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Unity opens Jerusalem a devotion: Jews, Muslims and Christians assemble for worship

Eight religious leaders returned their parishes together for eight days in one area. It was a dangerous move

In a small building in the foreboding shadow of Jerusalems Mount Zion, Rabba Tamar Elad-Abblebaum examined upon a gathering setting attentively before her. We have had a long way to go to prepare for this evening, she said with a soft smile. Today we all do something very brave.

Certainly this gathering was unlike any she, the leader of an Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, was used to addressing. As well as the usual meagre dress and kippah worn in her synagogue, there were some intersects worn around necks. Others sat in the traditional pitch-black attire of the Copts, another in the Muslim hijab and various nuns in their wonts to gather at the back of the room. Many were wearing no religion clothe at all. But they were all there to pray.

Last week, and for only eight eras, a music institution in the lowest depression of Jerusalem was transformed into a communal house of prayer, named Amen, bringing together Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders and their congregations to worship together in one room. It was a sight rarely seen in this segregated metropoli.

The project, the members of the Jerusalem season of culture, was launched by Elad-Abblebaum and the Muslim Sufi Sheikh Ihab Balah almost a year ago. They reached out to six other religious chassis two rabbis, a Franciscan monk, a Catholic priest, a Coptic deaconess and a female Muslim community leader who were very traditional in their beliefs and patterns, but too open to discussions with other faiths.

Elad-Abblebaum said: I never imagined something like this would be possible in my lifetime. Jews who live in the territories publicly praying along with Palestinians, this is a big gamble and a great step. But this is not a political projection; we wanted parties are derived from the right and from the left and to show that faith is beyond dogma. Here, the administration is reshaping actuality and we are doing it through prayer.

She emphasised how Amen not only brought closer Israels discordant beliefs, but likewise men and women, which is almost unheard of in such inter-religious gatherings.

Waida Ibtisam Mahmeed ties up the pieces of muslin that hang from the ceiling in preparation for an night of prayer and song. Image: Michal Fattal

We were all speaking the same language

Over the previous six months, all eight rulers had filled formerly a week to discuss how development projects could be realised and even travelled together to the desert to rehearse praying together. For most, this was a completely new event. Catholic Rev Rafik, who has used a different refer in the programme to prevent a backlash against their own families, who are initially from Lebanon, acknowledged he had not met anyone from the Coptic church before. Fr Alberto Fer, the Franciscan monk, had never spoken with a female rabbi.

Instead of melting devotions and habits, each night the prayer residence was hosted by a different religion figure, and most of the devotion done through music and song, a common uniter. The prayer book handed out was in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Speaking after the first nights phenomenon, Elad-Abblebaum said she was already working to make sure development projects lived on beyond its eight days. You realised suddenly “weve all” speaking the same communication, she said. It cant merely be a memory, this has to be the intensity for the next step. We will use this as the seed to develop Jerusalem a permanent neighbourhood where all faiths can come and pray alongside each other.

In a first step towards presenting Amen longevity, the eight religious leaders all met again on Wednesday for a special ceremony to differentiate International Peace Day.

Particularly significant was the collaboration of three imams, including one from al-Aqsa mosque the most important area for Muslims in Jerusalem and another Palestinian imam who roamed from the West Bank city of Nablus to participate in one of the devotion evenings.

In a climate where Arab involvement in any activity involving Jews leads to accusations of normalisation, such interfaith harmony can be dangerous. The imams expected not to be identified on the programme.

Ihab Balh has recognised that constructing the project had been a challenging step, but that his work with these imams over the past decade had laid the groundwork to draw them into Amen and constituted it seem more acceptable.

This project is a milestone because it demonstrates other imams that there are devout religion Muslims who can play a role in campaigns like this, he said. Of course, accusations of normalisation are a challenge and current realities of Jerusalem today is hatred and people pushing, but its important at the same time to flower the seeds of beings coming together and hearing each other. Thats what I am doing here.

The eight religious leaders, alongside musicians, sit before the congregation. Photo: Michal Fattal

Location, point, location

In a town where geography is politics, the site of the communal house of prayer was essential to ensuring the residents of Jerusalem accepted Amen. Elad-Abblebaum admitted it had been a formidable exercise, having been refused time and time again by places available in both the east and the west of the city and on Mount Zion itself for anxiety development projects would inspire anger.

The leads eventually settled on the smaller music institution, which educates both Jews and Arabs and sets contiguous to Mount Zion, a pious site for all three religions. The house, which directly faces the poverty-stricken Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, is also immediately below the secret zip cable once to benefit from smuggle disabled Israeli soldiers over the green wrinkle from East to West Jerusalem.

Modesty decided the interior design of the devotion residence. Thin airstrips of grey muslin hung from the ceiling, each birthing a quote from the bible, the Torah or the Quran in both Hebrew and Arabic and the religious leaders, and their accompanying musicians, sat on wooden chairs.

Rafik acknowledged he had been extremely sceptical when first approached by Elad-Abblebaum about the devotion house and had satisfied some fighting in his community.

To say the truth, I wasnt genuinely persuasion at the beginning, he said. The theory was very nice but I did not be seen to what extent it could happen. But when we started join up, I was surprised at how real ties-in developed between us all and I detected there was something concerning there. And that friendship between us, I fantasize, is the humble beginning we need to change peoples hearts and from there, their minds.

In an increasingly tense and sporadically violent political climate, Amen has not been an easy project to be publicly attached to.

But Waida Ibtisam Mahmeed, one of the eight organisers and a respected Muslim community leader in the Israeli Arab town of Fureidis, said she was unafraid of her participation being view as political.

It shouldnt be taken for granted that a ardent Muslim woman leaves her husband and her children and her parish for a week to do anything, let alone this, Mahmeed said, and her eyes fitted with rends as she indicated her hijab.

Sometimes people, when they envision the route Im dressed in wall street they are afraid of me because they think that every Muslim has a knife to stab a Jew. It is important to emphasise “theres a difference between” what I read in the Quran and how this is act in the name of the Quran. God didnt tell me to stand up and kill people. I feel a lot of hurt and sorrow because of whats going on between Israelis and Palestinians.

She included: For me Islam, Christianity, Judaism, it is all interconnected. We may pray in different ways with various textbooks but in the end we are all reaching for same thing.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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