Why mitz­vahs are for Mus­lims, too


LAST MONTH, I sat down for Shab­bat din­ner with Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski of Gold­ers Green Syn­a­gogue. We talked about many things. Our con­ver­sa­tions ranged from pol­i­tics to fam­ily to foot­ball to the le­git­i­macy of eat­ing lo­custs.

What I re­mem­ber feel­ing was warmth and be­long­ing but what made me ap­pre­ci­ate the mo­ment more was when a guest turned our way and said: “I never thought I would be sit­ting on the same ta­ble as a Mus­lim imam for Shab­bat and hav­ing th­ese kinds of con­ver­sa­tions. Let’s carry them for­ward.”

The truth is that, de­spite the tur­bu­lent po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East, the past two years have seen a bet­ter­ment of Jewish/ Mus­lim re­la­tions in Europe. Real friend­ships have de­vel­oped. Peo­ple of both faiths are open to putting Mid­dle East­ern pol­i­tics to one side, to ex­plore the com­mon ground.

Whether it be the sup­port rab­bis and imams of­fered one an­other fol­low­ing the at­tacks in France, joint de­fences of kosher and halal meat, or the com­bined grass­roots so­cial ac­tion planned for this year’s Mitz­vah Day, our two faiths are work­ing side by side and, more im­por­tantly, learn­ing how to trust again.

Jews and Mus­lims share a com­mon her­itage — a com­mon eth­i­cal foundation un­der­pin­ning our faiths that finds root in Abra­ham. Much of our the­ol­ogy over­laps. We have the same be­lief in God and prophecy. Ap­prox­i­mately 90 per cent of Is­lamic law has evolved from Jewish law.

Es­sen­tially, Jews and Mus­lims have a lot more in com­mon to bring them to­gether than that which di­vides them.

Law — whether re­ferred to as ha­lachah or sharia — teaches what is re­quired of an in­di­vid­ual, but le­gal pa­ram­e­ters do not teach hu­mans the art of com­mu­ni­cat­ing and in­ter­face. Ethics and virtue teach hu­mans how to in­ter­act and, as Abra­ham is the source of our un­der­stand­ing of ethics and virtue, I some­times won­der what it would be like if Jews and Mus­lims were given a chance just to share ex­pe­ri­ences.

Such an op­por­tu­nity came over the course of Ra­madan when a num­ber of syn­a­gogues hosted Mus­lims and showed us tremen­dous hos­pi­tal­ity — I saw the Old Tes­ta­ment and Qu­ran har­monise when we re­flected over a shared story of Abra­ham and his treat­ment of strangers.

When dis­cussing that which we share, bar­ri­ers are over­come. And, when bar­ri­ers are over­come, a real warmth be­gins to flour­ish. You start to talk about your lives, your hopes and your hob­bies. You be­come friends.

Im­por­tant to note, in this con- Linked: A teacher, ad­justs the skull cap of one of her stu­dents dur­ing read­ing hour at the Hand in Hand Arab Jewish bilin­gual school in Jerusalem text, is that is­sues that take place in the Mid­dle East are not re­flec­tive of those that take place in the UK and Europe.

Most Mus­lims in the UK are from the sub-con­ti­nent; Pak­istan, In­dia, Bangladesh and the sur­round­ing ar­eas. Only a very small pro­por­tion of the Mus­lims are from that area of the world where con­flict is tak­ing place.

Is­lam in­cor­po­rates seven main cul­tures; from the Malay cul­ture to Ara­bic cul­ture — each uniquely dif­fer­ent.

In my own ex­pe­ri­ence, my re­la­tion­ships with the Jewish com­mu­ni­ties of Iran and Iraq run far deeper than my ties with Mus­lims from other parts of the world, be­cause we both lay claim to a com­mon back­ground, lan­guage and mem­o­ries and cul­ture. I can cel­e­brate Shab­bat with some­one from Per­sia, and feel right at home do­ing so.

It should not come as a sur­prise that the ma­jor­ity of Mus­lims in the UK know lit­tle of the is­sues un­fold­ing in the Mid­dle East. Yet they feel iso­lated when the me­dia and some in so­ci­ety make Mus­lims feel they are on trial.

I have heard sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments from many of our Jewish friends who have said to me that, even if they dis­agree with a par­tic­u­lar pol­icy of the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, they feel they are held on trial for it and must de­fend it as it is the whole and not just a pol­icy which is be­ing at­tacked.

When I look at Europe and the chal­lenges faced by our com­mu­ni­ties, it be­comes ap­par­ent that the plight of both Jews and Mus­lims have sim­i­lar­i­ties. In fact, there is much the Mus­lim com­mu­nity can learn from the Jewish com­mu­nity — specif­i­cally how they have de­vel­oped and in­te­grated.

The worst thing the Mus­lim com­mu­nity can do is feel vic­timised, as this may lead to be­com­ing more in­su­lar. Lessons can be taken from the Jewish com­mu­nity on how best to pre­vent this.

This is where I think grass­roots ini­tia­tives such as Mitz­vah Day and Nisa-Nashim — the Jewish Mus­lim Women’s Net­work — are vi­tal. Lead­ers may de­cide pol­icy but it’s not pol­icy that changes hearts. It’s peo­ple who change hearts. It’s grass­roots work that changes hearts. It’s women who change hearts.

The Mus­lim com­mu­nity is very tra­di­tional; its back­bone are the moth­ers, daugh­ters and sis­ters. If Mus­lim and Jewish women are seen to be en­gag­ing to­gether, then a gener- ation will fol­low. This is why NisaNashim is so very im­por­tant, as it de­vel­ops those re­la­tion­ships.

I am also proud that a record num­ber of Mus­lims, from imams and elders to young peo­ple and oth­ers in the grass­roots, are tak­ing part in Mitz­vah Day — the Jewish­led day of so­cial ac­tion on Sun­day Novem­ber 22.

For ex­am­ple, in Lon­don, women from both com­mu­ni­ties will be cook­ing to­gether at JW3 with the food go­ing to a home­less shel­ter. In Leeds, mem­bers of the lo­cal syn­a­gogue and mosque are com­ing to­gether to clean up the area. At York Univer­sity, Jewish and Mus­lim stu­dents will be giv­ing blood.

Is­lam, like Ju­daism, es­sen­tially boils down to two things — your duty to God and your duty to hu­man­ity.

Mus­lims part­ner­ing Jews on Mitz­vah Day is cru­cial to demon­strate this — show­ing how we work to­gether as one in our com­mon hu­man­ity.

Thanks to th­ese grass­roots ini­tia­tives, we are wit­ness­ing greater co­op­er­a­tion and ac­cep­tance. And so, if an is­sue were to arise, I am con­fi­dent that the Mus­lim com­mu­nity would be the quick­est to of­fer its sup­port to the Jewish com­mu­nity, and vice versa.

Th­ese ini­tia­tives also bring about sig­nif­i­cant so­cial de­vel­op­ment. You may not see the fruits of it right away, but you are de­vel­op­ing a fu­ture gen­er­a­tion, where deeper Mus­lim/ Jewish re­la­tion­ships will lead to the for­ma­tion of sin­cere friend­ships.

And that cre­ates for us all a more pos­i­tive fu­ture. Sheikh Sayed Ab­bas Razawi is a se­nior imam and chair of ex­ter­nal pol­icy for the Shi’a Coun­cil of Schol­ars



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