My Friday nights have been far from glamorous. While most of my friends who are now hundreds of miles away, shed their worries of the week with cocktails and late nights, I have been spending quiet evenings at home sipping shai with my parents. Not thrilling. But I’ve always been one to believe that if we open ourselves up to it, we can learn from almost any experience. Since I’ve spent many modest nights at home, I’ve come to know the story of Mohammed Assaf.
Assaf is a twenty two year old singing sensation who gained notoriety on Arab Idol, an Arabic version of American idol (yes, they copied the American television series). He has been nicknamed asaroukh, or rocket, a friendly play on political terms for a boy from Gaza who has a voice that is out of this world.
But it is not his incredibly charming voice, nor his undeniable good looks that caught my attention. Okay, maybe it caught my attention, but that’s not all. There’s more. It’s Assaf’s personal story that has made me examine an idea which I have recently been giving much thought to.
In Arabic, the word destiny is qadar. What is destiny? The formal definition is: something that is predetermined, or inevitable. Does destiny exist? Is it real? Is it something we cling to as a means to cope with the uncertainty of the future?
There is no doubt that there is something spectacular about Mohammed Assaf. When he sings, it’s as though his entire life was leading up to that moment. And although he’s only 22, his voice seems to carry years of pain and suffering. Many people say his voice bears the burden that only a Palestinian living in Gaza could feel. I’ve seen the children of Palestine myself. They grow up quickly and they’re far beyond their years.
But despite the sorrow and despair that surrounds him at home, there is something beautiful, magnificent even about Assaf’s voice. It makes you want to keep listening, as though he will reveal some secret to you that you can’t stand not knowing. Here is his story.
Assaf grew up in Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza. In order to audition for Arab Idol, he had to apply for a visa to leave Gaza, and he spent two days traveling to Egypt. If you are familiar with the difficulties Palestinians face in traveling in the West Bank and Gaza, you know that this is a frustrating task. It is sometimes impossible for Palestinians to travel outside of Gaza. But Assaf somehow managed. When he reached the Rafah border crossing, he was denied passage into Egypt by a security guard. He explained to the guard his reason for traveling, and the guard graciously allowed him to leave the country.
When Assaf finally reached the hotel where auditions were being held, he was too late. He called his mom to relay the disappointing news. The doors had closed. She told him, find a way to get inside.
So he jumped the wall.
Security guards seized him to escort him out when a Palestinian official with the show recognized Assaf from his performances in Gaza and gave him an audition number, allowing him to compete. Assaf had been singing in Gaza since he was a child.
It’s remarkable that Assaf even made it to the auditions. He could have easily been denied a visa to travel from Gaza to Egypt, as is often the case with Palestinians attempting to travel outside of Gaza. He could have met an unsympathetic and unimpressed security guard at the border that day who turned him away. He could retreated and gone home when he found the doors of the hotel closed. And the official that saw him at that moment could have been looking the other way, or simply could have been indifferent when he saw Assaf.
Upon hearing this story, I got to thinking. Assaf’s story reminds me of many of the values of success that I’ve heard time and time again.
If you want something, you must put yourself out in the world to get it.
Yes, Assaf has a brilliant voice and a rare talent, but if he hadn’t made the effort to go to the audition, he wouldn’t have had that chance.
You must work hard to overcome obstacles. Assaf made a decision to go to the audition, but he faced challenges along the way. Checkpoints, road blocks, walls, (literally). But he continued anyway.
We all need help from others at some point. If it wasn’t for the official, who gave him a number, although the deadline had passed, Assaf would not have been able to audition.
And finally, you must have faith. When asked what he thinks of all of the fame and popularity, Assaf has said, “It’s God’s will.”
Which brings me back to this idea of destiny. There is a saying in Arabic…that everyone’s fate is written on their foreheads. In knowing Assaf’s story, and hearing his voice, I can only believe that this was his destiny.