MARRAKECH, Morocco — To an outsider, nothing seemed normal about this night, as Muslims were welcomed by the Jewish community to celebrate Ramadan at their synagogue, the members of the two faiths meeting in stark contrast when set against the religious conflicts that plague the region.
But to the Jews and Muslims of Marrakech, this was a Ramadan tradition, as 100 of them gathered at sunset for Iftar, the dinner that breaks the daily fast during the Muslim holy month.
Before the Muslims could eat, however, first they had to pray. Here, they did so while standing before the ark that holds the sacred Torah scrolls. The Muslim men bowed their heads and knelt down on their knees in chants of “Allahu Akbar,” meaning, “God is the greatest.”
To an American onlooker, this scene in late June seemed earth-shatteringly out of the ordinary. But to the Muslims and Jews gathered here, it was a reminder of the 2,000-year-old ties that bind their communities together.
Today, Jews account for less than 3,000 of Morocco’s 35 million residents — a small fraction of the nearly 300,000 who lived here before the establishment of Israel in 1948. Still, that tiny figure makes Morocco home to the largest Jewish population in the Arab world. And unlike other Arab countries, which essentially expelled their Jewish communities around the time of Israel’s establishment, the Jews of Morocco were not forced out when Israel declared its independence.