An earlier version of this appeared on The Straight Path blog.
On a visit to the Houston Holocaust Museum I learned that had I lived in Nazi-ruled Germany I would have been classified as a “first-degree mischling.”
According to the Nuremburg Laws enacted by the Nazis in 1935, the mischling racial category was defined variously by the number of Jewish grandparents one had, whether one self-identified as a Jew or was married to a Jew.
The laws were meant to help authorities better define who a Jew was, or more to the point, who was not pure German.
Mischlings did not fare well as the Nazi genocide got underway.
The Nazis, in the fastidious way they did many things, included a frightening number of specific details to clarify their definition of Jew.
Mischlings were generally seen as worthy of sterilization and/or extermination.
The irony of this is deep. By the laws of conservative and orthodox Judaism I’m not a Jew because my mother is not. And I’m a Muslim by choice, not by blood.
Although I was raised without religion, seeing Jewish relics and hearing Jewish stories often gives me a surprising yearning to belong, to embrace a heritage I can scarcely lay claim to.
I have sensory memories: the smell and texture of my grandmother’s gefilte fish, the sound of Jewish prayer being sung at the couple of Passover Seders I attended as a child.
When I was a senior in high school I joined the local chapter of the United Synagogue Youth, and for the duration of the school year I sported a quasi-Jewish identity, although it was tempered by the fact that I would have had to formally convert due to my Christian maternal parentage.
I found a sense of belonging in Judaism that I hadn’t found elsewhere. It was an insular belonging, though, shaped by thousands of years of being the other.
A few years after finishing high school I became Muslim, making me a member of a community whose identity is still evolving in this country, as we are buffeted and informed by events abroad.
Being a member of the American Muslim community today often means being asked to defend yourself against things you didn’t do, or to be looked on as a fifth column.
On the other hand, this is the greatest country in the world to practice any religion, including mine.
Islam teaches that race and religion are clearly separate.
In his final sermon, the Prophet Muhammad said:
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white except by piety and good action.
American Muslims are charged with sharing the message of our religion so that it is always seen as a way of living, not something dark-skinned, bearded, covered, foreign, scary, volatile, unreasonable, enraged.
The Nuremburg Laws demonstrate what happens at the top of the slippery slope where pluralism is denied.