Sheikh, rabbi hope baseless love, joint fast will stop COVID-19

Jewish Tisha Be’av, Muslim Arafah fast days fall on same day Thursday

Joint prayer for world health in Jerusalem on April 22, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Joint prayer for world health in Jerusalem on April 22, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
When a sheikh and a rabbi get together, it is often the start of a bad joke. But Sheikh Eyad Amer and Rabbi Matanya Yadid said Monday they hope it will help bring about the end of the coronavirus.
The rabbi and the sheikh spoke together on Monday evening about how Thursday’s Jewish holiday of Tisha Be’av and Muslim Day of Arafah both call for spreading what they call “baseless love” (ahavat hinam in Hebrew) to counter baseless hatred (sinat hinam).
The event was sponsored by Mossaica – the Religious Peace Initiative and the Interfaith Encounter Association, as part of a week of events spreading baseless love in Jerusalem by the Jerusalem Tolerance Coalition.
Last year, the Tisha Be’av fast fell on the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), which created tension among Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem who were not aware of each other’s holiday. After members of both faiths accused the other of purposely harming the other, Mossaica director Rabbi Dr. Daniel Roth decided to bring together a sheikh and a rabbi to teach about what the religions, and their holidays, have in common.
“This is the time to attempt to understand the other instead of just yelling at them and demonizing them,” Roth said.
Roth made a point of bringing together not a moderate Sufi sheikh and Reform rabbi, but a religious-Zionist rabbi who studied at the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva and a sheikh active in the southern branch of the Islamic Movement. Yadid, who teaches at Bar-Ilan University, and Amer, who is imam of the central mosque in Kafr Kassem, both teach mediation to other religious figures in their faith.
For Amer, it was the first year after 25 years in a row that he did not go to Saudi Arabia on the Hajj pilgrimage, because Saudi Arabia forbid foreigners from coming due to the coronavirus. He explained that those who go on the Hajj are not supposed to fast because they have to be strong. But among those who stay home, he believes 90% of his town’s Muslims fast for the Day of Arafah, which falls on the ninth day of the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah.
Arafah is named after the hill near Mecca, where according to Muslim tradition, the prophet Muhammad delivered his farewell sermon to Muslims who accompanied him for the Hajj before he died.
“There is plenty in common between us and the Jews, including that we fast at the same time, and we work to spread baseless love,” Amer said. “This is our goal: To make up for our sins, fix ourselves and fix the world. God loves unity, and baseless love is very missing. We have to control our thirst, our inclination and our hatred.”
Tisha Be’av marks the day that both Jewish Temples were destroyed on the ninth of the Jewish month of Av. The fast will begin before sundown at 7:40 p.m. Jerusalem time Wednesday evening and end at 8 p.m. the following day. The Arafah fast will begin Thursday morning at 4:30 and end around the same time.
Yadid said the fast makes Jews think of repentance and correcting their path. He said he saw his event with the sheikh as especially important nowadays.
“This meeting is rare – two people who live in the same land with different religions and the same goal of spreading baseless love,” Yadid said. “We see the gaps are not as wide as we thought. The lesson is to know and learn about Islam. We can disagree, but not without knowing. Without harming our own identities, we can learn that what we have in common is a lot more than what divides us.”
Asked if they thought millions of Jews and Muslims fasting on the same day could stop the coronavirus, Roth said it is feeling the suffering of the other that is important in the coronavirus era.
Yadid said he believes baseless love can stop the coronavirus and that the virus has made people realize the power of baseless love that has emerged during the fight against the virus.
“The solidarity will stay, not the corona,” Amer said. “We pray to end this disaster. With baseless hatred, the coronavirus will disappear, inshallah (God willing in Arabic).”
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