“O Children of Israel, remember My favor which I have bestowed upon you and fulfill My covenant [upon you] that I will fulfill your covenant [from Me], and be afraid of [only] Me.”
I was reading this ayat (verse) from the second Sura (chapter) of the Qu’ran, ‘Al Bakara’ (The Cow) as I was waiting for my Muslim friends to wrap up their evening prayers. I had been invited by the local Shi’a mosque to speak at a memorial service for Muslim victims of terror. 82 – 97% of terror victims worldwide, the US government estimates, are Muslim. After my contribution I was made welcome with tea, cinnamon biscuits and delicious vegetarian samosas.
Reading snippets of the Qu’ran emphasised points of similarity between our faith traditions, underscored by what a Sheikh (Islamic scholar) taught us in his lecture: ‘Genuine Islam starts with ‘Ikra’, study’.
More significantly, reading that Sura from the Qu’ran gives us insight into ourselves as well as others. It felt like looking at Judaism in a mirror. Perhaps ‘Ikra’ means the ability to appraise both Self and Other critically. It’s the prophetic charge of noble religion, from Abraham’s ‘shall not the Judge of the Earth do justly?’ in Genesis to the clarion calls of the Hebrew Prophets as well as the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad.
‘Where have we Muslims gone wrong?’ another speaker, a cleric asked his audience rhetorically. It’s a brave and bold question that each one of us must ask on behalf of our own community. We should own our inner darkness. No-one can ask that question or provide an answer more adequately than ourselves.
We Jews must too ask this of ourselves. Interfaith dialogue is only truly effective if it pushes us out of our comfort zone, forces us to grow and invites us into challenging and difficult territory.
The evening drew to an end and I was sent home with a generous package of more samosas. At home, I was eager to write down my happy experience but checked the news first and was thrown into a rude awakening. At the very same moment we were remembering those who were killed by terrorism, a new attack in Nice, Southern France unfolded, claiming at least 84 lives.
In shock, I read the news and I found myself struggling to find the words. And again we are forced to gaze into the darkness.
The violence in Scripture, the perversions in bigoted interpretation, the impenetrable black of murderous action.
‘I will fulfill My covenant with you… and you will fulfill your covenant with Me...’
Covenants are mirrors: we reflect and reciprocate, we look into ourselves.Covenants are also shards—the broken tablets of the Ten Utterances placed in the Ark of the Covenant. Cutting, demanding, uncompromising. But covenants are also windows: to see the other, to breathe deeply; a liberation theology of the heart.
Now more than ever, we need covenants to bind us. Not only to critically appraise our communities but to build thoroughfares to other communities. To deny the angry heat its oxygen. To remind ourselves that there is space for emotions; for indignation, for fear, for hurt, for anger but more importantly, for love, for hope, for compassion, for solidarity.
Dhaka, Medina, Bagdad, Mosul.
Paris, Copenhagen, Brussels, Nice.
The killing needs to stop. Now. Until that moment, bemeirah beyameinu (speedily and in our days), we will hold onto each other, in brotherhood, solidarity and love. And we will talk to each other, in truth, honesty and kindness. We will not let them win. Our world depends on it.
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
Image credit: Folkert Gorter