For the last few weeks of writing , I have been sketching my sense of why we are facing this shocking moment in American history –--
• when several Presidential candidates define as enemies both a large religious minority – Islam – and a large ethnic group – Mexicans and Mexican-Americans -- that have been deeply embedded in American society for generations;
• when one of the candidates combines this hatred with incitements to and praise of violence against his critics, threats of riots if he is denied the nomination, contempt toward women, and corruption of the very language of political debate.
This rhetoric by “leaders” greatly inflames and makes more dangerous similar feelings in some of the public. The deeper, broader healing needs to address how to heal America, not just some politicians. I will soon be sharing some thoughts about the deeper, broader healing.
Today I want to address just one element of this shocking moment: How our Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities can address the poisonous hatred of Islam that has been intensified by this presidential campaign. Not anger at individuals who have committed atrocious crimes of violence -- as have alleged adherents of Judasm and Christianity -- but a whole communty of more than one billion people.
The suggestions below are intended NOT as one-shot insertions into our prayers and our lives, but as occasions for heart-filled conversation and learning.
1) Jews, Muslims, and Christians could come together to read together passages of each others’ traditions. For example, few Jews or Christians know these verses from the Quran:
"There shall be no coercion in matters of faith." (2:257 [transl. Asad])
"Behold, We have created you all from a single male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to deeply know one another [not to hate and despise each other]. Truly, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of God. Behold, God is all-knowing, all aware." (49:13 [transl. Asad])
"True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west -- but truly pious is the person who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance -- however much he himself may cherish it -- upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God." (2:177 [transl. Asad])
It is also true that in Quran, Torah, and the Christian Testament there are passages of blood and fury toward other communities. We need to swallow hard and hear these too, so long as we do not fall into the hostile trap of attending only to the best in our own tradition and the worst in others’.
2. One approach to doing this is set forth in The Tent of Abraham (Beacon Press, 2006), in which a leading Christian and a leading Sufi joined with me and Rabbi Phyllis Berman, with a foreword by Karen Armstrong.
In ten essays each, we looked at the Abrahamic sagas in Torah and Quran to reread them as teachings toward peacemaking. We also shared how to go about “pitching the tent” so that all the diverse participants could come within to hear each other. The book has been used that way by synagogues, churches, mosques, and other spiritually rooted congregations.
You can order it by clicking here. You may as a Shalom Center subscriber still be able to receive a 20% discount by inserting the word "tent" (with no quote marks) when asked for a code at check-out..
3. One powerful moment in our religious lives that begs for this kind of deep dialogue arises from some of our major festivals:
Both Jews and Muslims treat the tale of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son (either Isaac or Ishmael) as a major element in our holy days.
Muslims celebrate Eid al-Idha to recall Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Ishmael. As Abraham offered up a ram instead of his son. the festival includes sharing the meat of lambs with the poor. The practice can be read as a teaching: “Do not kill your children; feed the poor!”
On Rosh Hashanah, Jews read the heart-breaking stories of the almost sacrifice of Isaac and the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael from Abraham’s family.
And by treating the Book of Genesis as sacred, Christians also face these stories.
In 2016, Eid al-Idha begins Monday evening, September 12, and ends Tuesday evening September 13. Rosh Hashanah begins just a few weeks later -- the evening of Sunday, October 2 -- and ends the evening of October 4. Yom Kippur begins the evening of Tuesday, October 11, and ends the evening of October 12. This focus in time could help us focus our heads and our hearts.
We do not need to wait till Fall to delve into these stories. Clusters of people from the different communities could already prepare for the great festivals by joining in conversations about the two stories. Are they contradictory? Or complementary? Does each teach a spiritual lesson that all our communities could learn from? Are the differences like different memories within a family about how Great-grand-dad acted?
On Yom Kippur, Jews could add as a special reading from Torah a story that completes and transforms the painful earlier story of separation that Jews read on Rosh Hashanah.. The story of reconciliation is presented in Genesis 25: 7-11.
Now these are the days and years of Abraham's life, which he fully lived: one hundred years, and seventy years, and five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his kinfolk. Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Be'er-lachai-ro’i, the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me [the wellspring that saved the lives of Hagar and Ishmael].
Notice that only after Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury the father who endangered each of their lives could they live together, both of them being “seen” by God (and each other).
Perhaps we can learn to mourn the physical deaths and the spiritual despairs of “The Other” as well as the deaths and despairs of our own, as the Circle of Bereaved Families in Israel and Palestine do –- turning even deaths from war and terror at enemy hands into occasions of peacemaking instead of hatred.
4. And now what may be the deepest and the hardest leap toward love: Can we move from learning and listening to each other, to praying for each other?
Beginning years ago at the Elat Chayyim spiritual retreat center and spreading from there to some synagogues, we have encouraged an addition to the key prayer for peace that arises in every Jewish prayer service. Here I have put in italics one added phrase. I suggest not just adding it willy-nilly to the service, but inviting congregants to experiment with it and discuss it, exploring how it makes them think and feel:
“May the One Who makes harmony in the ultimate reaches of the universe help us to make peace within ourselves, among each other, for all the People Israel, for all the people of our cousin Ishmael, and for all life that dwells upon this planet.”
“Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom alenu, v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol Yishmael, v’al kol yoshvei tevel.”
What would it mean, how would it feel, for Jews to pray for the peace and well-being of Muslims? And vice versa?
I hope that clusters of Jews, Christians, and Muslims will gather in these ways not only to learn the written texts of each other’s traditions but also to learn what is written in each other’s hearts.