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A Word from Rabbi Schulman - 4/4/14

I have been inside Islamic mosques and centers on many occasions. However, there was something about my experience today that beautifully illustrated the ties between Judaism and Islam.

Our monthly meeting of the Tri-City Interfaith Council was held in Fremont at the Ta’leef Collective. Its purpose is to “provide the space, content and companionship necessary for a healthy understanding, embrace and realization of Islam.” As we entered the facility on Osgood Road, we were warmly greeted by staff, who also provided us with delicious refreshments. Clearly they were following the practice of our patriarch Abraham who personifies the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orhim, welcoming guests.

Muhi Khwaja, a member of the staff, offered an opening meditation taken from the first verse of the Qur’an. As I listened to him recite in Arabic, I readily comprehended his praise of God as Rachman. We Jews use a similar word in Hebrew, praising HaRachaman, the Compassionate One, full of mercy.

Later, after we had conducted the business portion of our meeting, Muhi made a presentation about the Five Pillars of Islam. They are:

1. Shahada: a proclamation of faith that there is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God. Islam is a rigorously monotheistic faith. Compare the Shahada to the Shema: Hear O Israel Adonai is Our God, Adonai is One.

2. Salah: five daily prayers recited by Muslims. Traditional Jews pray morning, afternoon, and evening. All Jews should pray “when we lie down and when we rise up;” as well as offer prayers of gratitude throughout the day.

3. Zakat: the obligation to give 2.5% of an individual’s net worth to benefit individual and communal needs. In Judaism, we are all familiar with the mitzvah of Tzedakah, which should not be translated as giving charity but instead Tzedakah means to fulfill a religious commandment to care for vulnerable members of our society and to build robust Jewish organizations.

4. Sawm: fasting. Most know that Muslims refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan. Fasting is practiced on other occasions as well. In Jewish life, we fast (Tzom) on Yom Kippur to heighten our awareness of our personal shortcomings and to ask for God’s forgiveness.

5. Hajj: a Muslim must make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime if physically and financially able. Hajj is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew word, Chag. The three pilgrimage Chagim - Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot - were times when our Israelite ancestors would journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival.

Muhi also spoke about the programs offered by the Ta’leef Collective. It purposefully is not a place of worship but instead is what we might call an Outreach Center, offering educational and cultural activities for those who do not feel comfortable attending a mosque. I was quite surprised to hear Muhi state that 80% of Muslims do not attend a mosque – keep that in mind the next time we Jews decry the lack of affiliation in our community! The Ta’leef Collective is succeeding in reaching out to young adult Muslims, creating a safe space to explore their faith without feeling judged by their elders.

There is much to say about the similarities, as well as differences, between Judaism and Islam. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend readingAn Introduction to Islam for Jews (JPS), authored by Reuven Firestone, Professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

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