I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. That was one of the greatest challenges I had to face in my life. I’m a Syrian of Circassian origins (A community in the south-west of Russia). My parents brought me up with the strict Circassian values. Values that are all about respect and co-existence, values that are all about embracing diversity and especially gender equality.
I grew up listening to my parents’ adventures around Syria. How they used to buy their shoes from the Armenian uncle whose shop was in the corner of the street, how they used to buy their clothes from the Jewish uncle who sold the best quality clothes in the Jewish district in Damascus, how they celebrated Easter with their Christian friends and exchanged painted eggs, how they celebrated Norouz, the spring feast, with their Kurdish neighbors and how they all stood side-by-side and sang the national anthem of Syria, loudly and proudly. On the other hand, I was seeing women in black walking behind their husbands/dads/brothers and even sons because it was inappropriate to walk side-by-side with a man because, obviously, she is inferior to them. I was seeing men in white robes walking clumsily and, obviously, no churches, no synagogues, no Kurds, no Easter and no diversity. I craved the life of my parents every time I went out and saw that scene and, especially, when a friend of mine told me it was Haram to even touch a Kafir (disbeliever). I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, which I can’t say that I hate because it would be a strong statement and I try to avoid embracing such feelings, but for me living there was an eye-opening and thought-shaping experience. I didn’t have the chance to meet people from different backgrounds, different world views and lifestyles, because we all know how Saudi Arabia is unwelcoming to any kind of difference. Life in Saudi was in one color, one sect, one God, one King and, we can say, in one gender. I was lucky enough to move to Turkey and my first encounter with a difference caused me a great enlightenment.
At school I had a really close, likely minded friend, Esther, who after a long time I discovered was Jewish. My mom, who was born in Golan and had the opportunity to live in a diverse community in Syria, strongly supported my friendship with her. Now I understand why she did, especially when I recall a conversation I had with my friend when we talked about religion, and when we came to the conclusion of being human is really what matters and not to whom we pray; She said: ”When I talk to you I feel like I’m looking in the mirror. Isn’t it what we are talking about, I’m Jewish you’re Muslim but we are looking at the same mirror.” At the end, I realized that I couldn’t care less about her religion, it was all about her humanity. I remembered my friends saying “It’s Haram to even touch a Kafir.” I hugged Esther really tight and shared my life with my Jewish half.