Monday, February 6th | 15 Shevat 5783

August 6, 2017 10:38 pm

A Pakistani Lover of Hebrew

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avatar by Sarmad Iqbal


Karachi, Pakistan. Photo: wiki commons.

Despite the fact that my country — Pakistan — doesn’t have any diplomatic relations with Israel, and despite the ubiquitous antisemitism in Pakistan, I have mustered up enough courage to articulate my love for Hebrew — and the Jewish people.

I have always been very curious to explore Judaism. Jews are always seen as the “bad guys” in my country, even though — ironically — Pakistan doesn’t have a Jewish populace. But this nonexistent Jewish community, and the nonexistent dimplatmic ties between our countries, are what peaked my curiosity about Israel and the Jewish people.

Sadly, I can’t even travel to Israel, as it’s written clearly on my Pakistani passport that, “This Passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel.” Instead, I decided to explore Israel through the cultural mediums of music, cinema and TV shows.

I have always been vehemently against all of the antisemitism that is practiced and preached by many in Pakistan. But this hatred led me to explore what Israel really is, and what Jews really are. So Israeli movies like The House on Chelouche Street, and TV shows like X factor Israel, became my means to explore an Israel that is different from all the negative stereotypes we see in Pakistan. Israeli movies, songs and TV shows augmented my interest in exploring Israel and Judaism — through studying Hebrew.

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One day, while I was looking for a Beyoncé song on YouTube, I came across “Ahava Katana” by Israeli singer Shiri Maimon; that song was even better than the Beyoncé song that I had been looking for.

Shiri had a mesmerizing voice that soothed me, even though the song wasn’t in a language that I could understand. But the song led me to study, and fall in love with, Hebrew. I started studying the language intensely, and found it immensely enthralling. I also started eagerly discovering the historical background of Hebrew, and  was astounded when I discovered that Greek and Roman had also influenced the language — but that despite these pressures, Hebrew has remained a distinct language for centuries.

Learning and studying this great language also assisted me in studying Jewish holy books, such as Talmud and Torah. After studying Judaism, I was able to figure out why Jews and Muslims have so much in common — from Shalom and Salaam, to male circumcision, to the Quran labeling Jews as “people of the book.” Yet sadly, too many Muslims today don’t see the ties between the two religions for what they really are.

I found Hebrew more fascinating when I discovered that the language shares many words with Arabic — and Arabic, in turn, has so many words in common with Urdu, which is the national language of Pakistan.

Hebrew has words like “Bracha” for blessing, and Arabs have almost the same (Baraka). In Urdu, Pakistanis have “Barkat” — which shows how we (Urdu and Hebrew speakers) are connected through our respective languages, even though the link between Hebrew and Urdu is distant and has Arabic in the middle.

Other common words between Hebrew and Urdu include the word for father — both use “Aba.” Pakistanis have the word “Ilahi” for Divine, which is similar to the Hebrew “Elohi.” We also have the word for death in common, as both call it “Mot.” Hebrew speakers have “Kol” for “all,” and Pakistanis have “Kul” in Urdu. There are so many other common words between our languages — but I will write about them soon.

Until then, Shalom everyone.

Sarmad Iqbal is a Pakistani writer, blogger and student who has a penchant for reading, writing, learning languages, and studying cultures, religions and geo-political affairs. He can be followed on Twitter: @sarmadiqbal7.

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