This year, Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and Eid ul-fitr, the holiday commemorating the end of Ramadan coincide on September 10, one day before the ninth anniversary of 9/11. As a curious aside, UN employees get the Second Day of the holiday off, but not the first. Why? Because it happens to be also Eid, one of the ten holidays recognized by the UN. Mabruk!
In any case, the debate surrounding the proposed Islamic community Center in downtown Manhattan, combined with a sudden rise in attacks in the US on individuals and mosques (Queens, Tennessee) leaves many bewildered. Muslims of course have lived in and built the US practically from the first days onwards, and today’s relatively small Muslim community, perhaps 3 million people, has made tremendous inroads in community building and outreach in the two decades, and in particular after 9/11. Yet, if racism and anti-Semitism have taught us anything, it is that knowledge and familiarity do not automatically erase prejudice. Since I started teaching in South Carolina, I have been impressed by my students’ readiness to defend individual religious rights, including some many fundamentally opposed or found plain strange–Hindu burial rites, gay and lesbian rights, and the rights of Christians of all stripes, but also Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims to dress, pray, and congregate as they see fit (and no, I don’t think they did this only to get a better grade). Perhaps the rest of the country can catch up with my students from RELG 110 eventually.
Religious traditions seem to divide people far more swiftly than they can ever hope to unite them. Instead of accepting, in all particularity, the many parallels between the Jewish and Muslim holidays as a given, or between the two religions in general, it seems easier to focus on division and extremism.
The Torah and Quran contain many passages calling on Jews and Muslims to love and protect the stranger:
The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Lev 19:34)
Those who show their affection to such as came to them for refuge, and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves. (Surah 59, (Exile) Verse 9).
And, classically, and at its heart part of every community: When Rabbi Hillel was asked to sum up the entire Torah, he said: That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.
Both traditions empower, indeed enjoin us to make a change for the better in the world. So maybe there is still hope.