Kuwait, Isaac and Ishmael

   One of the most unexpected and in fact very enlightening experiences I have had in South Korea is that of meeting my Airbnb housemate from Kuwait!

   Admittedly, and maybe even understandably, I, as a Jewish woman, was not particularly thrilled when I found out that I would be living in the same apartment with an Arab man!! My gracious Korean host, a wonderful person, assured me that everything would be fine - no worries. 

   I worried the entire subway ride to the apartment. I worried when he met me at the station to show me the way. I worried for the first few moments of meeting him. I worried because of my own personal experiences with Arabs in Israel which, in truth, have been both bitter and sweet. I worried because of their new-found and growing reputation as the world's most prominent, expert and very creative terrorists.

   I also worried because I was about to live in an apartment with two complete strangers who happened to be men!! What was I thinking? Point taken. I wasn't thinking. Not coherently anyway. Actually I had known from the beginning that I may be living with two male housemates. I didn't think much about it because I was simply more concerned about finances. The price seemed right for my budget.

   I confided in a good friend about my worries, concerns and fears. She, who knows me so well, said, "You are Israel's informal ambassador, Rahel. I'm confident you'll do great. So here's a Rabbi Nachman nugget for you: If you're in this position, it's because Hashem has already given you the needed strength and tools."  

   Thank-You! My friend was absolutely right. I need to depend on my strengths and tools but mostly on G-d's loving-kindness. I forged ahead. I'm glad I did. The experience turned out to be fantastic. I met two extraordinary men from whom I learned much. So without further ado I'd like to share a bit with you in this blog.

NAMES

   The people in this blog will remain nameless. Just sayin' - -  learning people's names is a highly amusing challenge especially when you're meeting people from all over the world. Like with Hebrew names, many people have trouble pronouncing them. So very often people will choose nicknames to make our lives easier.

   I am doing my very best to learn the given names of the people I meet rather than a nickname or even a westernized name. I had become very accustomed to Hebrew names after living in Israel for so long. Ironically, when I returned to America I had trouble with names. The popular and very American names like Sue, Joe, Pete, and Betty only seemed to be fitting for an older crowd. This new generation had an array of names that seemed to pop right out of people's imaginations - or maybe their acid trips of the 1970's? Who the heck were LaToya, Desiree, Summer, Autumn and Unique? Unexpectedly, even as an American, I was experiencing extreme culture shock in the country that I thought was so familiar. Much had changed in my absence of twenty-two years.

   So here I am in South Korea trying to adjust to Asian names when I meet up with someone with a name I recognize as Middle Eastern and can even pronounce without issue!

KUWAIT   

   What did I know about Kuwait? To tell you the truth I really knew next to nothing. I had read about the Jew from Kuwait. He was born in Kuwait into a non-practicing Muslim family and raised secular. He described his upbringing as particularly antisemitic much due to his father's bigotry. Eventually he discovered a Jewish line in his family, converted to Judaism and now lives in Jerusalem. More than that? I honestly never gave it much thought. I lumped Kuwait together with all the other Arab and Muslim countries and determined that Kuwaiti's are likely much more of the same.

   The first couple of hours upon my arrival my new housemate and I were already engaged in an honest and open talk about who we are as Arab and Jew. In all honesty, I explained to him, with 99.9% of today's terrorists coming from Muslim and/or Arab countries and backgrounds, who also call for the death of Jews and destruction of Israel, why would I feel anything but anger towards and about them at this point?

   It sounds cliche but I really do have one or two Arab/Muslim friends and even have a Muslim in the family. Sadly, although I've been invited, it is unlikely that I would venture out for a coffee chat in their homes or towns these days (once I would have!) lest I lose my life in the process.

   I continued to clarify my stance saying that I really have nothing against Muslims in general. I am simply wondering and waiting for the day when they will stand up strong against their own terrorist factions. THEY are the only ones who can really stop the terrorism. Why aren't they doing something? My housemate responded that first of all it is fear. Understandable said I. However, if there are more peace-loving Muslims who stand unified against the terrorists wouldn't that be some sort of security against the fear? Next - laziness. Nobody really wants to disrupt their (comfortable) lives by getting involved in some sort of revolution. Lastly, the situation is more complicated then we know because it involves tribes and gangs and factions and cults.

   Okay, we'll agree that stopping terrorism will not be easy. We'll also agree that we are dealing with tribal issues which are certainly more involved than just bad guy vs. good guy.

   Like my father, I am curious about people and their stories so I tend to ask a lot of questions. By those who treasure their privacy I've been accused of "probing". I'm not one for being politically correct or even speaking in the best diplomatic manner. I'm a "straight-shooter".  I'm direct and honest and say what I think. Nevertheless, I've finally learned to ask first: "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?You don't have to answer if it makes you uncomfortable."

   My housemate was just as curious about me and my views about life as a Jew, an American and Israeli. He, too, has a few Israeli friends and was glad to have another one. So there we were in a face-to-face civilized discussion about today's bittersweet region of the world called the Middle East.

   My friend was right. "If you're in this position, it's because Hashem has already given you the needed strength and tools." 

MORE ABOUT KUWAIT

   So let's learn more about Kuwait! From the usual starting place, let's take a look at Wikipedia and ask my housemate if it is correct.

   Kuwait (/kʊˈwt/ (About this sound listen);Arabicالكويت‎ al-Kuwait), officially the State of Kuwait (Arabicدولة الكويت‎ About this sound Dawlat al-Kuwait), is a country in Western Asia. Situated in the northern edge of Eastern Arabia at the tip of the Persian Gulf, it shares borders with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. As of 2016, Kuwait has a population of 4.2 million people; 1.3 million are Kuwaitis and 2.9 million are expatriates. Expatriates account for 70% of the population.

   Correct. My housemate confirmed that in fact the natives are the minority in Kuwait! BUT it's not in the Persian Gulf. It's the Arabian Gulf. 

   Oil reserves were discovered in commercial quantities in 1938. From 1946 to 1982, the country underwent large-scale modernization. In the 1980s, Kuwait experienced a period of geopolitical instability and an economic crisis following the stock market crash

   Correct. Kuwait is an oil-rich country producing approximately 25% of the world's oil. Kuwaiti's have no financial concerns. The government practically gives money away to its citizens who enjoy comfortable lives. Due to the oil Kuwait has many "friends" and allies. If any country tries to attack Kuwait, which has occured in the rare occasion, the allies move in. For example: 

   In 1990, Kuwait was invaded, and later annexed, by Saddam’s Iraq. The Iraqi occupation of Kuwait came to an end in 1991 after military intervention by a military coalition led by the United States. Kuwait is a major non-NATO ally of the United States. Kuwait is also a major ally of ASEAN, while maintaining a strong relationship with China.

   Indeed. Money talks. Isn't it good to have "friends"? 

   Kuwait is a constitutional state with a semi-democratic political system. Kuwait has a high-income economy backed by the world's sixth largest oil reserves. The Kuwaiti dinar is the highest valued currency in the world. According to the World Bank, the country has the fourth highest per capita income in the world.

   Kuwait is more democratic than the other Arabian countries. Citizens enjoy a happy, secular and liberal lifestyle. They dress in modern clothes, women drive, vote and run in elections, citizens thrive in the arts and so on. Prior to becoming oil-rich much of the population were fisherman. They prospered from the pearl industry. Today Kuwait is very commercial.

   My housemate has enjoyed a life free of financial stress. It's not that the citizens are super rich but they are definitely well off. In spite of this he made a decision eleven years ago to try a different lifestyle. He wanted to find ways to make it on his own. He's traveled and lived in multiple countries. He claims he has tried and failed many times. Failure, for Kuwaiti's, simply means that you get up and try something else. So he did and he does. However the family safety net is always available should the need arise. Kudos for stepping out even so.

   So let's talk religion.

ISAAC AND ISHMAEL

   "Are you descended from Isaac?" my housemate asked. "Can you prove it by your DNA? We're descended from Ishmael. Aren't we family? Why would we hate each other?"

   Now there's a bunch of loaded questions! Back to Wikipedia for a general overview.

   Kuwaiti society is diverse and tolerant. Most Kuwaiti citizens are Muslim; it is estimated that 60%-65% are Sunni and 35%-40% are Shias. Most Shia Kuwaiti citizens are of Persian ancestry. The country includes a native Christian community, estimated to be composed of between 259 and 400 Christian Kuwaiti citizens. Kuwait is the only GCC country besides Bahrain to have a local Christian population who hold citizenship. There is also a small number of Bahá'í Kuwaiti citizens. Kuwait also has a large community of expatriate Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs.


  I was thrown by my housemate's question. Descendants of Isaac? I'd never heard it phrased like that. Aren't we descendants of Abraham? Why Isaac? It soon became clear what my housemate was referring to. 

   I learned that there are basically two main "tribes" that are native to Kuwait and the region: The Ishmaelites (aka Adnanites) and the Qahtanite. I will resort again to Wikipedia for definitions: 

   Adnan (Arabicعدنان‎) is the traditional ancestor of the Adnanite Arabs of Northern, Western and Central Arabia, as opposed to the Qahtanite Arabs of Southern Arabia who descend from Qahtan.

   According to Arab genealogical tradition, the Adnanites (Arabicعدنانيون‎) are "Arabized Arabs", descended from Ishmael through Adnan, distinguished from the "pure" Qahtanite Arabs of southern Arabia.


   This is another very interesting article about the ancestry of Ishmael.

   My housemate, and Wikipedia, both agree that the Ishamelites are ultimately a peace-loving tribe. I also learned that DNA testing is of utmost importance to confirm your tribal line. This is also why he asked me about being descended from Isaac and can it be proven by DNA testing? If you read the Torah/Bible/Old Testament you will know that two particular sons of Abraham are named: Isaac (from Sarah) and Ishmael (from Hagar, the Egyptian concubine; Torah, Genesis 16:15). Both were promised by G-d to be a great nation. 

   G-d reassures him [Abraham] that Ishmael will become a great people, “but my covenant I shall establish with Isaac.” Only Isaac, the son you will have with Sarah, can be your true heir, and only Isaac can father the people with whom I will enter into a covenant as my “kingdom of priests and holy nation.” (Genesis 19 & 20)

   In other words, Ishmael represents a rational relationship with G‑d, one that is based upon a person’s nature and understanding. Isaac represents a supra-natural, supra-rational bond.

   Abraham discerned many positive qualities in Ishmael, and was prepared, and even desirous, to see him as his heir. Yet G‑d insisted that his covenant with Abraham be perpetuated specifically through Isaac and Isaac’s descendants—a people whose commitment to G‑d will transcend the natural and the rational.



   
   The above is from a Jewish website. My housemate agreed with the description! 

   Can we Jews prove our ancestry? Do we need DNA testing to do so? I'll resort to some answers via the Internet. If anyone reading this has further information and evidence please add them to the comments below! 

  1. Gene tests show that two fifths of Ashkenazi Jews are descended from four women
  2. DNA Studies Trace Jewish Priestly Lineage From Biblical Times
  3. Y-chromosomal Aaron


   I have enjoyed hearing about our different and same points of view. Since I am trying to keep this blog relatively free of controversial subjects I'll let you all do your own research from here. 


CONCLUDING REMARKS

   In conclusion, I would like to thank my housemate for his open-minded attitude. We've had some really great conversations over the two weeks we lived in the same apartment. I'm very grateful for having my eyes opened to a different kind of Arab and a better understanding and insight about Islam. I have learned a lot about Kuwait, the tribes and their histories, and I truly hope that Islam can work its way to a better place. 

   Yes, I'm guilty of lumping nations and people together as if all fall into the same lifestyle and negative or positive trappings. Of course I know better. I'm just lazy! However, we Jews also have a saying that one Jew represents all Jews. This is essentially true. Therefore we try to be the best we can be. Why should this not apply to all other nations and people? 



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