Israel Reflections 2013–Too Muslim or Not Muslim Enough?

Easily the worst part of the trip for me was at the beginning when one of my students was detained by Israeli immigration upon our entry to the country.  Although it was an experience that we had discussed as a possibility (she had visited grandparents in Pakistan and had the stamp in her passport), it still came as a scary surprise as it was occurring.  To then be bookended by her visit to the Dome of the Rock (where she was forced to prove her religion and fully cover herself in additional clothing) was a learning experience for all.  In the words of Nida Shakir:

In 2007, I was detained for eight hours at an Israeli-Egyptian checkpoint for merely wanting to tour Jerusalem, and because I was Muslim.  The tour group I was with left early in the morning so that we could pack in as many touristy things in the single day we had in the city.  However, upon entering from the southern checkpoint at the Sinai Peninsula, we were held at the border for eight hours.  By the time we were allowed in, we were only able to see a few sites in Jerusalem.  I left disappointed, disconcerted, and vowed that I would never return.

Who would have thought that five years later I would travel to Israel again.  After my first experience, I was fully expecting to receive extra questioning.  Although my recent trip to Israel didn’t exactly repeat my first, I feel that it is useful to share since I was the only one on the trip that had to endure it.  The customs official in Tel Aviv began by looking at my name and asking me questions about my family. “Where are they from? Where did you grow up? What are your grandparent’s names?”  He then proceeded to ask why I was in Israel. “Could I prove I was part of a school group? Where was my itinerary?” He then asked if I was Muslim.  Without hesitation I said yes and after another minute of questioning, another customs official escorted me to a “waiting room.”  It was at this point that I began to wonder if my experience this time around would simply be a repeat of my eight hour wait five years prior.  What I found out later was that my professor was advocating on my behalf and, solely due to her efforts, shortened my detainment to an hour.

It is clear from both of my border experiences that my “extra questioning” was directly related to the fact that I’m Muslim.  I cannot say I was surprised or that Israel does not have an interest in securing its borders, but what I didn’t expect was then feeling like I wasn’t Muslim enough to enter a mosque.  Upon trying to enter the Dome of the Rock only two days later, I was sharply questioned about my faith and in fact had to recite prayers in Arabic before the guard allowed me to enter.  The juxtaposition of my border experience with my experience trying to enter the Dome of the Rock left me in a state of confusion that I am still trying to sort out.  Too Muslim to be welcomed into Israel but not sufficiently Muslim to be welcomed at the Dome of the Rock….

I can say that after an emotional, educational, and personal experience in Israel a fellow student on the trip was able to mollify my emotions a bit by saying this, “Nida, I know this was an experience that only you can relate to, but I am happy I was present for it.” If my experiences can help bring conversations to the table that were never had or a different perspective that was never seen, then I am glad I didn’t keep my vow.