Learning by Unlearning by Sarah Fatima


There is no Jewish population in Pakistan at present. This is a sentence that has been repeated by me many times during my past week at the MJC 2016. This means that my chances of meeting a Jew while staying in Pakistan are obviously weak. Shouldn’t that mean that I hold next to no opinion about the group of people adhering to this religion unless I have lived abroad or interacted with some humans who believe in Judaism?

But it does not. If someone was to come and ask my opinion about the Jewish people two years ago, I would not simply have stopped at “I have never met any of them personally” and the sentence would have continued as “ but I have heard/ I have been told that they (insert ridiculous stereotype about Jews).”

Fast forward to two years and two MJC’s later, and I found myself sitting in a committee that’s dedicated to discussing what the terms Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism mean to the participants. Between trying to find etymological roots of the words to un-boxing the concepts that these words represent, many personal experiences were shared. Names and places grew to become elaborate tapestries woven out of emotion, situation, contrast and similarity.

People became so much more than just Jews or Muslims, Pakistani or Israeli, Female or Male. At that point in time, I wondered if someone walked up to me now and pointed at anyone of these people and asked my opinion about one of the people in my committee, I’d give it a lot of thought. I’d worry about the tears I saw in their eyes when they shared a particular emotionally harrowing experience. I’d take into account their kindness in the face of a comment that made them uncomfortable. I’d find a way to mention their laughter in trying to defuse a charged moment.

If someone was to come and ask my opinion about a person in my committee now, I would say “ I only met them for a few days” and the sentence would continue as “and I felt like they were (whatever way they made me feel) but of course there’s a lot more to them that I don’t know of.”

The more I got to know people, the more room I made for there to be more learning about them. I think this is the gift of MJC, and also the gift of knowledge. When I knew nothing, I was far more comfortable in making sweeping statements than when I got to know a little.

This learning has also given me a small formula for countering the feelings of fear or negativity towards any group of people in the future, especially based on religion, ethnicity, and race. If you feel Islamophobic, or Anti- Semitic feelings within you, get out of your comfort zone and take the initiative to learn. Stop a member of the community on the street. Request them to enlighten you. Make small talk and also make complicated talk. A great way to fight fear is to jump head on towards the fear. I wish I could say that it’s a favor to the marginalized community or it’s members, but the truth is that it’s a great favor to your own self.

Sara Fatima