For Jews and Muslims of Morocco, a Supportive Relationship Built on a Complex History

moroccoMARRAKECH, 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.

Image: Muslim men pray before the Iftar
Before the Iftar, Muslim men pray in at the Synagogue Beth El in Marrakech while standing before the ark that holds the sacred Torah scrolls on June 18, 2017. Yardena Schwartz / for NBC News

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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NBC NEWS

CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS, JEWS BREAK BREAD IN INTERFAITH MOROCCO INITIATIVE

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When Moroccan students got together to explore the rich cultural legacy the Jewish community contributed to the North African country, they named their association Mimouna, the name of a Moroccan Jewish tradition which marks the end of Passover with inviting Muslim neighbors for shared meals.

They never guessed they’d end up creating such meals themselves.

Together with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) and Jeunesse Chabad Maroc the students provided 1,500 needy Muslim families with meals in Marrakesh to help them celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. The collaboration also included a festive interfaith dinner at the Slat al Azama synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Marrakech.

IFCJ Vice president Yael Eckstein was present at the event and stated that, since WWII, Morocco had set an example among North African societies for its treatment of Jews. She said she is honored to stand with the people of Morocco.

This is not the only example of the children of Abraham coming together around the dinner table this time of year.

In Cairo, Copts, who comprise the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, had set up tables outside their homes and invited Christians and Muslims alike to enjoy a meal as the sun sets and fasting Muslims are able to eat and drink.

Dawoud Riyad, who is Coptic, set up the tables near his Cairo home and invited Tarek Ali, a local resident, to celebrate together.

“They invited me and my kinds, and I was surprised”, said Ali, “with no difference between sheikhs, Christians, or Muslims.”

“We’re all brothers and friends”, said Riyad and pointed to another neighbor, “I’ve raised this man’s son (alongside my own son) and he’s Muslim.”