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.
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.”
Note: This article brings to light an important document that was framed by a diverse gathering of Muslim leaders in Marrakesh in January of this year. Its focus is on the need for Muslim majority countries to protect the rights of religious minorities as a mandate of the Islamic faith. Here is the link to the page dedicated to this declaration:
Here is the article urging more attention to be paid to this declaration:
Noting the untimely death of previous declarations of Muslim comity with other faiths, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Washington’s retired archbishop, urged that the Marrakesh Declaration, drafted in January to have the same effect, not remain ignored.
McCarrick, during a May 10 “Newsmaker” assembly at the National Press Club in Washington, referred to the Medina Charter issued by the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, which allowed Muslims and non-Muslim “tribes,” including Jews, to live in Medina in peace and to come together for common defense.
Those principles, he said, have been distorted by groups in different parts of the Muslim world, “taking the Quran and taking the writing of the Prophet and using them for their own agenda … for power over their own people.”
McCarrick recalled a fatwa — a learned interpretation a qualified jurist or mufti can give on issues pertaining to Islamic law — issued 10 years ago by the Islamic Society of North America. He said it preached interreligious harmony and received great attention by assembled notables and reporters, but then it dropped out of sight.
The same was true, he added, for a similar declaration issued at around the same time by the king of Jordan — ignored after an initial outburst of praise.
That was before Daesh,” one of the names used to refer to Islamic State, McCarrick said. The situation is more urgent than before, when, according to the cardinal, few believed Muslim militants would slaughter not only non-Muslims but Muslims who held different opinions.
Casablanca – Last month at Al Azhar University, Sheikh Mustapha Mohamed Rashed defended a thesis that sparked a heated debate among religious scholars. The candidate concluded that Hijab, or the veil, is not an Islamic duty.
The claim is not the first of its kind, but the mere fact that it is adopted in Al Azhar University – the Sunni Islam’s foremost seat of learning –makes it controversial.
Sheikh Mustapha Mohamed Rashed argued that Hijab is not an Islamic duty. He stated that Hijab refers to the cover of the head, which is not mentioned in the Holy Quran at all. “Nonetheless, a bunch of scholars insisted vehemently that the veil is both an Islamic duty and one of the most important pillars of Islam,” he added.
In doing so, the PhD candidate points out, “they deviated from the purposes of the Islamic law and “Sahih Atafsir” or the true interpretation. They rejected reasoning and relied only on literal text.”
According to Mohamed Rashed, these scholars de-contextualized the verses of the Quran and interpreted them in their very own liking, following some ancient scholars, as if what they said is sacred and is no subject to Ijtihad.
Ijtihad is a technical term, which literally means “exertion” in a jurisprudential sense; it is the exertion of mental energy by a Muslim jurist to deduce legal rulings from Islam’s sacred texts.
The researcher continued that the scholars, who claim that Hijab is an important pillar of Islam, departed from “Al Minhaj Assahih,” or the true path, of interpretation and reasoning, which interprets the verses according to their historical context and the causes of revelation. These scholars “interpreted the verses in their general sense, overlooking the causes of their revelation, intentionally or due to their limited intellectual capacity resulted in psychological scourge.” Worse yet, they approached hundreds of important issues in the same way.”
“The supporters of Hijab as an Islamic duty base their arguments on inconsistent and wrong evidence. They would ascribe various meanings to the veil, from Hijab to Khimar to Jalabib, a fact which shows that they digressed from the true meaning they intended to address, the cover of the head,” he added. The researcher attempted to deconstruct the three claims that are derived from interpretations of the sacred texts.
The rise of ISIS and other Muslim extremist groups in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia has brought horrific persecution of non-Muslims — Christians, Jews and other religious minorities. Now, a group of Islamic scholars, Muslim leaders and government ministers from Muslim-majority countries has promised to work together to protect those minorities, saying Islam forbids religious persecution.
More than 100 countries were represented at the gathering of Muslim leaders in Marrakech this week, sponsored by the Moroccan government and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, an organization led by Islamic scholar Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah.
“We have people being enslaved into sexual slavery,” he told NPR from Marrakech. “We have Christian churches that have been there for long before Islam was in these lands, that are being destroyed. And we have Jews in Yemen, one of the oldest Jewish communities, now the very existence of which is threatened.”
While some prominent Muslim leaders belittle the plight of non-Muslims in their countries, those who came to this meeting heard testimony from other faith leaders about the conditions in their countries.
Sheikh Sattar Jabbar Hilu, speaking on behalf of his Sabian sect in Iraq, said they and other minorities face killing and deportations, and the situation is getting worse.
The message from this meeting: Such persecution is un-Islamic. Nearly 1,400 years ago, the Prophet Muhammad directed the preparation of a governing outline for an Islamic state, the Charter of Medina. It was named for the city in Arabia where Muhammad had taken refuge.
At the time, Medina was inhabited by various tribes and religious groups, and the charter mandated peaceful coexistence and religious freedom for all.
“Today we need to re-publicize this document,” says Recep Senturk, an Islamic scholar from Istanbul’s Fatih University, who was among those in Morocco. “Especially when we see that the minority rights are violated. Those people who are involved in terror activities, they are misusing the name of Islam and misusing the name of the Prophet Muhammad to justify their evil actions.”