American Civic Life

‘Will Palestine Still Exist When This War is Over?’ My Answers to My Children’s Questions.

Jenan Mohajir.

Jenan Mohajir.

(USA Today) — To my children, my dearest loves,

Over the past several months of horror and tragedy for the Palestinian American community, you have asked me many questions for which I do not have answers. I always endeavor to give you the most honest and complete answers that I can – I owe that to you, for the Palestinian community is your community. 

You’ve asked me, “How did you and Baba fall in love?” And I told you, it was a story that could have only come into existence in a few places around the world, America being among them. Where else would a third-culture kid from India, who grew up between Qatar and the United States, meet and fall in love with someone of Irish and Palestinian decent?

You were born into a family weaved together with much love and many hopes, the hopes of our family and the hopes of our nation. I want you to know that with certainty – you were all born into this world enveloped in love.  

As we first began to witness the mass destruction of life in Gaza, you asked me, “Will Palestine still exist when this war is over?” 

Palestine will always exist, my loves. It will exist through you, in your stories, in your tears and laughter, in your triumphs and successes, in your legacies.

Your Palestinian-ness is interwoven with your Indian-ness, American-ness and Muslim-ness. You will always be part of Palestine’s story, and Palestine will always be part of yours. 

‘Is there a way to save the people of Gaza?’

You have asked me again and again, “Is there a way to save the people of Gaza? Why isn’t anyone helping them?”

Palestinians in Gaza (and the West Bank) are enduring innumerable horrific injustices. It is heartbreaking to helplessly witness their massacre day after day. But look around you – there are also thousands of people raising their voices to bring attention to what is happening in Gaza. They are paying attention, they are calling out the injustices, they are educating others, they are organizing nonviolent actions.

Some of them are risking their lives to help as doctors, aid workers, journalists and more. Some of them have lost their lives in their efforts to help – because they knew that saving even one life is like saving all of humanity.

You have also asked me, “Is it possible to speak up for Gaza and not be called a terrorist?”

I wish you were growing up in a world in which that question did not have to be asked. There will be people who will throw accusations at you, call you names and try to silence you. There will be those who will malign your words and twist them to mean things that you did not say.

And you will be attributed to people whose opinions and actions you do not condone.

I wish you were entering into a world which was anchored in justice, inclusivity and equality, but, as you already know, that is not the world we inhabit.

I hope you will navigate this world and the spaces you are part of with care for nuance, anchored in relationships and stories. I hope you will always use your voice and actions to work toward justice and build beloved communities.

What I wish you would ask me

There are also the questions that I wish you would ask me, so that you might know the gifts I am trying to give you to navigate this cruel and beautiful world.

I would have you ask me, “Why did you and Baba give me the name that you did?” Each of you have been bestowed names with meaning and purpose. They are names that I hope can also be maps for your life journeys.  

Sulayman: Your namesake, the Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon), was known for being a compassionate and just king. Among his gifts was the knowledge of languages of all living things. The Quran tells us a story about an ant who heard Sulaiman and his army approaching her colony. She calls out to her community, O ants, enter your dwellings that you are not crushed by Sulaiman and his soldiers.”(Al Quran 27:18) The Prophet Sulaiman heard her urgent warning and ordered his army to change course so that the ant’s home would be saved. Even those among us who are perceived to be the smallest or the weakest or rendered invisible can be heard by those in power, and their voices can be sources of lifesaving change.  

Marwa: Your name is a witness to the struggles and miracles of Hagar, a Black woman who was once enslaved. When the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) left Hagar and her baby, Ismael, in the desert, she was alone, but she did not despair. She turned to God with urgent prayer and action. When the milk in her breast dried, she began to run between the mountains of Safa and Marwa, looking for help and calling upon God’s mercy. Soon after, the angel Gabriel appeared to her. He struck the ground, from which a spring emerged with fresh water, Zamzam. It is around this spring that the city of Mecca arose and still stands today. Holy sanctuaries are born from the footsteps of single Black mothers.  

Dawud: Before the Prophet Dawud (David) was a king, he was a young soldier who had the courage to stand up to forces much bigger than him. In the Muslim story, after Goliath was slayed and Dawud became king, he has a miracle bestowed upon him. Iron is made malleable in Dawud’s hands, and he is taught how to weave it into armor so that he and his armies may have protection in war. Even the hardest of things can soften in the hands of the righteous so that it could serve a better purpose in providing safety.  

I would also have you ask me, “Why do you always speak of stories?”

Our stories are your inheritance – from me and your father, our families, our ancestors, our faith. Those stories will tell you where and who you came from, where you have roots and homes, where you hear calls of struggle and belonging. Some stories will be yours exclusively – you will create them from your own experiences and pass them on to generations who come after you.  

In my own quiet moments of despair I ask myself profound questions, too – like, “How can we possibly go on in this darkness?” But in those moments, I look into your eyes and remind myself: We are not alone.

As the poet Jelaluddin Rumi said, “Come, come whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. … Ours is not a caravan of despair.” There are many who walk with us in solidarity, partnership and shared purpose. We have important tools in our hands, tools I am trying every day to share with you: our faith, our values, our resilience, our joy. 

May we use them well and build equitable, expansive shared tables with blessings and bounty for all.

Jenan Mohajir is a vice president of Interfaith America, an organization that engages religious diversity to build the common good.