Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shadia: Friendship goes beyond the politics

I have friends from all sorts of backgrounds.

But my friendship with Michelle Samani is the most shocking for an obvious reason: She's a lawyer, and I'm a journalist.

And then there's this: Meesh — her nickname — is Jewish, and I'm Muslim.

We're not supposed to get along, if conventional wisdom is to be believed. Yet our friendship is but one small example of thousands, if not millions, showing that people can rise above politics.

I met Meesh, who is Persian, while on an assignment covering the first Iranian-American Women's Leadership Conference in Irvine. We were seated at the same table.

Meesh and I were soon ignoring everyone else and talking about celebrated Egyptian singer Um Kalthoom, our faiths, cultures, jobs, families and how much we have in common.

We kept in touch through Facebook and began hanging out soon after. We went to Persian concerts, an event that featured true stories and experiences of Muslims and Jews, and to the second Iranian women's leadership conference, among many other outings, some just as simple as meeting up for dinner.

Of all my girlfriends, I can safely say that Meesh has become my closest. We have similarly assertive personalities and attitudes.

We take our careers seriously and want the same things in life: to make a difference in our society, to get married to good, principled and faithful men, and to raise children to the best of our abilities.

Meesh is even helping me learn Farsi, which is very close to Arabic, and it's a language I have always wanted to learn.

And while we might differ theologically in some minor areas, we choose to celebrate our commonalities — praying to one God, fasting to purify our souls, being kind and tolerant, contributing positively to our society, acting ethically and justly, and respecting those with religious beliefs other than ours, or none at all.

These are just some of the many values and principles Muslims and Jews share. Our faiths have never stopped us from living peacefully side by side. It is politics — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is a fairly recent one — that has created this perception.

You might think that Meesh and I are exceptions, but friendships like ours all over the world disprove the myth that Jews and Muslims don't get along.

In fact, the prophet Muhammad befriended many Jews and even married a Jewish woman, Safiyya (Sofia in English).

According to Mohammed Ibn Faqih, imam and religious director of the Islamic Institute of Orange County, the prophet also died in debt to a Jewish merchant.

During one transaction, the prophet wanted to purchase a sack of grain, but didn't have enough money, so he pawned his armor to the man.

"He gave him something that has much more value than he took, so in case he fails in paying him back the money, he has the armor as security," Faqih said.

The prophet died before getting his armor out of pawn. His family repaid the man and took back the armor.

I too expect to die indebted to a Jew — my friend Meesh — for a great and enriching friendship.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for the Huntington Beach Independent. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.


  1. This one makes me smile:) It's simple and significant in a way (hopefully) everyone can relate to.

  2. Mona, you are lucky; lucky more than most of us, more than most of the religions on the earth. And I'm happy for you.