Religion Can Be the Bridge Linking Jews and Muslims

958081777Judaism and Islam are sister religions with many similarities. Nevertheless, the prevailing belief among members of both faiths is that an abyss separates them, and politically, they view one another as a threat.

Yet the overlaps between the religions, coupled with the positive attitudes toward religion in general on both sides, can be transformed into a bridge. Jewish familiarity with Islam and its principles and Muslim familiarity with Judaism, gained in the education system and other avenues, including interfaith dialogue, can build this bridge and turn these religions into a moderating, constructive forces in the ongoing conflict between their believers.

Sukkot, the holiday in which Judaism turns its gaze outward to members of other faiths, is an opportunity to set this as a goal for both Jews and Muslims.

After years of studying Torah and Jewish law in yeshiva, including getting my rabbinic ordination, I began studying and researching Islam. A fascinating world was revealed to me.

Islam, which in the view of the Israeli man on the street begins and ends with jihad, Mecca, Al-Aqsa and the muezzin’s calls, turned out to be a world with wide horizons, rich in wisdom and holiness.

Delving into Islam was an intense intellectual experience, but the most transformative part of my studies was realizing the similarity between Judaism and Islam. I discovered that the sources, sages, principles and details of Islam are astoundingly similar to those I learned in yeshiva – a reminder of human nature is ultimately the same the world over. This experience made me change my attitude toward Islam and its adherents.

FULL ARTICLE FROM HAAERTZ 

 

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Holy Land Festival unites Muslims, Christians in hope for restored peace

WASHINGTON HOLY LAND FESTIVALAlong the western banks of the Jordan River, the place of Christ’s baptism and today known as Qasr al-Yahud, numerous churches and monasteries of different religions sit vacant and silenced due to the dangerous landmines that lie beneath them.

For almost 50 years, Qasr al-Yahud has been empty due to the landmines installed during the 1967 Six Day war between the Arabs and the Israeli people.

Halo Trust, a nonprofit organization, has worked to remove the landmines in the Qasr al-Yahud area since 2012. The group is dedicated to providing save environments for those living in areas surrounded by landmines through landmine removal, as well as assisting in local community rebuilding in the aftermath of war.

Their work has brought together various religious denominations in efforts to preserve the sacred churches, such as the Coptic church, the Franciscan church and the Syrian church, that all sit on the site of Qasr al-Yahud.

“We’ve got agreements with the eight churches, we’ve got agreements with the Israeli government, and we’ve got agreements with the Palestinian authorities,” said Adam Jasinski, executive director of Halo Trust, in an interview with Catholic News Service July 15.

Jasinski spoke about the Jordan River landmine removal in a seminar at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America as part of its fourth annual Holy Land Festival held July 15.

The festival cultivates a conversation of hope around the Holy Land, with many groups coming together to engage visitors with the situation of Christians and of peace in the Holy Land.

Father Jim Gardiner, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement as well as a member of the Holy Land Committee of the Archdiocese of Washington, spoke to CNS about how the festival brought together so many different groups of people.

“Nobody knows who is Christian, Muslim or Catholic,” Father Gardiner said.

The interdenominational environment at the festival was a mere taste of what takes place at Bethlehem University, the first Catholic university in the Holy Land. Two Bethlehem University students, Lela Abu Ayyash and Lara Kasbari, spoke about their experiences living and going to school in Palestine during the Holy Land festival in a seminar.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CATHOLIC STANDARD 

Palestinian Christians, Muslims united: Archbishop

JERUSALEM

thumbs_b_c_95113cc317215e2d3a3bb97b79b03c6dThe image of a Palestinian Christian reading from his bible while the crowd of Muslim worshippers he stood among prostrated themselves on the ground, or Christian clergy joining their Muslim counterparts at the head of processions, have been widely shared during the past week of unrest over one of Jerusalem’s most important holy sites.

During more than a week of tension over new Israeli restrictions on access to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna has been among the most vociferous in his support of unity between Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

“It is our duty as Palestinian Christians and Muslims to remain united against Israel’s greed, which targets all of us,” he told Anadolu Agency as he mingled with the crowds gathered for prayers outside the walls of Islam’s third-holiest mosque.

“As everyone knows the Palestinian people are united against the occupation and racism,” he said.

Palestinian Muslims have refused to enter the mosque because of new metal detectors installed at its entrances following a gun attack that killed two Israeli police officers and three Palestinians.

Israel claimed the measures were a response to the attack but Palestinians see the measures as an attempt to expand Israeli control over the site, which according to historical agreements should remain under Muslim management and reserved for Muslim worship, though non-Muslims can visit. The mosque is also revered by Jews, who call it the Temple Mount.

“The churches of Jerusalem declared their solidarity with Al-Aqsa Mosque and we are here today to affirm our solidarity with our Muslim brothers,” the Archbishop said. 

FULL ARTICLE FROM AA.COM (TURKEY)

Jesus Was No Stranger to Persistent Hope

Hope-Slider

The following is an Easter meditation from Churches for Middle East Peace, an organization that promotes interfaith initiatives for peace in the Holy Land.  

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.”
Luke 24: 1-10

Early in the morning, a group of women, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others, walked to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. I imagine them walking in silence, some of them with tears running down their cheeks, others in a daze. Their eyes are still adjusting to the morning light. One of them is carrying the spices they had prepared the night before, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. As they approach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away. This, in and of itself, would be cause for alarm. Who had been there before them? They cautiously walk into the tomb and find it empty. What happens next would cause anyone to be terrified. Two men in dazzling clothes (AKA angels) stood beside them and began to speak to them. These heavenly beings remind the women what Jesus had told them about how he would rise again on the third day. Immediately after their conversation, the women return to the eleven disciples and tell them everything that had happened. Hallelujah! What terrific news!

Jesus was no stranger to persistent hope. Jesus taught these women, and his disciples, what it meant to persistently hope. To have hope is more than a wish. It involves knowledge of something true, that hasn’t happened yet. It’s not a premonition, or some special kind of revelation. It’s the hope we carry with us even when circumstances seem dire. It’s the hope that propels us forward in the face of uncertainty and fear. This is the kind of hope exhibited by the women that morning. It seemed as though everything was lost. Their Lord had been crucified. What would happen to them, his followers? Still, they faithfully went to the tomb to honor him by preparing his body for burial. Although none of them expected to find the tomb empty, I imagine them replaying Jesus’ words on the walk to the tomb. What did Jesus mean when he said he would rise again on the third day? Maybe it was this wondering which propelled them to go to the tomb that morning.

Palestinian and Israeli women are often the most overlooked, yet effective peacemakers.

FULL ARTICLE FROM  CHURCHES FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE 

A Christian Human Rights Monitor Describes the Horrific Realities of Life Under Israeli Occupation

gaza

“Don’t they treat us like animals?”

It’s a hot friday morning, in the third week of Ramadan, and we’re at Qalandiya checkpoint, monitoring access for Palestinian women, children, and the elderly (including men over 45) who are traveling to Jerusalem for Friday prayers at al-Aqsa.

It is for one day only, and men under 45 are not allowed through, because the Israeli authorities have identified them a “security risk.”

“We just want to pray,” a Palestinian man exclaims, as he tries to argue with the soldiers.  “How are we a security risk for wanting to pray in al-Aqsa? You can check me! I’m carrying nothing!”

Men under 45 are not allowed through, because the Israeli authorities have identified them a “security risk.”  “We just want to pray,” a Palestinian man exclaims, as he tries to argue with the soldiers.  “How are we a security risk for wanting to pray in al-Aqsa? You can check me! I’m carrying nothing!”

I’m here with a Christian program, monitoring occupation related human rights abuses in the West Bank, and three times a week, we monitor the access—or lack thereof—through Qalandiya checkpoint.

Outside of the men’s entry to the checkpoint, many men under 45 are gathered.  Some try and pass through, even though they know that they will be rejected.

At first I ask the men coming back why they have been rejected, but after a few hours I’ve moved on to asking how many times they’ve tried to pass through.  “Ten times now,” says one man, smiling broadly.  I am encouraged by him; I see it as a peaceful kind of resistance, to attempt to do something which should be your right, despite knowing you won’t be allowed to.

At first I ask the men coming back why they have been rejected, but after a few hours I’ve moved on to asking how many times they’ve tried to pass through.  “Ten times now,” says one man, smiling broadly.  I am encouraged by him; I see it as a peaceful kind of resistance, to attempt to do something which should be your right, despite knowing you won’t be allowed to.

As soon as someone nearby hears that I, despite my Scandinavian features and big blonde hair, speak Arabic, a big group of teenage boys bombard me with questions. Two topics are reoccurring:  Whether or not I am fasting, and if I think what I see happening is right.

Do you fast, they ask me. No, I’m a Christian we fast in or before Easter, I tell them. Is this right what you see here, they ask me. Every time I answer the same way:  No, of course this is not right. How can you put an age limit on the right to pray?

A relationship with God is an undeniable, inalienable human right.  Praying is an undeniable, inalienable human right.

A relationship with God is an undeniable, inalienable human right. Praying is an undeniable, inalienable human right.   

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST 

Can Israelis And Palestinians Change Their Minds?

mind changeNote:  Although not directly addressing the thematic content of this page, this article speaks to an issue that also lies at the heart of interfaith dialogue – are we able to change our minds about “the other.”  Read it with that in mind. 

What makes people change their minds? About the really hard stuff.

Covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the past three years, I’ve often wondered if people here ever do.

This conflict is frequently described as “intractable,” with neither side willing to give up their historical perspective or their entrenched positions to end it. And it does not take many interviews to hear repetitions of the same sweeping narrative repeated on each side. Palestinians from different places cite the same historical events to back their views. Israelis who have never met each other use similar turns of phrase.

“People have a lot of [psychological] resources invested in what they believe about the conflict,” says Thomas Zeitzoff, a political scientist at American University in Washington, D.C., who has researched Israeli and Palestinian attitudes.

He says the high political stakes and emotional involvement make it hard for Israelis and Palestinians to change their minds.

But there have been certain shifts – in public opinion and in individual beliefs – during the 68 years of Israel’s existence and almost half-century of the Israeli military control over Palestinian territories.

Why? Experts list a range of influences that – to varying degrees – can move or even flip deeply held views.

“You can point to major events, either in the world or people’s lives, changes in their social context, as well as changes in the kind of messages they get from politicians and other elite sources,” says Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor at Dartmouth College who researches politics and misperceptions.

Other factors include repeated exposure to a new idea, whatever the source, scientific research, and direct personal experience.

Four people – two Israeli and two Palestinian – told me their stories of personal, radical belief change related to the conflict. They not only changed their minds, but, a higher hurdle, their behavior.

Here are some triggers that led these people to see the world differently than they had before, even in the midst of a larger impasse.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NPR 

 

 

Jewish, Muslim and Christian kids from the US and Jerusalem come together at a Seattle summer camp

summer campAt a summer camp in Mount Vernon, Washington the campers do plenty of classic camp activities.

“Yesterday there was tie-dye, sports, swimming,” says Riva, a camper from Bellevue.

But Kids4Peace ultimately has a deeper purpose. The camp brings Jewish, Muslim and Christian 12 year olds from Washington state together with 12 year old Palestinians and Israelis, from Jerusalem, for 12 days.

“Where I live everyone is Jewish,” says Meital, a Jewish girl who lives between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. “There’s different varieties of Judaism where I live but there’s no Muslims or Christians. But I have met Arabs before.”

Meital’s lack of exposure to other cultures and religions is exactly why the camp was established.

“The organization was started in Jerusalem, in 2002, during a time of pretty intense violence in the Middle East, in Israel/Palestine in particular,” says Kids4Peace Northwest regional director, Jordan Goldwarg. “And the goal has always been to bring kids together to talk about their religion, their culture, their heritage and to learn from each other. Also, just to have time and opportunity to be kids together and to grow up in a safe environment.”

Twice a day, between weaving friendship bracelets and roasting s’mores, the kids are led through some pretty deep discussions.

“Learning how to be a better listener. Learning how to build trust with other people. Learning how to see different perspectives and different sides of a story,” Goldwarg said. “We also spend time everyday engaged in interfaith learning. So the kids really start to understand: What does it mean to be Jewish? What does it mean to be Muslim? What does it mean to be Christian?

The values of each of these faiths lead us towards peace.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM MY NORTHWEST

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