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Najla Said is an award-winning actress, comedian, and writer. As an actress, she has appeared Off Broadway, regionally and internationally, as well as in film and television. She is a[…]

The playwright says she tries to maintain a humanist perspective: “Each person who interacts with me is a human being and they are the sum of all of the things that they represent.”

Question: Your play describes your conflicted views on belief.rn What do you believe now? 

Najla Said: My mom was rnraised Quaker, and my dad was raised Anglican and Baptist. It’s a very rncomplicated story. My dad’s maternal grandmother was from Nazareth, as rnwe all know, Jesus is from Nazareth, but he went to Waco, Texas, became arn Baptist minister, and then moved back to Nazareth and founded a Baptistrn church in Nazareth. So my grandmother was raised Baptist and my rngrandfather, my father’s father, was raised Anglican, because it was an rnEnglish colony, Palestine was. So that was my one side, and then my rnmother’s side, her father had converted to Quaker, which is completely rnrandom, I think there’s only two or three Quaker families in Lebanon to rnthis day. So I was a minority within a minority in terms of the Arab rnworld and I never understood what that meant. 

So both of my rnparents were raised with all of this tradition. Both the schools I went rnto were Episcopal, so I had learned a lot of the Bible verses and the rnLord’s Prayer, so I was raised, in effect, as a Christian, in the way rnthat many of us are in this country, sort of a secular Christian, like, rnwe celebrate Christmas and Easter, we eat eggs, but there wasn’t a lot rnof talk of the Bible, except as a work of literature. And then growing rnup, I would cling to being Christian because it would make me, it made rnme a little bit more like other people that I knew. And it’s funny as I rnonly identify as a Christian Arab when people assume that I'm Muslim; rnfor some reason it makes me annoyed. And that's part of the whole rnstruggle, which is part of the reason, probably, that Muslims insist rnthat they’re Muslims, because they feel threatened. 

So for me rnthere’s been a lot caught up in, especially with the Palestinian rnstruggle having been very clearly viewed as a Muslim thing or an Islamicrn thing; that makes me very frustrated. The way I was raised is with rnhumanism, so all people all equal, and I was never taught that Jewish rnpeople were this and Christian people were that and Muslims were; it rnnever occurred to me. No one in my family was anti-Semitic. We didn’t rntalk about people in terms of their religion. People were people. And sorn I think that’s great, it’s how I’ve been able to not say, you know, rn"Jewish people this, Jewish people that." I don’t make generalizations rnlike that. I believe that every experience you have is an experience. Sorn every human being gives you the opportunity to know them as a human rnbeing. And so, conversely, every person who knows me and likes me will rnknow me and like me because of me, oh, and I happen to be Palestinian. 

So,rn it’s hard, because also my father passed away and so when you really rnrealize why religion is created. Because... I miss my dad and I want himrn to be up there on a cloud looking after me. So there are times where I rnfeel like it’s so ingrained in me to believe in Christianity or heaven, rnbut on the other hand, I think the essence of every single religion is rnto treat other people with respect and kindness and I think that it’s a rnshame that we’ve gotten so far from that, because I think no matter whatrn you believe, I think some of the traditions and beliefs in Judaism are rnbeautiful, same with Islam, same with Christianity. I mean, they’re all rnfascinating and of course, all the other millions of religions in the rnworld. There are elements that I find beautiful. It’s frustrating. It’s rnfrustrating, as everyone knows, to start pigeonholing everyone into rnlittle boxes. 

So, while I feel like traditionally I was raised rnwith a very Christian outlook, I really, really try to maintain a rnhumanist perspective and just, each person who interacts with me is a rnhuman being and they are the sum of all of the things that they rnrepresent. You know, that their country, their religion, their... you rnknow, their mother’s hair color, whatever it is, they represent many, rnmany different things, not one. And I think the biggest mistake is when rnwe start identifying by religion. So, it’s tricky, but I love to believern there is a God so I can have someone looking out for me, but at the rnsame time, or that I can see my dad again in heaven when I die, but at rnthe same time like, do I really believe? I don’t know. 
Recorded on May 11, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen