Why I Married a Muslim Refugee

My husband is a wonderful man. He is kind, gentle, and sweet. He holds doors for me whenever we go out. He lets me take the first shower so that I don’t run out of hot water when I wash my super long hair. Whenever he gets up and goes into the kitchen, he asks me if I need anything. He does the housework for me when I’m sick. And every day, he tells me that he loves me. But not everyone likes my husband because so many of the people that are—or were—in my life won’t even give him a chance. Why? Because he is Muslim and I am not. He’s not just Muslim, but Palestinian. And in Krav, we were taught to hate Palestinians.

IDF soldiers at a checkpoint in Gaza. In the background, a man is searched at gunpoint against the wall.

IDF soldiers at a checkpoint in Gaza. In the background, a man is searched at gunpoint against the wall.

My husband is from Palestine and before I met him, I’d spent over two years training in Krav Maga—Israel’s own special brand of martial arts. Perhaps you’d remember it from that J.Lo movie, Enough. Or maybe How I Met Your Mother is more your speed and you recall Ted getting his ass kicked by the sock monkey girl he thought was doing “some kind of yoga.” There was even that time that Leonard went on a date with a Krav chick on The Big Bang Theory. But for those of us who are—or in my case, were—involved in the world of Krav Maga, you know of the hatred that the Israeli’s have for the Palestinians.

For those like me, who were raised to love all peoples and races, it was hard to bite back my comments when anti-Muslim sentiments were shared with the class. I did my best to feel sympathy for those who hated others without reason. Some of the men in my class had been soldiers. Some of them had come back injured by their battles against terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We all have our baggage. We all have our scars. It is not for me to judge them because that is God’s job.” So I’d bite my tongue and not defend strangers that were half a world away when my friends would bad-mouth Palestinians and even Muslims in general.

“How can you tell the difference between an Israeli and a Palestinian?”

*pause*

“An Israeli has a rocket launcher and a Palestinian just throws rocks.”

I still don’t understand how they thought that was funny or why so many people laughed.

Children walking through a bombed area of Gaza.

Children walking through a bombed area of Gaza.

When I met my husband, I didn’t know where he was from. Really, I didn’t care. I cared that he was nice to me and treated me with respect. When he found out that I lived with my grandparents to keep them out of a nursing home, his own opinion of me skyrocketed. That caused my opinion of him to go up considerably, as well. Because really—what American guy would’ve done what he did for me?

What guy who was born and raised in the good ol’ U.S. of A. would’ve married me after three months, moved in, and started bathing and dressing my disabled grandfather so that he could have the dignity of one more year of living in his own home? It’s easier to point out who didn’t, rather than who would’ve. Because none of them did. For years, every guy I dated became disinterested upon finding out that I took care of my old people. Or, when they found out that I refused to budge when it came to putting them in a home. “My job is to keep them here, in their home, for as long as I can. They want to die in their own house and I’d like to do my best to let them have the dignity of having their wishes be met.” I wasn’t going to abandon my old people just because some man wanted me to.

The Dome of the Rock, a much fought over site in Jerusalem.

The Dome of the Rock, a much fought over site in Jerusalem.

But Karim? My sweet, gentle Karim would bathe, dress, and feed my grandpa like a baby. They’d sit together for hours as Karim described the beauty of the Holy Land to my ever-faithful Protestant grandfather. He’d tell him of the long weeks every year his family spent picking olives and pressing them into oil. He’d tell my grandpa about how much the Jews hated him for being Muslim when he’d never done anything to them. “Well, I don’t hate you,” I remember Grandpa saying. “Don’t see how anyone could. You seem alright.” Coming from my curmudgeonly old grandpa, that was some pretty high praise.

And according to Karim, “Not all of the Jewish hates all of the Muslims. I work is before with some Jewish guys who say it is the governments who is make us hate. They are nice is to me and they say to me, Karim you work is hard and you are a good man. But some Jewish guys who does not know is me…some Jewish guys, they is spit on me or is throwing rocks in the street because I am Muslim. I cannot fight back because then they is calling people who defend Muslims is bad guys. I am not is a bad guys.” (Yes, he really says “is” that much and yes, it does bother me. Though, he’s super lucky to have me as his wife since I have vastly expanded and improved his grasp of the English language. Since they don’t have a word for am/is/are in Arabic, he used to just sprinkle it in like salt and pepper. At least now it’s not as much as it used to be.)

Small children rest in the shade of a blanket amid debris in Gaza.

Small children rest in the shade of a blanket amid debris in Gaza.

My husband grew up in Hell. He was born into a world that hated him simply for the conditions of his birth. He was raised in a war zone—in a constant state of terror and fear. My kind, loving husband has shrapnel scars on the back of his head. He was so young when it happened, he doesn’t even remember it. Perhaps someday, when my Arabic is vastly improved, I can ask my mother-in-law what happened to him. If she lives long enough. See, she has diabetes and can’t always get her medicine. Aside from it being prohibitively expensive, she has to travel hours through numerous checkpoints to get it. So she often has to go without. She’s also had two stints put in her heart in the last four years—most recently, one was just a couple of weeks ago. They’re also considering cutting off part of her hand because her diabetes is giving her circulation problems. So, by the time my husband and I can afford to make the trip back to Palestine to see them…Well, we hope and pray that she is still alive.

My husband didn’t come here as an official refugee—he came as a student. But I still feel that he fits the definition. He fled his country for fear of persecution. He left his war-torn homeland because he didn’t feel safe there. It also took him seven years to leave legally. Seven years of appointments and interviews, government officials vetting him to make sure he wasn’t dangerous. When his plane landed in Washington D.C. and he saw real snowfall for the first time—instead of the light dustings he’d seen in Jerusalem—he cried with joy. He’d made it to the land of the free and he wasn’t afraid of being blown up in his sleep anymore. Now, my husband proudly wears his American-themed t-shirts and looks forward to the day he can take his citizenship test.

Handsome, isn't he?

Handsome, isn't he?

During Ramadan, his aunt called. I could hear her crying and yelling from across the room. Karim looked worried as he tried to calm her. After a while, he looked relieved, though still very sad. Once he got off the phone with her, I asked what was wrong. He said that her neighborhood had been destroyed by an Israeli rocket, but her family was okay. The media said that terrorists were being targeted, but his aunt said no. She told him that no one in her neighborhood would have let them be sheltered there. “We are good people here! We don’t want anyone to hurt others! If those (expletive deleted) were here, we would have chased them away ourselves!” So he now he still lives in fear for his family. Never knowing if, when he calls, their phones will work. Never knowing if his father will have a job anymore because his Jewish boss is especially hateful toward his Muslim employees. Never knowing if someone will get killed or injured by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He wants to make a better life for himself here so that he can also help his struggling family back home. He wants to be able to send his mom money for her pills and insulin shots so that he knows she’ll always have them. Karim dreams of being able to buy his younger brothers a Nintendo so they can play Mario. (Seriously. Mario.)

I can still hear the music in my head. Now you can, too, right?

I can still hear the music in my head. Now you can, too, right?

So, to get down to the crux of the matter—Why did I marry a refugee from a country that I was taught to hate? Because when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter where a person is from. It doesn’t matter what language they were raised to speak. It doesn’t matter how many times a day they kneel down to pray. What matters is whether they were raised to love, or raised to hate. What matters is the empathy in their heart and the sympathy in their soul. What matters is that we are all human and we are all the children of God. We are all sons and daughters of Abraham and if everyone could just look past the differences, they’d see that we’re all the same on the inside.

I married a Muslim refugee because we laugh at the same things, like fart jokes, Family Guy, funny pet videos, and our own mistakes. We like to eat the same things, such as hummus, pita bread, Chinese food, and Mexican food that isn’t too spicy. We also have similar values—treat others how you want to be treated.

Oh. Were you expecting another list on that last one? Sorry. It all boils down to that. Don’t be a dick to people and hopefully they won’t be a dick to you. If we all spent a lot less time being horrible to each other, we’d have a happier, more peaceful world.

Peace.

Peace.