Being in Turkey for two weeks during Ramadan has been an eye opening experience. Growing up in America with a Catholic Arab father deeply affected my view of Muslims. They were bad. Period. I wasn’t sure why. It didn’t matter. After 9-11 people would ask me if I was Muslim (because of the Arabic origin of my last name) but rather than just saying “no.” I was very defensive. I don’t know where that blind hatred came from. As I got older I met Muslims who were perfectly nice people. People who immigrated to the US from Arab countries. Just like my father and his family. But still, somewhere in the back of my mind I pictured a terrorist, wondering when this seemingly upstanding citizen would get a call, activating their suicide mission. Insane, I know. I wouldn’t even be admitting this if my views hadn’t drastically changed over the last few years and especially the last two weeks.

In my last post I talked about how awful the men here can be. And trust me, many are just terrible. Have you seen the unprovoked attacks on my  Instagram?!?! Sure, there are still serious gender equality issues here and countless double standards, but simply being Muslim doesn’t mean you have to subscribe to all of the out-dated traditions. Many choose which rules and which traditions they will follow. Everyone is different. During Ramadan, very religious Muslims fast all day, observe the call to prayer, and definitely don’t drink alcohol. But many Muslims practice what I call “Ramadan-Light.” In some parts of Turkey the bars and restaurants completely close during Ramadan because everyone is strictly observant. In places like Izmir and Istanbul, where tourism is a huge industry, life goes on as usual. But it’s not just tourists in the bars and restaurants. The Muslims in the more metropolitan areas of Turkey seem to pick and choose just how religious they’d like to be.

In the beach towns, the day clubs give off a Vegas vibe, with lounge beds, alcohol and plenty of skin. (Very tan skin.) The girls wear Brazilian cut bikini bottoms and the men show lots of leg. Yes, it’s a primarily Muslim country, but the beach clubs seem exempt from the modesty standards imposed on the rest of the country. The scene is relaxed until about 6pm, with lounge music playing in the background. Then, the after party starts. A band hits the stage and gets the crowd amped up. Just like “Call me Maybe,” or “We are Young,” there are also songs of the summer here in Turkey. One in particular makes people go wild. Jumping up and down, singing along and dancing their mostly bare asses off. From what I can gather from the lyrics and hand motions, the song is about a bird, or something that flies. But hey, we gave them “Let’s take a Selfie,” so who are we to judge?

I’d be remiss not to mention how the current conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians has made me feel about being in Turkey. While I personally haven’t met anyone who has said anything bad about Jews in general here, they definitely don’t agree with what Israel is doing. At first, that came as a shock to me because in America, we support Israel. I have more Jewish friends than Christian friends, mostly because Christianity among my friends is like a gym membership you pay for because it makes you feel good, but you don’t actually go. My Jewish friends however; are actually Jewish. They’re legit. So being around people who don’t support the heritage of the people I love makes me feel a bit out of sorts. I just feel like playing that song by War (covered by Smash Mouth) “Why can’t we be friends.”

The Prime Minister here has been doing radio and television addresses, condemning the actions of Israel and in connection, America for supporting them. I even had a Jewish friend text me saying she saw a report in the US advising all Jews to get out of Turkey. When I heard that, I was shocked. Since the people I’ve been spending time with don’t seem to have a dog in the fight, I’ve been insulated from the hate. Some consider themselves Muslims, others are questioning their faith and some just don’t subscribe to religion at all. But before this trip, I would have painted them all with the same radical brush. Things here aren’t perfect. There will always be wars caused by religion and blind hatred will exist as long as people let it. But I’m proud to say that there’s one less ignorant American who thinks all Muslims are terrorists.

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