my secular upbringing my primary identity was my Jewishness. Others had their racial or national origin, but we Jews only had our Jewishness. Western racists said that we Jews weren’t caucasian; that we were not included in the so-called “white race.” The Russians and Poles alongside whom my ancestors lived never accepted my ancestors as true Russians or Poles, so the only identity they were allowed was as Jews. This was a circular problem: the Jews were not allowed by other Poles to be full Poles, yet they were criticized for being too separate from their Polish neighbors and for failing to integrate into that society which would not have them. (Perhaps there are some similarities to the situation some Western Muslims find themselves in today?)
And also keep in mind the two contradictory responses that Jews are likely to get from other Jews upon converting away from Judaism: 1) they will be told that they have betrayed Judaism and the Jewish people and that they are cut off, cast out, and considered dead to their loved ones, or 2) they will be told that it is impossible to stop being a Jew and that despite whatever silly notions have entered their misguided heads, they will be a Jew until the day they die (and possibly beyond).
Honesty forces me to admit that I am not at peace with my Jewish ancestry. I resent its lifelong claim on me and have tried to completely sever myself from it, with little success. I recoil from much of what Jewish influence in politics and media seems to have accomplished. This admission will make it easy for Jews to call me a “self-hating Jew,” I know, but that is an oversimplification and a too-easy dismissal of a complex topic. One of the most “antisemitic” books I’ve ever read is the book of Jeremiah in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, yet no one today calls Jeremiah an antisemite or a self-hating Jew. He was a Jew who was inspired to record an amazing indictment (a jeremiad, even) of the moral and religious failings of his fellow Jews. God allowed him to do this. Rather than following the flesh and blood people Israel, he followed the word of God to which his people had become unfaithful. And while I cannot compare myself to a Prophet of God, I see myself following a similar course in that my allegiance is not to flesh and blood, not to my ancestry or lineage.
And so what is the middle-aged Jewish convert to Islam to do? Speaking only for myself; all that I can do is acknowledge that my history is Jewish, and that I have fully accepted Islam as my faith, Dar al-Islam as my nation, the Umma as my tribe, and my fellow Muslims as my brothers and sisters. As a child, I was taught by my family that Jews are superior to other people. I rejected that notion long before I accepted Islam, and I love that the Qur’an states explicitly that no race or color is inherently superior to any other, and that individuals are to be judged by their piety.
And it is true in a deeper sense that, rather than converting from one faith to another, I have rather simply continued along the path of the one and only true God who revealed himself to my Jewish ancestors and continued to reveal himself more fully and in stages purge his revelation of human interjections such as racism and paganism. I followed God as HaShem, Adonai, as Our Father Who Art in Heaven, and finally as Allah (swt) – not as different Gods, but as One God – learning different names as I learned more fully and more accurately his nature and his will. And this is why converts to Islam are more accurately called reverts – reverting to the original faith of Islam, of submission to God.
And I have chosen the name Ashmath because, while in Hebrew it means ‘shame’ or ‘transgression,’ in Arabic it means ‘straight path.’ For through misguided perception, the straight path may appear to be an offense, a transgression, or shame. May my path remain straight and may Allah continue to guide me. Alhamdulillah.