MOROCCO’S KING HASSAN II reads prayers during the inauguration of the mosque called after his name in 1993..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In my youth in Morocco I was taught to hate Jews, and especially Israelis. I was convinced that Jews and Muslims could never become friends and that the relationship between Israelis and Arabs was based on hostility. The reality of cultural and religious pluralism in my new home country of Germany and an examination of Moroccan history, which shows that Jews and Muslims have lived in harmony for centuries, have convinced me that differences in religion cannot be the true reason for the animosity between them in the Middle East today.
I wondered why peace and living together in harmony appeared to be impossible in the land of our common ancestor Abraham, and that question about the possibility of peace between Israelis and Palestinians became a main topic of my scientific research. During my investigations I came to realize that there are still Jews in today’s leadership elite of Morocco who are committed to serving the country as a whole. I was able to meet André Azoulay, the adviser to both king Hassan II and the present monarch, Mohammed VI.
I also had the honor of meeting Simon Levy, the founder of the first and only Jewish museum in the Arab world, located in Casablanca, and I realized that the Moroccan throne has been mediating between Israel and its Arab neighbors since the 1970s, obviously still believing in a future peace.
My research also led me to meet the German-Israeli historical and political scientist Michael Wolffsohn, whom I came to appreciate as a sensitive, empathetic, charismatic and open-minded person. Last but not least, my research obliged me to travel to Jerusalem, where I visited both parts of the city and could see for myself what Jews in the Middle East are like in reality and how they interact with us Muslims. I was extremely surprised at the humanity I experienced there and I am now convinced that friendship and peace between us, the children of Abraham, is indeed possible.
My experiences during the Jerusalem trip have also inspired me to write a travelogue consisting of 10 parts, which is currently being published under the German title Salam Jerusalem at the publishing house Rimbaud in Aachen. The book describes the difficulties a Muslim and Arab man faces while in the Jewish state, especially upon arrival at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. But it also expresses the human warmth I experienced in numerous encounters with the people of Jerusalem – Muslims and Jews alike.
Especially the meeting with one Jewish shopkeeper in the Western part of Jerusalem was unforgettable.
My experience with this friendly and open-minded man, named Abraham, motivated me to write him a letter, which I included at the end of the book.
In that letter I express my appreciation for the humanity he showed me, a humanity rooted not only in Islam but in Christianity and Judaism as well. I tell him that his actions are living proof for my belief that, because the ethical principles of their religions are so similar, with man at the center of both, Jews and Muslims need not be sworn enemies. While I do of course express my disagreement with the present Israeli political position in the Middle East conflict, this does not mean our religions prevent us from being on friendly terms with one another. Moreover, I try to tell Abraham and all the Israeli people that humanity, in the way I myself experienced it in Jerusalem, could be the basis for resolving the political conflict.
Considering my own experiences in the Holy City, I wonder why this conflict has yet to be resolved and has remained so virulent over the past 70 years. How is it possible that religions with the same ethical basis and origin view each other as sworn enemies when the members of these religions can meet in the middle without fear and help each other? The letter is a request to Israeli society to remember its own humanity and ethical principles. It is a request to view Abraham, the man to whom the letter is addressed, as an example of how Israeli Jews and Muslim Arabs can come together, ignoring the prejudices produced by media and extremist politicians, and recognize their fellow human beings with shared human rights and needs. Finally, it is a plea for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a peace based on human justice as well as the ethical principles common to Jews and Muslims.
The humanity I experienced in my encounter with Abraham is not an anomaly but can be found in the hearts of people all over the Middle East and will lead them to peace.
Jews and Muslims need not be enemies. They can be friends in Jerusalem and all over the world.