Schools: Challenges of Middle East Dialogue
27 / 11 / 23
02 / 11 / 23
By Raahim Z.
A conversation on persecution and hatred from a heavy heart. Raahim has been involved in Israel-Palestine dialogue and wider Interfaith work since his school days. He shares a very personal piece on recently meeting with an Orthodox Jewish Friend, a conversation that touches on the very real and fraught experiences of British Muslims and Jews since October 7th.
A Muslim and a Jew walk past a protest outside the University. They decide to sit down and listen to the speeches. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, you think? We’ve been surviving on black humour this October. What’s funny is I have been told I look Israeli, and my Jewish friend is very visibly Jewish (he’s technically a Rabbi), so when both of us left midway, you can only imagine what people might have been thinking.
Would they be surprised, if they learnt one of us was openly critical of a group he is stereotypically expected to support? Would they be angry if they knew the other often dissociated himself from groups that he was expected to have affinity towards?
This article is not the place to analyse events in the Middle East, although that has its place. Today, I want to share the real pain I have seen on our shores, in my own heart, and glinting in my friends’ eyes. I want to use this space to share how real, how visceral, how physically and mentally painful the last four weeks have been: for me and for my Jewish friends.
Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have skyrocketed in October; 700% (CST) and sixfold rises (Tell MAMA) respectively relative to this time last year. Hateful graffiti has been left in public places (I’ve seen it with my own eyes), violence has been incited online and in-person, businesses have been destroyed, people have been attacked on the streets of the United Kingdom for sins and crimes to which they are unrelated. This happens every time there is violence in Israel and Palestine, but never in my lifetime have I seen violence there like we are seeing now. And I think, in the past century, none of us have ever seen war in the way we are having it delivered into our palms today.
Like you, social media has shown me images of dead bodies in a sacred land; mutilated corpses of men, women, and children left to rot; live videos of them being killed mercilessly; and a complete void of aid. I have seen videos documenting deranged celebration of death. I have seen more dead and bloodied bodies in the last three weeks than I have in my lifetime. Including fictionally.
I live thousands of miles away, but there are nights where I haven’t been able to sleep because of what I’ve seen. I cannot imagine those with families they never heard from again. I cannot fathom those experiencing death and devastation in that holy land.
The prayer mat, poetry, and the night have become my companions in hope and refuge. I often find myself tearful in the middle of the day. I haven’t felt like eating, I feel guilty going out with friends or ordering when I’m too tired to cook. My prayers have never been this charged. The terrains of my heart are eternally transformed.
My Jewish friends are also in mourning. They are also afraid.
I understand something of their fear. I grew up in a time when the targeting of my people, a historic minority in my homeland, was particularly intense. They were targeted and persecuted because of who they were and what people thought they believed. It is nothing new, it is centuries old, we laugh it off because we have too. That was my inheritance. My identity as a minority was forged in a fire lit by another, I was often cautioned about being open about my faith, I grew up in fear of persecution were I ever to return home. In the back of my mind is always the thought that I might need to hide my faith at any time depending on where I go – be it in the UK or when I visit certain places abroad.
My Jewish friends too have inherited more than their fair share of pain and precaution. It is not just stories of the Holocaust that their grandparents might have imparted, or centuries of alienation and persecution prior to that passed on as a communal history of suffering, but recent research shows that there also exists an invisible epigenetic trauma persisting in their blood as it might also in mine. Rises in Anti-Semitism remind all that their fear isn’t irrational. It is real.
I told my Jewish friend to text me when he got to the station because he was walking alone through the dark. He’s a grown man, but I’m worried about him. I worry about my hijabi sisters across the country going out; they are visibly Muslim and easily targetable in a way that I am not. I don’t post publicly much these days, but my friends who do have received vile bigoted messages. I have worked with people who receive death threats for their attempts at nuance and for their struggle to bring communities together. We joke about it because we have to.
This a reality check. My power is limited to address the roots of the problem. Sometimes this leads to heartbreak and sorrow, sometimes to anger and energy. Sometimes it’s all at once. I want to do something. God has not put me in a place today to do something on a scale that could move mountains, but if I am able to comfort the heart of my Jewish neighbour who is afraid of being targeted for nothing he has done, and if we can share in our loss and pain, then perhaps one day we may prove to God that we are qualified to heal others’ hearts too.
The Prophet Muhammad (saw) once said: “The Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hand the people are safe, and the believer is the one people trust with their lives and their wealth.”
It has never been harder to reach out across community boundaries, it has never been harder to do interfaith, but it has never been more needed. I believe my Prophet, if he were here today, would be the first person to reach out to his Jewish neighbours were he to witness today’s rise in Anti-Semitism. Perhaps my return to F&BF in these last few months was fate. There’s nowhere closer to the crossroads of communities that I could be.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Faith & Belief Forum.
27 / 11 / 23
02 / 11 / 23