Interfaith harmony between Jews and Muslims

by developmentaliste

I joined up for an interfaith dialogue process . A Muslim will be paired up with a Jew over 4 sessions. I always found it strange that in past times Jews, Christian and Muslims have been living alongside each other, intermarrying. Then due to some crises or another, usually military-political differences are created and they are at each other’s throats and become worst enemies. This aspect I find a bit peculiar because besides politics, we are actually quite similar. Muslims eat Halal, Jews eat Kosher. They say Shalom, we say Alasaalam o Alaikum. Their women also cover their heads, particularly the orthodox ones. Both communities practice circumcision. All three religions believe in Judgement Day.

In times past, Jews always sought refuge in Muslim dominated areas. I’m Muslim, but I dislike it when people rubbish another religious community. I’m supposed to hate Israelis because of their occupying Palestine. The Muslim community whether Arab or non-Arab always confuse me, but then, Muslims are not each others brothers and sisters, children and parents. They are each other’s competitors. They go by Arab non-Arab, Indian- Pakistani Muslim. They don’t think in terms of community, they think in terms of colour, in terms of a benefit system. Albeit, the latter being a normal human trait irrespective of caste, race, creed.

Being Pakistani, I can say that Pakistan always sticks up for Muslim causes wherever it is in a position to speak up, whether for Palestine, Kashmir or elsewhere. It saddens me that Arabs despite their sense of pan-Arabism seem unable to unite when it comes to the Palestinian cause, other than their charitable donation drives, orphan support and education/scholarship schemes. Being Muslim, I can say I find many things admirable about the Jewish community. They stick up for each other, they are strongly united because they know it is their strength. They are successful and due to corporate leverage gain support even from people of Arab Muslim background, making them only pay lipservice to the Palestinian cause because basically, they don’t care as it’s not really affecting them if people are stateless.

I’m enthusiastic about this dialogue process because on a Saturday I drove through Hendon, which is in north London. I saw a lot of Jewish people. In certain parts of London you see one or two. I saw two Jewish men on the tube once. The orthodox don’t make eye contact when you look at them. As we were driving in Hendon, I saw men with their sons, mothers with their children, women walking in couples. They were all dressed up for the Sabbath. Some men wearing yamuras, others wore the black hats. The women wore traditional dresses. I have never seen so many Jews in one place before. They were either going to attend Sabbath or they were returning from it. I noticed a lot of churches, but I didn’t see a synagogue. For me it was an interesting thing to observe because I’m more used to watch south Asians in their traditional clothes going towards or from an event. And to identify a Jew is very difficult on a normal day, unless they tell you they are Jewish, which few people do nowadays. This they will do only if they are practicing Jew.

When my parents moved to Denmark, they attended Danish courses at Copenhagen University. They were a young curious couple, most of the friends they made in their early days in Denmark were Jews from eastern Europe, who later settled in Israel. Back then their Jewish friends felt they had more in common with my parents than they had with the native population. They told them that Christians discriminated against them for being Jewish. Back then being Jewish was a slur, just like being an ethnic minority is today. Things have changed a lot since those days, but there is a greater need for interfaith reconciliation today because the world is getting smaller and being different is increasingly becoming a part of daily life due to technology and general progress.

The other day I read an article in a magazine that Jews and people of Jewish background are increasingly joining BNP and EDL to protest against the perceived increasing Islamisation of British society. BNP is changing its focus from anti-semitism to anti-Islam and is the only political party taking that stand. The BNP and EDL have rabbis among its members. BNP has Jewish MPs. However, when it comes to islamisation of British society I find this a bit far fetched. I don’t think there are more Islamists in England, but that they are more vocal than 20 years ago because as a community they are better educated today. Also, religious association, think tanks and charities are run by better educated people who are keeping connected with their communities through legal and other social services. So, to make their voices heard is much easier than when their parents arrived in the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, the political presence of BNP and EDL are evolving and offering a platform to voice alternative opinions within race relations, which in itself is an interesting phenomenon. However, I say, whether islamist, Zionist/whatever, or racial supremists, every standpoint needs to meet other opinions because it is through dialogue we can make this chaotic world a better place to live in for everyone.

My Jewish partner is an elderly lady who works in the healthcare sector. She was one of the children who came by train from Eastern Europe during World War II. I told her that one thing I admire about the Jewish community is that they are really united. She disagreed and gave me an example of another participant, who is a member of the Palestinian friendly support groups, while she belongs to the more moderate orthodox branch. But she did concede that when it comes to Jewishness or things that affect them as a community they do stick together, which is so unlike the Muslim community.

My partner told me she had only been eating kosher for the past 7 years. Her son went into an orthodox phase which started some years ago. Now he is an atheist. I found this interesting because going puritanical at some stage in life is a common thing to do for many people in their religious journey. Some come out of the experience moderate, secularized or atheist. Others get further embroiled in the dogmatism of faith.

One of the people I met through an online community also jokes about the time when he went all Wahaabi. He came to realize that the rules and regulations turned you into a machine rather than a human. Basically, the rules create fear not love for the Divine. To me it is about creating a balance between the love and fear of the Almighty. However in order to create that balance, I suppose you need to experience the different spectrums of the faith. But now he enjoys spiking up his drink with some alcohol, because at the end of the day he has to live in the real world. Besides, when you live as a minority in a society, it is easy to find a connection with the orthodox/puritanical aspect of the faith you practice. You might as well go the extreme way when you can’t get accepted as part of mainstream society beyond your daily associations through schooling or work.

Politically, I disagree with what is happening in the Middle East. It’s abnormal for a nation to be stateless. Getting representation at the UN without a geo-political existence makes little sense because the need for a geographical existence remains. I disagree with what’s happening in Gaza and the West Bank, with the wall fencing in an entire nation from its surroundings . It will only contribute to entrenching the victim syndrome and breed even more hatred and need for vengeance, which will eventually culminate bigger and deep-seated unforeseen responses.

Fencing communities in a ghetto like existence happened to the Jews during the Holocaust and what did the Muslims ever do to the Jews to make them this vengeful? Nevertheless, I have heard from others that the Jews who originates from Israel are not inhumane. The Jews are not inhumane. It’s the Zionists. They are the ones pursuing aggressive and expansive settlement policies. It could be argued that the Israeli government is Zionist. However, one must not overlook the increasing numbers of Jews both outside and within Israel who oppose the government’s policies. Grassroot level initiatives to foster peacebuilding and reconciliation between Israeli/ Jewish and Palestinian Arabs are cropping up. Nevertheless, since Israel won the 1967 war, a victor will always feel more entitled to its winnings and exploit it to its advantage. Clearly, there is a need to re-defining the Israel/Palestine conflict. Responsibility for past mistakes must be made, certain realities must be accepted. Israel is a geopolitical reality and has been for the past 64 years, but the Palestinians need and must have a country to call their own. The world needs a Palestinian state. It’s a basic, innate human right.