Saturday, December 22, 2007
This is only a part of the Hajj experience, the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah. The rituals that Muslims perform on Hajj symbolize many of the experiences of the Prophet Abraham. Muslims for example, on the 10th day of the pilgrimage, throw seven pebbles at a stone pillar that represents the devil. This act recalls Abraham’s throwing of stones at Satan when he tried to dissuade Abraham from sacrificing his son. After this rite, the pilgrims sacrifice a sheep, reenacting the story of Abraham, who, in place of his son, sacrificed a sheep that God had provided as a substitute. It is on this tenth day of pilgrimage that Muslims conclude the hajj, and it is on this day, that Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha.
Eid al-Adha is the second of the two Muslim annual holidays and it commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Throughout the world, Muslims after an early-morning prayer, slaughter an animal and distribute the meat among family, friends, poor and needy people in the community. On this day, Muslims meet with their family and friends, and greet them (or Facebookwall them) with “Eid-Mubarak” or Happy Eid. Because the Muslim calendar is lunar-based, Eid can occur at any time throughout the course of one’s life (it’s only a coincidence that this years Eid occurred alongside Hanukah or Christmas-by 2020 for example, Muslims will be performing Eid around the end of July) In any case, regardless of when Eid al-Adha occurs, expect the Muslims to get loose, possibly wearing some traditional clothes, chilling with their friends and families, and uncorking all the fake-wine you can imagine.
Monday, December 10, 2007
The former Yugoslavia is an area that does not come up too often in JAM and other arenas for dialogue, but it is worth examining as another place where, in happier times, followers of the three Abrahamic traditions have flourished together.
For a post on a similar subject, see here
Monday, December 3, 2007
If this situation is the case, it raises an interesting question for both Jews and Muslims (and any other non-Christian Americans): to do what degree do we allow ourselves flexibility to adapt, assimilate, acculturate – whatever you want to call it – to a surrounding society in which we are a clear minority? I believe that the goal of much of Jewish law is to elevate or make holy through separation. Indeed, the Hebrew word for holy, “kadosh,” comes from a root meaning “separation.” Just as Shabbat is a holy day separate from the rest of the week, so do Jews, for example, eat kosher food or wear a yarmulke to elevate ourselves spiritually by separating from the predominant way of doing things. On the other hand, Judaism is a religion that teaches us to live in society. Jews are taught to obey the laws of the ruling government. Jews who delve into mysticism do not go off into the forest and meditate after having a spiritual experience; rather, they should come back into their society and help others achieve similar spiritual heights. I would love to hear about Muslim parallels or dissimilarities on these subjects.
So how do we deal with the pressures of being a minority when we simultaneously want to integrate and maintain our distinct beautiful identities? A simple example courtesy of the American Hanukah experience: how do we explain to a young Jewish child that he is not getting presents like all his friends because he is “different, but not in a bad way?”
One answer is to isolate one’s self, as many very observant Jews do. But this approach is far from satisfying to me. My desire to maintain a “separateness” as a Jew in a majority Christian country does not stem from a revulsion of that culture. If I were to feel that the only way to be an upright Jew was to detach from non-Jewish society, I would feel that I had failed. This dilemma, of course, has been pondered endlessly before, but that’s because it’s a never-ending problem.
And I don’t have any more answers here other than celebrating the fact that I am still proud to be a Jew and happy in American society. Jews and Muslims in
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Many non-Muslims, upon hearing from Muslims that Islam is a “religion of peace” take the statement with a grain of salt. With terrorist attacks, suicide bombings and violence frequently being carried out in the name of Islam, one may wonder how is it possible to call Islam a religion of peace? Moreover, when these same “militant Islamists” justify their horrific actions through the verses of the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet, this idea is only reinforced. The question is, if Islam truly is a religion of peace, how can such actions carried out and such crimes committed in its name?
To begin to answer this question one must first make a distinction between what Islam actually says—in the Quran, in the Sunnah, and in the writings of Muslim scholars—and what “Muslims” actually do. Herein lies the disconnect. The fact is that today, the vast majority of these people who claim to be Muslims have never engaged in a deep study of Islam or the Quran. They do not have the knowledge and authority to issue fatwas (religious edicts) or make vast proclamations. In fact, many of these people labeled “Muslim extremists” are really extremists who happen to be Muslim. As the noted scholar Hamza Yusuf said “If you get Jewish extremists, Hindu extremists and Muslim extremists in the same room - they all seem to look very similar.” Deep down, religion is not what really motivates them but rather it is a raw passion stemming perhaps from dreadful economic and political conditions in their countries. And in order to give a more legitimate basis to their ideas, they like to quote out of context from the Quran and appropriate religion to their ends—religion, because in the Muslim world, religion possesses great motive force.
And yet all around the world, qualified Islamic scholars have condemned and continue to condemn such violence and attacks against civilians. “Vigilante violence has never been sanctioned in Islam” states Hamza Yusuf and the scholar Faraz Rabbani observes, “These people are not “Muslim soldiers” but renegades acting on anger and frustration, rather than law and dignity.” In other words, their’s is not the correct understanding of Islam. To mention all of the places in the Quran and the Islamic Tradition condemning such acts of violence and aggression would really require another post, but perhaps it would be instructive to show how easily it is to quote the Quran out of context:
Many militant Muslims who cite the Quran to support their violent actions often use the following verse out of context:
"And fight in the cause of Allah with those who fight with you...And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out..." 2. 190
But here is the passage in its entirety.
"And fight in the cause of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits. And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah) until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the reward of the unbelievers. But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors." (Qur'an, 2:190-192)
Still, one may be wondering why it is that violence and extremism are so often associated with Islam and not with other faiths. There are many reasons but one may be the terrible economic and political conditions in Muslim countries. Think of the major hotspots in the world today-- Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Darfur—nearly all of them are in Muslim countries. Unsurprisingly, such extreme situations breed extremism in otherwise normal individuals. Perhaps another reason may be that unlike in Christianity ( and I’m not sure of Judaism), Islam does not have a clergy, or a hierarchically organized, unified body that controls and certifies people to become religious leaders. The system in Islam is far more decentralized, with individual schools and universities bestowing the title imam, with no oversight from some external, universal Islamic body. With the largely terrible state of the Islamic education system, it is not at all difficult for unqualified people to slip through the cracks and be declared religious leaders despite their lacking the requisite knowledge or training.
For more information,
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
While perusing some of the work of Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway (see post on October 28, 2007), I came across a quote from the Qur’an that reminded me almost word for word of a famous passage from the Talmud, the lengthy record of rabbinic discussion that serves as the basis for Jewish law. Take a look at these translations:
From the Qur’an:
If anyone slays a person
- unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land -
it would be as if he slew all people.
And if anyone saves a life,
it would be as if he saved the life of all people.
From the Talmud:
For this reason, man [i.e. the first human being] was created alone, to teach that whoever destroys a single life is as though he had destroyed an entire universe, and whoever saves a single life is as if he had saved an entire universe.
(Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5)
Though there are notable differences – for example, the conditionality inserted into the Qur’anic verse – overall these excerpts are remarkably similar in wording in addition to message. I’m not sure I have much else to say – I think these quotes and their resemblance speak for themselves. What do you make of these two verses?
Saturday, November 10, 2007
As background, Mubarakah Ibrahim is a covering Muslim female trainer who teaches everything from pilates to yoga to kickboxing -- all in a hijab (Muslim headscarf), long sleeve shirt and baggy pants! -- in her women-only Balance Fitness Studio down Whalley Street in New Haven, CT. This mother of four has reached Oprah-fame, even published a book on nutrition, and now, with the addition of Jamie's perspective and presence, made her center a comfortable space for both Muslim and Jewish women who have to similarly adhere to a modest dress code (which requires covering in public around non-related males). When this happened last year, headlines ran "Muslim-Jewish Relations Bridged with Exercise."
My favorite quote from Mubarakah:
"And no matter where you choose to worship, every woman wants to know, 'How do you get rid of cellulite?'"
Friday, November 9, 2007
This topic, in light of the seeming non-stop sectarian violence in Iraq and even incidents of sectarian tension in the United States, has brought about many positive changes of course (to name a few: the Los Angeles-developed Muslim Intrafaith Code of Honor and the more international Amman message) but I am still often frustrated by how dispersed these efforts seem. Does the oft-repeated Quranic verse, below, not apply to differences of opinion within the faith as well?
"O Mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you" (Quran 49:13)A quick Google search reveals different, yet similar issues within the Jewish faith tradition, especially with regard to intrafaith marriages (which, unfortunately, are not at all as common in the Muslim community); I am intrigued. What is it about intrafaith work that makes it so much more difficult to do than interfaith work? Do we approach our conversations with people outside of our faith, be they Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, etc, with more of a willingness to listen and less of an attempt to proselytize or convert or persuade than we do in those conversations with people who carry the same religious label as we do? Does it bother us to think that there are others practicing our faith differently than we do?
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
As the media focuses on "Islamofascism," Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, is honoring the Muslims of Albania for protecting Jews from Hitler's army in 1943. Due to the heroic actions of the government and the people, there were more Jews in Albania after the war than before it. This is an important episode in Muslim-Jewish solidarity. Click here for the article from the Jerusalem Post on the special exhibit at Yad Vashem.
"The extraordinary story of Albania, where an entire nation, both the government and the population, acted to rescue Jews is truly remarkable," said exhibition curator Yehudit Shendar. "Many, if not all, were heavily influenced in their choice by Islam... This very human story, told through these sensitive portraits, combine to highlight a little-known but remarkable aspect of the Holocaust."
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Though it has been a few weeks since Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University, I still find myself wondering what exactly Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, could possibly have been thinking when he invited Ahmadinejad to campus. To give a respectable forum to such a hateful man, in the process polarizing his campus, seemed an irresponsible action for a university president to undertake. To then treat his invited guest with such disrespect – though I personally share the disgust of Ahmadinejad that Bollinger’s statements expressed – only underscored the absurdity of the whole scene.
One aspect of the event that particularly bothered me was the argument that Bollinger’s invitation of Ahmadinejad was illustrative of just how well
Bollinger, of course, took the initiative in inviting Ahmadinejad, but I think Shermer and Grobman’s argument is relevant considering Bollinger called his invitation the “right thing to do” and lauded his and
Of course I want universities to invite controversial speakers. Of course I want to hear diverse opinions. But Ahmadinejad’s views are so contrary to the values universities like
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
"It’s too easy to dehumanize a people you either don’t know or feel threatened by,” Avins said in an e-mail. “JAM is one of many efforts to bring the human back into the equation."
The service itself was very interesting. And although I was a relatively ignorant observer, not once did I feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. People kept telling me when the page was switched and where they were and so on. It was on the whole, a rather enjoyable experience, although I wasn't taking active part in it. Unfortunately, we left about 20 minutes into the service proper to pray to pray our own evening prayer, Maghrib. The three of us shuffled out as discreetly as possible and began looking for a suitable place to pray as the echoes of the service began to fade behind us. We came to a seemingly unused room and found a corner with some space, laid down our jackets, and proceeded to begin prayer. At that point I noticed that there was another Shabbat service taking place in the room beneath us. It didn't bother us though, because we had to pray, and had already found a nice spot. Usama lead the prayer, and I strained to hear his voice over both services.
Halfway into the third rak'ah, however, I had the epiphany that there were essentially three prayers in Slifka all calling out to the same God. What at first seemed to be a cacophony of Arabic and Hebrew, became a melodious mixture of the two prayers when I realized that despite the social, political, and ideological strife between the adherents of our faiths, and despite our traditions, our modes of worship, and our cultures, we are all essentially the same. For me, prayer has always been a direct connection to God during which I am conscious of Him peering into my essence. At that moment, it felt as if all of us, Jews and Muslims, stood before God, open as books, humbled before Him. I felt a bond of human brotherhood on a place deeper than race, nationality, or even the earthly manifestations of religion.
Given that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is primarily a political rather than a religious one, I think that we can only really begin to understand each other though religion rather than history. And if we look at all the conflicts today between people who claim to be of two such faiths, it should be apparent that such a conflict over the most base of material things, land, is truly superficial when compared to our common spirituality. If only the war-mongers, the legislators, and the ignorant could be blessed with such a an experience and come to this realization. Perhaps then we could move towards each other to achieve a lasting peace between two not-so-different peoples.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
"Neither Islam nor Judaism is a religion of love; both are religions of justice.”
These were (approximately) the words of Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Islamic Studies at
Speaking of justice, however, I must voice a discomfort with a topic popular in “peacemaking” circles. When dealing with coexistence one often hears of Golden Age Islamic Spain as an example of the potential for living together in harmony – indeed, this era was the subject of Dr. Abu Sway’s speech at the
But while justice is justice is justice, humans are merely human – we do not have the omnipotence it would take to fully comprehend absolutes. Nonetheless, Jews are instructed to “be holy, for I, the L-rd your G-d am holy” (Lev. 19:2). Though we are flawed, we still must try to be as absolutely just as humanly possible…perhaps more so. And since only G-d is truly able to judge right and wrong, we would do well to stick to what we know we can do and err on the side of hesed and mercy. This, I believe, will lead us closer to the justice Dr. Abu Sway described.
I received two announcements that Harvard University Professor Alan Dershowitz was coming to speak at
Knowing little of Professor Dershowitz beyond reading The Case for Israel, I imagined that the lecture would be an unadventurous rehash of everything I had been taught since
The question and answer session was Professor Dershowitz’s true time to bring his strongest and loudest arguments to bear. In a sad reflection of the reality of Professor Dershowitz’s public character, questioning immediately turned to two subjects: criticisms of his “torture warrant” idea and criticisms of his support for
The questioners, in varying degrees of aggressiveness, all seemed to ask the same question: “How can you support an
But for as valid and as prescient as I find these responses, at the end of the day I think they miss the point. Professor Dershowitz was correct to take to task the smug superiority of the left that has an infinite capacity for outrage at a tiny democracy precariously positioned in a sea of its enemies while choosing to ignore everything else. Professor Dershowitz was correct to praise the Israeli Supreme Court for engaging in an incredible balancing act of human rights and security—and for the Israeli democracy that allows for critique and correction when it errs. However, none of this responds to what I believe is the most relevant question: where do we go from here?
As an American, I understand that I ought not to have as much input into the processes of Israeli policy making as an Israeli. But as a Jew, unlike the vast majority of
More importantly, the kind of arguing about Palestinian and worldwide anti-Semitism that concludes with “and thus
Unfortunately for all of us, the lack of constructive dialogue is just as much due to Professor Dershowitz’s virulent critics for not asking the pertinent questions as the Professor himself for not offering pertinent responses. Professor Dershowitz came to the
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Clearly, JAM seeks to do a lot of things. As the school year begins, we are attempting to structure JAM in a way that will allow us to organize the many goals we’ve set for ourselves. Imagine the structure of JAM being like our new logo: an olive tree. The strong trunk of the tree, and indeed the core of JAM, is the small dialogue group, in which a number of committed members meet on a weekly basis to develop strong relationships, explore controversial issues, and coordinate the planning of JAM’s other activities. From the trunk sprouts JAM’s many branches: events such as speakers and movies, community service, trips to each other’s religious services, outreach to the wider community, and, of course, the blog.
As background, JAM was founded following the tragedy of 9/11 in hopes of bringing the two communities – often ignorant of one another’s faith traditions and deemed to be in conflict by the media – together. You can read articles on JAM here, here, and here for reference. It is important to keep in mind, above all else though (this is, perhaps, our disclaimer), that JAM does not aim to solve the MidEast crisis or to push a political agenda; it also does not pretend to fully cover the complexities of each faith tradition. The simple hope, at the beginning, was to create a safe forum for serious and honest conversation and this is still the case.
Indeed, years following its inception, JAM continues its mission of educating and facilitating dialogue. With the Middle East increasingly under media spotlight, students have found JAM to serve an especially important role in establishing the safe space for discussion that’s needed for growth, reflection, and mutual understanding. With this blog, we hope to bring this discussion online and to a community beyond Yale gates.
Here, we will post a variety of thoughts, pertaining to relevant articles, books, national and international hype, and/or simply broader issues relating to anything Jewish/Muslim-related. We hope that you will continue visiting, as there will be much to discuss!
Peace, Shalom, and Salaam.