This week, a UK-based synagogue hosted its first iftar with members of both the local Jewish and Muslim communities.
As part of an ongoing nationwide initiative, known as the “Big iftar,” the breaking of the Ramadan fast took place in North Western Reform synagogue in London.
With Ramadan being a time of reflection and peace, the Jewish-Muslim interfaith iftar at the synagogue, was a way for “Jewish and Muslim communities to come together in the UK to provide a light of hope for our co-religionists in the Middle East,” according to Mustafa Field, director of Faiths Forum London.
“Come into the synagogue with joy!” proclaimed Rabbi Maurice Michaels during the official introduction to the iftar. What followed was a consensus by the organizers towards a commitment of not letting troubles in the Middle East region negatively impact community cohesion in the UK between the two faith communities.
Laura Marks, senior vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, speaking to Al Arabiya News about the event explains: “it is these precise relationships which matter. We want our children to grow up knowing their neighbors and treating them as friends rather than with suspicion.”
It was a night of mingling, feasting and coming together based more on the commonality of the two Abrahamic faiths than on political differences. Attendees were composed of members of the local synagogue in London, interfaith representatives as well as different members of the Muslim community.
Following jovial greetings of “Ramadan Kareem” between the hosts and the guests, members of the two communities naturally mixed into conversation with each other. Experiences of fasting provided the platform for engagement; whether it was comparing Jewish and Muslim practices of fasting or sharing accounts of spiritual awakening.
Throughout the evening there were regular reminders that “community cohesion does not happen by accident” reinforcing importance of such interfaith initiatives.
Whilst “the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian [tension] was not specifically mentioned” during the course of the evening, explains Rabbi Maurice, “everyone understood what was being referenced - I said that it was essential that the situation elsewhere must not be allowed to negatively impact relations between Muslims and Jews in the UK.”
During the recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the killings of three Israeli teenagers and by the murder of 17-year old Palestinian Mohammad Abu Khadeir, there have been other vocal Muslim-Jewish solidarity voices that have emerged both here and in the U.S., motivated to inspire peace outside of the conflict zone.
Most initiatives that attempt to meet the challenges of Jewish-Muslim relations, are often recognized as important and worthwhile projects offering an opportunity to present a faith identity beyond stereotypes and misconceptions. However, sometimes the process of engagement can sometimes polarize the communities from which the participants/organizers hail. The U.S.-based Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), which was established last year, has recently provoked a debate online amongst American Muslims because of its approach in encouraging American Muslim leaders to critically engage with a self-identified Zionist Jewish organization.
In a comment piece entitled “After Abraham, Before Peace – Navigating the Divides“ for the U.S.-based publication Islamic Monthly, Abdullah Antepli, Muslim chaplain at Duke University who was involved in the creation of MLI, explains that the program was inspired “to create a different energy for critical Muslim-American thinkers to establish healthier relationships – primarily with American Jewish communities – without compromising their loyalties and attachments to the Palestinian cause.
“It was critical to engage with a self-identified Zionist Jewish organization because they are the groups American Muslims rarely engage, because we often exist on the opposite political spectrum and in isolated silos.”
Muslims and Jews share an extensive history of tolerance and mutual admiration, which continues to remain the pivotal driving force in building social cohesion today between the two faith groups. Despite the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, most involved in strengthening Jewish-Muslim relations, both on British and U.S. soil, remain committed in reinforcing both the shared religious/historical heritage in order to enhance social integration, combat Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as well as inspire hope for peace in the region.
(Photos courtesy: Hampstead Social)