JEWS AND ARABS MEET IN HAIFA DAILY
For the International Anti-Racism Day:
By Dr Jesse Lachter 19 March 2006
200,000 Jews and 20,000 Arabs, Christian and Moslem alike, have been living as neighbors for more than fifty years now in the beautiful Israeli port city, Haifa, and they meet all the time in their everyday life. This one was a special meeting though:
Jewish "Or Hadash" Synagogue Meets Ahmadiyya Moslems
Friday night March 17th, Emir Muhammad Sharif, leader of the Ahmadiyya Moslem community of Haifa, came to Or Hadash Reform synagogue in Haifa. Invited especially for the International Anti-racism Day, the meeting was facilitated by the Center for Pluralism. Emir Sharif spoke in fluent Hebrew, also including some Arabic verses from the Koran. Immediate Past President of the Or Hadash community, Dr Jesse Lachter, translated into English for the guests from the leadership of the Boston-Haifa partnership programs. Leading the Kabbalat Shabbat services was the spiritual leader and Rabbi of the Or Hadash community, Rabbi Edgar Nof.
Rabbi Nof is well known as being involved in open dialogue with the several religious groups of Haifa, beyond Jews including Bahai, Christain, and Moslem communities and their leaderships. Rabbi Nof and his lay leadership have a record of devoted efforts to sustain and to nourish the peaceful atmosphere in Haifa, and of elevating the mutual respect and care of members of every community for all others.
Emir Sharif described the origins of the Ahmadiyya Movement, begun in 1889, based on one founder whose reforms led mostly to the return to original religious texts. The later interpretations, or mis-interpretations, are seen by the Founder as having misled the religion and its followers to often misunderstand the purposes and goals of religion, and to turn towards enmity and hatred rather than religion turning people towards, and encouraging, love of the other, and mutual respect.
Later (mis-)interpretations of the Koran are what have led to enmity, strife, war, and distortion of religion.
Not shying away from the hard stuff, the Emir explained the concept of Jihad. The very word Jihad, he said, makes many people who misunderstand it anxious. Jihad appears in the Koran as meaning, consistently, the making of a great devoted and sincere effort. Jihad never appears in the context of war, or enmity, or sword. For that matter- the word sword, said the Emir, never appears anywhere in the Koran. The Koran describes the feeling a Moslem should have towards his fellow man and woman, being a feeling of love, as much or more than that of a mother for her child, even if that other person considers one as an enemy.
Using the Koran as a source, an Ahmadiyya Moslem reaches conclusions of brotherhood and respect among peoples, especially for the People of the Book. Later (mis-)interpretations are what have led to enmity, strife, war, and distortion of religion. The Emir made a clear statement, in his demeanor, his tone, his words, and his leadership in physically coming to visit Or Hadash. The Emir was most warmly and respectfully received by the hundred Jews who came that evening to pray, and to usher in the peaceful Shabbat.
The Or Hadash and Ahmadiyya communities plan to share near future events, probably involving the youth groups as well as the adults who plan a reciprocating visit.
Or Hadash showed leadership in providing the stage for this event. The Emir, this "Other" was seen to be personable, pleasant, peace-loving and respectful, knowledgable, and altogether a good neighbor. A quick survey of the Ahmadiyya movement using google on the internet found that this is a movement with 200 million followers in 178 countries, a movement believing in reforms. As we all know, the term Jihad is used quite differently by those in our region claiming to belong to the Islamic Jihad. What was new was the message that movements within the non-homogeneous millions of Moslems, are Moslems with dedication to interfaith dialogue, based on peace and brotherhood, and spurning warring and fighting.
Or Hadash has been organizing a lecture/meeting series based on the writings of Bruce Feiler of Boston, in his book "Abraham". Feiler attempts to bring closer peoples of three monotheistic religions, (within which are many movements). The togetherness is based on the goodness we know from the writings we share regarding our common forefather Abraham.
One way to counter those who have mis-interpreted religion to be a road to war, is to meet with those who preach oppositely, and to learn that others are so preaching, and to spread the word that there are good people on all sides trying hard to bring about peace and brotherhood.
May the sincere and dedicated and devoted religious efforts of all peoples bring us closer together. May the boundaries of ignorance which foment suspicion and enmity be lowered. May reducing racism and prejudice, and enmity be the reward for all who struggle towards not doing towards others as one would not like having done to oneself.