The Power of Forgiveness…

He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass George Herbert

Zak Ebrahim was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1983 to an American mother and an Egyptian father, El Sayyid Nosair. When Zak was seven, his father assassinated Meir Kahane, the militant ultra-Orthodox, anti-Arab rabbi who founded the Jewish Defense League. While in prison, Nosair was found guilty in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial which killed six people and injured over 1,000 others. He was later convicted as one of the conspirators. Zak’s memoir The Terrorist’s Son charts his own personal journey from hatred to healing.

I remember my early childhood as a happy one although around the age of seven my father exposed me to a side of Islam  that few people  get to see.  In every religion, in every population,  you’ll find a small percentage of people  who hold such fervently beliefs  that they feel they must use any means necessary  to make others live as they do.

A few months prior to his arrest, my father sat me down and explained that  for the past few weekends, he and some friends  had been going to a shooting range on Long Island  for target practice. He told me I’d be going with him the next morning.  We arrived at Calverton Shooting Range,  and when I hit the target my uncle turned to the other men,  and in Arabic said, “Ibn abuh.” [Like father, like son].  Later I realized that they thought they saw in me the same destruction  my father was capable of.  These men were eventually convicted  of placing a van filled with 1,500 pounds of explosives  into the sub-level parking lot of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. These were the men I looked up to, whom I called ammu, which means uncle.

By the time I turned 19  I had already moved 20 times in my life  and that instability meant I found it hard to make friends. I kept my identity a secret  to avoid being targeted,  but even so, being the quiet, chubby new kid in class  was more than enough to get me repeatedly bullied. So for the most part, I spent my time at home.

Growing up around bigotry meant  I’d been raised to judge people  according to their race or religion. One of the first things  that challenged this way of thinking was during the 2000 presidential elections when I was taking part  in the National Youth Convention (a non-partisan organization) in Philadelphia.  Having been the victim of bullying for most of my life I chose to be part of a group that focused on youth violence. The members of our group came from many different walks of life and I soon discovered that one of the kids I’d befriended  was Jewish. I must admit I felt a sense of pride  in having been able to overcome a barrier  that for most of my life I had been led to believe  was insurmountable.

Another major turning point came when I found a summer job in  an amusement park. Most of my life I’d been taught  that homosexuality was a sin and by extension, therefore,  that all gay people were a negative influence.  When I ended up working with some of the gay performers  at a show there,  I soon discovered that many were the kindest,  least judgmental people I had ever met.  Having been bullied as a kid  created an immediate sense of empathy in me  toward the suffering of others.

Then there was, The Daily Show.  On a nightly basis, Jon Stewart forced me  to be intellectually honest with myself about my own bigotry  and helped me to realize that people’s race,  religion or sexual orientation  had nothing to do with the quality of their character.  Inspiration can often come from an unexpected place, and a Jewish comedian did more  to positively influence my worldview  than my own extremist father.

One day, I had a conversation with my mother  about how my worldview was starting to change  and she said something to me that I will hold dear to my heart  for as long as I live.  She looked at me with the weary eyes  of someone who had experienced  enough dogmatism to last a lifetime and said, ”I’m tired of hating people.”  In that instant, I realized how much negative energy  it takes to hold hatred inside of you.

Zak Ebrahim is not my real name.  I changed it when my family decided  to end our connection with my father  and start a new life.  But I speak out in the hope that perhaps someone someday  who is compelled to use violence  may hear my story and realize that there is a better way,  that although I was subjected  to a violent and intolerant ideology, I did not become fanaticized.  No matter how much the levels of violence you have experienced it doesn’t have to define your character because in all of us is the ability to change our paths.

Today’s story was written by Zak Ebrahim and is shared from the following website: http://theforgivenessproject.com/stories/zak-ebrahim-usa/

 

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