Israeli Ambassador to Senegal Dr. Eli Ben-Tura invited 14 imams from different parts of the country to a fast-breaking dinner last week in honor of Ramadan.

Ben-Tura said the occasion was an exceptional one for him, despite his diplomatic experience.

“I’m delighted to receive you all, and thank you for your warm blessings. No other platform is better than prayers, because prayers are between God and us,” he said, welcoming the imams.

“Only in such a context can we really understand each other... This is a first. And it’s wonderful to be able to listen to each other and to build a closer relationship.”

Although Senegal is a largely Muslim country, its people are known for their peaceful and moderate attitude, and their tolerance of differing nationalities and religions. Senegal is among the oldest democracies on the African continent, and one of the few countries where gender equality is anchored in the legal system.

The Israeli Embassy in Senegal maintains excellent ties with the Muslim community and its leaders. It has an established a tradition of donating sheep to the poor and needy for the Id al-Fitr (end of Ramadam) celebration.

When the ambassador decided to invite the imams for an iftar (break-fast) dinner – a first for the Israeli delegation – the response was enthusiastic. Guests arrived from remote rural communities.

The fare included Israeli dates and orange juice.

All 14 imams – of varying ages – utilized the occasion to express their desire for world peace and a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We shall pray again and again for a long lasting and just peace between Israel and Palestine,” said one of the imams before sitting down to dinner, “but we shall also pray for peace for all Muslim people, for the people of Israel and for all humankind.”

Delegation head Oumar Diene, imam of the capital’s Great Mosque blessed the Israeli ambassador.

“What is in our hearts, we have expressed in our prayers. You have shown us openness. May God bless you for it and guide you in your mission,” he said.

Abdourahmane Sow, imam of Ziguinchor, echoed the blessing, saying the ambassador was “a man of peace.” He invited all Senegalese Muslims to visit Israel – “cradle of religions” – in a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy sites.

After dinner, Ben-Tura ushered his guests onto the lawn for the twilight prayer which follows the iftar. On this occasion its subject was peace.

Talk of the dinner spread through Dakar.

The Senegalese press was ecstatic, qualifying this initiative “a great success.”

Diene, secretary-general of the imams of Senegal, called this nedogu (the local word for iftar) a historic event. “This has never happened before, I believe,” said Diene.

“It proves that in spite of our different religions and cultures we can still live together in harmony. We made the effort to attend, because we were invited by a man of peace and dialogue, who believes, as we do, that people around the world can live side by side without animosity or hate.”

Ben-Tura is already planning ahead. He has invited the imams to a similar dinner next year, hoping to make it an annual event.

“We hope to renew this meeting next year as well,” he said. “Inshallah – with God’s will.”

The imams said they saw the event as the first step in a series of inter-religious meetings, dedicated to promoting peace in Africa and all over the world.

“Ambassador Ben-Tura has planted a tree; it is up to us to help it grow and flourish,” they said.

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