By Naomi ‘t Hart
A certain event, such as the current pandemic or a death, can lead to a fundamental change in a person’s being. But even just being confronted with systemic injustice, can push a person to radically change their life around. Three young people on what caused them to change their way of life.
The twenty-year-old Aisha* grew up in Saudi Arabia in a strict Islamic household. A horrific attack by a terrorist group resulted in the tragic deaths of half her family, including her father. Aisha was just fourteen and had lost half her family, as well as the little religion she had left. After arriving in The Netherlands as a refugee at age 16, she had to redefine who she was and what she believes.
“Religion played a big part in my upbringing. Our whole lives where positioned around the Islam. I remember being woken up as a six-year-old in the early morning by my mother to attend first prayers. In prayer group, my teacher slapped me because I asked him what Allah looks like, which is not something you are allowed to ask aloud as a muslim. I was a curious kid, but never felt like people could answer my questions about the Koran, which made me skeptical. After the murder on my family, every shred of religion that was left in me left vanished instantly.
I moved out of the house at age seventeen and since then I have developed my own perspective on the world. I am a feminist and believe in my own abilities. My dream is to improve the situation of women in Somalia. A conversation I will always remember was with an elderly man on the bus. He said that every diamond has been through an immense amount of pressure to transition from a rock to a beautiful, shiny diamond. That has always stuck with me.”
*Fake name because of anonymity
The twenty-six-year-old Israel born Danielle Yaor grew up in a Jewish household in Tel Aviv.
When the mandatory military time, three years for boys and two years for girls, started looming over Danielle, she came into contact with conscientious objectors. Those are people who refused to perform military service due to their ideological beliefs. A seed was planted in Danielle’s mind, leading her on an unexpected path of activism.
“When I started developing my awareness about the occupation of Palestine, I was fifteen years old. The Israeli education system never taught me about the occupation and it was never discussed at home. During a summer camp for Israeli youth, I was introduced to alternative options instead of serving in the military, such as serving in a humanitarian group.
After visiting the Palestinian towns that are being occupied and seeing that people’s lives are made completely impossible by the Israeli army, I decided I couldn’t be a part of that. I became a Shministim, which translates to twelfth graders in Hebrew. It is a movement of high school students that publicly refuse to serve in the Israeli army due to their objection to the occupation by the Israeli military. This act of rebellion is illegal, you have to serve in the army, unless you have health or religious reasons not to, otherwise you can get sent to jail. I ended up choosing to ‘serve’ society by doing two years of humanitarian work with asylum seekers, helping them navigate Israeli legislation and organizing government support.
I had a lot of fights about it with family members, especially with my mom. I left the house because of it. Now we are good, but it was very painful. The first year I protested, she saw me as a traitor, much like many of my other family members. That is another reason for me to support the objector movement. We pay a social price. When I chose to be a refuser, I chose to be an outsider, because my society doesn’t accept me as I am.”
To say his life has changed in the past few years would be an understatement. 23-year-old Joshua has experienced a lot in his life thus far, his parents divorced when he was young and he experienced abuse as a child. This led to crippling anxiety, causing him to seek mental help and reconsider his life choices. His mom advised him to visit a life coach, who introduced him to alternative methods of healing and thinking. From there on, Joshua’s spiritual journey began.
“I had a difficult childhood and have had to deal with the consequences ever since. The anxiety became increasingly bad, it eventually took over my life. I decided to quit my studies and focus on my mental wellbeing and explore my interest in self-development. I quit drinking, stopped partying and started eating vegan, because I believe there is a strong connection between mental and physical health. The decisions I made had a big impact on my social life, I lost a lot of friends along the way.
My father was diagnosed with chronic cancer during my teens, and he uses meditation to deal with all of the emotions that accompany his illness. It really works for him, so I figured that if it works for him, I could give it a try to deal with my own issues. I spent a month meditating at a Buddhist monastery in the UK in 2019, which opened up a whole new world to me. I had my first spiritual experience at the monastery. It might sound crazy, but my fears were so extreme that I started praying to a higher power. Right at the moment that my anxiety was through the roof, I felt like I was on fire with fear, I saw a light streaming through myself and I instantly felt calm and zen. The fear had completely dissolved. It was such a surreal experience and it reinforced that I was on the right path.
When people ask me if I study, I say that I do study, but in my own way. I self-educate by choosing my own subjects and my own books. My interest lies within, spirituality, alternative medicine, nutrition and also religion. My ultimate goal is to free myself of the fear and anxiety that I have carried with me throughout my life.”