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Unity leaves Jerusalem a prayer: Jews, Muslims and Christians connect for love

Eight religious leaders produced their gatherings together for eight periods in one chamber. It was a hazardous move

In a small building in the foreboding shadow of Jerusalems Mount Zion, Rabba Tamar Elad-Abblebaum searched upon a army sitting 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 congregation 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 tattered in her synagogue, there were some meets worn around cervixes. Others sat in the conventional black gown of the Copts, another in the Muslim hijab and several nuns in their wonts to gather at the back of the chamber. Many were wearing no religious garb at all. But they were all there to pray.

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

The project, part 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 religion anatomies two rabbis, a Franciscan monk, a Catholic priest, a Coptic deaconess and a female Muslim community leader who were very conventional in their beliefs and patterns, but also open to discussions with other faiths.

Elad-Abblebaum said: I never felt something like this is a possibility in my lifetime. Jews who live in the territories publicly praying together with Palestinians, this is a big peril and a great step. But this is not a political job; we wanted beings to come from the right and from the left and to show that faith is beyond dogma. Here, we are reshaping actuality and we are doing it through prayer.

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

Waida Ibtisam Mahmeed ties up the deprives of muslin that hang from the ceiling in preparation for an evening of prayer and song. Picture: Michal Fattal

We were all speaking the same language

Over the previous six months, all eight chairmen had assembled formerly a few weeks to discuss how development projects could be realised and even travelled together to the desert to practise praying together. For most, this was a entirely new event. Catholic Rev Rafik, who has used a different epithet in the programme to prevent a reaction against his family, who are initially from Lebanon, admitted he had not met anyone from the Coptic church before. Fr Alberto Fer, the Franciscan monk, “ve never” spoken with a female rabbi.

Instead of melting devotions and habits, each night the prayer room was hosted by a different religious 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 happen, Elad-Abblebaum said she was already working to make sure the project lived on beyond its eight dates. You realised suddenly we were all speaking the same usage, she said. It cant only has become a storage, this has to be the energy for the next step. We will use this as the seed to develop Jerusalem a permanent neighbourhood where all religions can come and pray alongside each other.

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

Particularly significant was the cooperation of three imams, including the right from al-Aqsa mosque its important place for Muslims in Jerusalem and another Palestinian imam who roamed from the West Bank city of Nablus to participate in one of the devotion nights.

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

Ihab Balh admitted that improving the project had been a challenging gradation, but that his work with these imams over the last few decades had laid the groundwork to accompanied them into Amen and did it seem more acceptable.

This project is a milestone because it indicates other imams that there are devout religion Muslims who can play a role in programmes like this, he said. Of course, accusations of normalisation are a challenge and the reality of Jerusalem today is hatred and parties opposing, but its important at the same is now time to bush the seeds of beings coming together and visualizing each other. Thats what I am doing here.

The eight religious leaders, alongside musicians, sit before the parish. Photograph: Michal Fattal

Location, place, location

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

The leads eventually settled on the small music institution, which learns both Jews and Arabs and sits neighboring to Mount Zion, a pious place for all three beliefs. The house, which instantly faces the poverty-stricken Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, is also instantly below the secret zip wire once used to smuggle injured Israeli soldiers over the dark-green wire from East to West Jerusalem.

Modesty governed the interior design of the prayer house. Thin pieces of white-hot muslin hung from the ceiling, each bearing a quotation from the bible, the Torah or the Quran in both Hebrew and Arabic and the religious leaders, and their associated musicians, sat on wooden chairs.

Rafik admitted he had been extremely sceptical when first approached by Elad-Abblebaum about the devotion house and had converged some resistance in his community.

To say the truth, I wasnt actually reassured at the start, he said. The intuition was very nice but I did not be seen to what extent it is able to happen. But when we started gather up, I was stunned at how real ties-in developed between us all and I detected there was something concerning there. And that friendship between us, I reckon, 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 participate being view as political.

It shouldnt be taken for granted that a piou Muslim woman leaves her husband and her children and her community for a few weeks to do anything, let alone this, Mahmeed said, and her sees fitted with rips as she indicated her hijab.

Sometimes people, when they recognize the channel Im dressed in wall street they are afraid of me because they be considered that every Muslim has a knife to jab a Jew. It is important to emphasise there is a difference between what I read in the Quran and how this is act in the names 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 Both israelis and Palestinians.

She contributed: For me Islam, Christianity, Judaism, it is all interconnected. We may pray in different ways with different textbooks but in the end “were all” reaching for same thing.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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