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Undividing the Muslim Jewish experience by ignoring difference

23 February 2012 General 4 Comments Email This Post Email This Post
A graffiti depicting a way toward peace on the wall in Bethlehem on the edge of the West Bank shows hope and a wish for reconciliation. Image: Delayed Gratification Flickr

A graffiti depicting a way toward peace on the wall in Bethlehem on the edge of the West Bank shows hope and a wish for reconciliation. Image: Delayed Gratification Flickr

Undividing the Muslim Jewish experience by ignoring difference

Dr. Ms. Mehnaz Afridi – WNN Opinion

(WNN/CGN): NY, NEW YORK: As I listen to sound bites of news, a swarm of words sting me: Iran, Israel, nuclear, Palestine-Israel at a standstill, Muslims kill Jews, and Jews kill Muslims. As a Muslim woman who teaches classes about the Holocaust at a Catholic college, I am constantly frustrated by the media coverage of the Middle East which overwhelmingly serves to highlight and entrench national and religious tensions, prejudice and conflict.

A recently-aired documentary by filmmaker Karen Ghitis, on Al Jazeera, was an extremely heartening exception to the rule. The film, Jerusalem SOS, showed Jews and Muslims saving each other’s lives.

The documentary, which aired last month, portrayed Arabs wearing orange vests printed with the red Star of David teamed up with haredi (or ultra-Orthodox) Jews with side curls, black skullcaps and tzitziot (knotted ritual fringes on their garments). And both groups have only praise for each other.Working as volunteer paramedics for the Orthodox Jewish organisation United Hatzalah (UH), these Jews and Muslims are taking note of the most important aspects of their faiths: preserving human lives and justice.

I was reminded of the Qur’anic injunction that states that “on that account We ordained for the Children of Isra`il that if any one slew a person … it would be as if he slew the whole humanity: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the whole humanity” (5:32).

Likewise, the Talmud (a repository of the ancient Jewish oral law and wisdom) states, “whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” (Babylonian Talmud, 22a).

In the documentary the UH-trained Palestinian paramedics note that there are often delays in ambulances reaching the sick and wounded in East Jerusalem because Israeli ambulances are not permitted to enter Palestinian neighbourhoods without being accompanied by a police or military escort. Moreover, some of the homes have no addresses. Because the UH paramedics know the area well and drive ambucycles (ambulances on motorcycles), they are the first to arrive at the scene.

The film shows the rescue team transcending physical and political borders in order to save lives. Members of both faiths help each other provide for their communities on their respective holy days: Muslims come to the rescue of Jews on the Jewish Sabbath, and Jews help Muslims in emergencies on Fridays, as well as during Ramadan.

Eli Be’er, the founder of UH, was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying: “Jews and Muslims do not oppose working together, despite the invisible boundaries and suspicions that separate their communities. In the beginning, I met a few who were surprised about working together, but after they saw that they are great people and really professional, they all like it.”

These Muslim and Jewish paramedics have embraced the spiritual richness of their faiths and ignored the superficial boundaries of difference. Media outlets should try and take a cue from their story, and focus more attention on hope and cooperation.

Another heartening interfaith story from some months ago comes to mind. On 5 June, ABC News reported that “One Israeli man dying of a failing heart learned today that he would live, thanks to a Palestinian family who donated the heart of one of its members slain in the escalating violence wracking Israel.”

The Israeli who received the heart commented on how their hearts were the same, and ultimately they were the same inside.

Even though the rancour of negative media surrounds us, it is important to acknowledge that grassroots initiatives by organisations like UH, or the personal initiative of the Palestinian family who donated a loved one’s heart, are the key to building understanding between Jews and Muslims.

It is therefore crucial that Jews and Muslims tune into the many positive stories of life and death, faith and justice that occur on a daily basis on the ground.

I am always in search of such heartfelt stories that illuminate the commonalities of our faiths and demonstrate social justice. In the three monotheistic religions we are commanded not to bear false witness. After all, we are all children of God and it is through our actions and perseverance that we affirm our shared values and commitments to one another – irrespective of religious differences.


Dr. Ms. Mehnaz Afridi is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College in New York City. 


WNN encourages conversation. All opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Women News Network – WNN. This op-ed has been brought to you through an ongoing WNN – Women News Network partnership with CGNews. Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), Copyright permission is granted for publication.



  1. warning nothing to do with this article


    i tried to respond to you on the ghostbuster article, but it appears the link to the website, your buddy salim directed me to back in the day maybe blocked by phobiatoday. had some work to do and by the time i got back it had scrooled. it had an imans fatawa about how islam was spread by the sword. yes i’m familiar with the often cherrypicked 5:32 (who would have thunk it, used in this article as well. my issue is with 5:33, often cherrypicked by me. the point is these ancient texts are no way to create modern laws. too vague and general. too open to vastly different interpretation. as is evident by the amount of islamic terror in the world. so to fight in the way of allah, and not transgress the limits? yet muslims blow up funeral procession, cafes, mosques, churches, night clubs, markets, bus stops….the list goes on and on. guess some have differnet limits than others? shall we check the news today?

    we just had a guy here locally arrested for plotting to blow up some places. they say he was going to target MacDintons in south tampa. i’ve only been there a half dozen times or so, but my south tampa peeps are regulars. would have been a shame to have to pick up their body parts off the street.

    you say you can’t kill captives yet muhammad stood by (approved the ruling) as the banu qurayza had their throats slit. i think the koarn and hadiths contradict them selves as much as the bible.

    but i’ll read the 40 hadiths you mentioned.

    yeah, mike/m2. what happened to that crazy christian criley? Salim, muhammad bennet? where’s your beau corey, hangin on loonwatch referencing transformers?

  2. Just a question regarding the author’s title:

  3. nice piece

  4. elle,

    sorry don’t have time to find the video, but lyou can google it. your pirate buddy agrees that we kufar are lower than animals. or at least like a cow. so slaughter is no big deal.

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