A Muslim, I grew up in the poor Paris suburbs during eighties and nineties. I often watched the news and I remember following the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the conflict in the Middle East and the Cold War.
During my early childhood, I was went to school with native French citizens, I myself having been born in Morocco. We would play, argue, cheat, and gossip as normal during high school. During the month of Ramadan, we spoke about about the fast and our traditions. I only remember that I did not interact with Jews. I was aware that Jews lived in France and throughout the world, but my immediate circle was filled with people from Africa, Portugal, and the Far East.
In the late eighties, a groundbreaking documentary, three hour, black and white documentary aired on public television. It was called From Nuremberg to Nuremberg, and was about World War II. During this time, I was also studying the rise and fall of the Third Reich at school, and was deeply touched by the organized slaughter of Jews, Roma, communists, intellectuals, political opponents, people with mental disabilities and so many other innocent civilians. I wasin shock, how could such a tragedy have happened ?
Simultaneously, I followed the first Intifada on television. Palestinians were protesting and rioting against the ever-growing Israeli occupation and settlements.. I was terrified and shocked by Israeli soldiers, in their early twenties, hitting Arab teenaged boys with stones and breaking their bones. Whatever these teens could have been doing, they did not deserve this gruesome and unfair treatment.
With these two extreme image, offered to me through television, I still had yet to meet or speak with a Jew.
I started my professional career in the late nineties, there I finally interacted with some French Jews. I was lucky, our intial interactions were positive and I began to realize that they behaved like anyone else. I even discovered our similarites, neither of us celebrated Christmas, and we shared comprable food contraints.I was excited when they offered to share Kosher meat with me, as Halal meat was unavailable. Some of my Jewish colleages came from my native country. They too know Morrocan culture and speak the language. I not only appreciated our similiarties, but also respected their rich identity.
Later in my carrer I began to work and travel thoughout Europe. I visited European capital cities, and toured all the Jewish museums and synagogues. I sought opportunities to further understand Jewish culture, the cultue of a population that I came to know only in my adult life. As the Budapest Synagogue, I discoved the similarities between mosques and synagogues, such as the separation of men and woman. In Amsterdam, at the Jewish Centre, I discovered the inclusive nature of the Amsterdam Jewish community. I really like the desire to include everybody in the Jewish community. By nature, this makes the community stronger.
What does it mean to be Jewish ?
According to the Jewish law, a person is Jewish if they have a Jewish mother or if they have converted to Judaism by fulfilling certain requirements. However, someone with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother may still feel Jewish and can grow up in a family that observes some or many Jewish traditions.
In 2012, I visited Israel and Palestine for the first time. The messy and complex conflict I grew up with became crystal clear. I was appalled by the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli government and did not understand why a such spiritual people, so caring about the others, was unfair towards their fellow brothers.
Back in France, I discussed my experiences in the Middle East with fellow friends and acquaintances,. They proceeded to curse the Jews for bringing misery to this world. I stopped them and explained that I opposed their racism, behaving this way would fuel hate everywhere and will only help the extremists.
As a militant for peace, I believe the only way to break this negative downward spiral is to build real and genuine friendship between Jews and Muslims. Like friends, we should embrace and use our similarities to unite and elevate ourselves through the polarity of our differences. Friends can disagree and have heated discussions but in the end, we are all in the same boat. Caring for yourJewish brother is a duty and the most effective way to promote justice, peace and equality.
When anyone begins to be racist in their speech, against Jews or Muslims, I first try to explain why one should love their neighbor. Only consistency, integrity and repetition helps to fight racism.
Some Muslims, when talking about Jews, are racist simply because they know nothing about Jewish culture or people and have never traveled to Israel or Palestine. It’s this laziness in knowledge and scapegoating the other that is part of the problem of a lack of understanding between Muslims and Jews.
Jews and Muslims have a unique opportunity to stand together and promote friendship and understanding between one another. Although i requires time, effort, and challenging oneself, it is worth it. I have started to be change I want to see, and I am hoping you will follow us!