Thursday, 24 January 2008

Jerusalem: A Model for Integrated Education


There are two things that I did yesterday that have had a profound effect on my outlook on Jerusalem and on life! The organisers of the conference took us on an experience of two projects. The Jerusalem Foundation funds both of these. Firstly, we visited a unique bilingual school for Arab and Israeli kids. (http://www.jerusalemfoundation.org/english/article.php?id=61 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_in_Hand:_Center_for_Jewish_Arab_Education_in_Israel) The main aims of this school are based on the solid understanding that there has to be a solid partnership between Jews and Arabs. That there must be recognition that language is a central component and hence complete bilingualism is supported and nurtured. The class has two teachers, one speaking in Hebrew and the other in Arabic. I had the chance to see this in practice and it was such a beautiful sight to see primary level kids sitting together and going through the learning experience. We were told that conflicting histories and scriptures are not shunned from the classroom but are taught and faced head on. For example if Israel is celebrating Independence then the Arabs are raising awareness of the Naqba and the hardships they face. There is a mutual understanding of pain and this is something which brings the kids together to face the complicated realities. My views on integrated education are supported here in the very heart and soul of the monotheistic faiths. That Jerusalem is a model supporting an integrated education which will help both Arab and Israeli kids to understand their uniqueness which can only happen in an educational environment which is not isolationist. This is why I oppose the establishment of Muslim schools in Scotland because I feel that we, as Muslims, need to build bridges to diverse communities in order to break stereotypes and prejudices that we all have. ** The photo shows and Arab and Israeli teacher at the school and you can see Hebrew and Arabic writing on a teaching board at the back.

Secondly, we visited the Jerusalem Cinematheque (http://www.jer-cin.org.il/index.php?lang=ENG) Here we met a brave director who has held seminars for Israeli and Arab teenagers to get together and understand each other through the medium of Film. It was amazing to hear from these teenagers who had also directed and produced short movies about life in Israel. We watch three short movies which were themed on identity. The first one we watched was about a girl whose Father is an Arab and mother who is Jewish. It presented an insight into the way in which she has tried to make sense of who she is and how both her parents have shaped her outlook. The second was about a Palestinian Christian couple who have quintuplets and the difficulties that they encounter in raising this big family. The third was about a girl whose father had died in a suicide bomb and how she is coping with this loss. It showed her at a rehabilitation camp for kids who have lost relatives in bombings. It was very painful to see how she constantly remembers her father and at one point she says that her father was like the presence of wind, a sweet and heartbreaking way of expression. Is it possible for a heart to be numb when faced with suffering? Does Islam or any other faith support an awakening of the heart for some and not for others? I just wish that in some way we all try and understand the pain of the other and only then will we move beyond politics.

This will be my last piece on my visit here in Jerusalem. I have learnt much during this visit and I take back with me a wealth of understanding but more importantly confusion and questions, for it is only through the constant questioning that we will be able to strengthen our faith. With peace and blessings from the Holy Land. :-)

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The Status of Parents in Islam


The texts that we were asked to study today at the 21st Annual Theology Conference at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem were related to the status of parents in Islam. They were presented by Professor Mustafa Abu Sway from al-Quds University (http://wise.fau.edu/~mabusway/) We looked at some of the key Qur'anic and prophetic traditions which talk about the kindness and good conduct between children and parents. The importance of being good to parents is mentioned in Qur'an 2:83, 17:23-24, 31:13-15. The love that children must show towards parents is unconditional. I found the comment of Rabbi David Hartman very interesting in which he said that the parent-child relationship is unbreakable. Even if a child wishes to distance themselves from their parents the bonds of blood will always pull them together. Another comment that I heard was that Islamic tradition places huge emphasis on the relationship between parents and children in order to make sure that familial obligations are never forgotten in the path of God. A believer may consider dismissing earthly relationships in order to strengthen the relationship with God but this type of ascetism is not promoted in Islam as every Muslim has an obligation to God first and foremost but then to what surrounds them.

I found it interesting that Shaykha Halima Krausen from Germany who said that a lot of the Qur'anic and prophetic traditions are used as a blackmailing tool by parents to their children. The Shaykha also commented that a lot of the cases which she has seen relating to domestic abuse by men could be a result of the impact that these traditions have on children and the outcome that occurs when children feel that they are not able to live up to these high ideals.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Torah, Qur'an and Bible: 'Family Under Fire'

It was another interesting day at the Shalom Hartman Institute. We were asked to read some Jewish texts this morning. The session was titled 'Husbands, Wives and Torah: Negotiating Passions'. The main gist of these texts was trying to affirm some form of right between a husband and wife on issues such as sex. There are clear stipulations in some of these texts which state that a husband and wife have sexual needs and that they must be met. The texts then deal with the situation where this is not always possible, such as when a husband has to go and study Torah and how their has to be a negotiation between them about ‘times’ when they are able to fulfill their sexual desires. Such stipulations are also evident in Islamic texts and traditions too. What I find interesting is the way in which these ‘laws’ or ‘traditions’ come across as rights than desires. A right obligates the duty of love wheras a desire would see it just happen. I guess there are men (and women) who don't have the desire and so need a law to obligate them. I am left confused as to how you can carry out a sexual act (of love?) in a rights based situation? Is it even viable to call it a marriage in that instance? There was much discussion on this and it left a huge space for further discussion and dissemination of these texts.

In the evening I attended a public lecture where Muslim, Christian and Jewish thinkers were presenting their views on 'family under fire' in their faith community. I found the discussion very interesting with much debate about how scripture is interpreted in view of the living realities. A Jewish female Rabbi summed up the three areas pretty well, they were position of women, sexuality and the dislocation of the non-religious from faith communities. It is a shame that there are many people who believe that their interpretation is in some way 'sacred' which in turn cuts off so many from the path of God. Much to think about folks!

Monday, 21 January 2008

Jerusalem 2008

Greetings and peace from Jerusalem! I arrived very early on Sunday (20th January) morning. I flew on KLM which was an airline that I had not flown on before. I was quite amazed at the level of security that took place in Amsterdan en route to Tel Aviv. However, it was pleasant and I felt quite comfortable with the approach that security officials showed.

I had a wonderful conversation with a man from Orkney who was on his way back home to Geneva. He worked for the European Broadcasting Union (something synonymous with the Eurovision Song Contest) and we chatted away about the Scottish and European culture, past and present. He told me that on his way to Orkney he had met a Jew who was on his way to discuss fishing and on his return he had met me, a Muslim, on his way to Israel to discuss peace and the family! God must surely have a way of making opposites meet in order to enhance our thoughts and actions. I also began to consider the way in which we meet strangers. If we meet a stranger, of faith or of no faith, on a pedestal then the dialogue will have an imbalance but we must always enter into a dialogue as an equal partner. Life and society may mislead us to believe that because we have an extra bit of paper than the other or some grand title bestowed upon we are either superior or inferior but this is infact problematic as we have closed the discussion even before it has began.

At Tel Aviv airport I was only stopped for questioning for around an hour! The security officials were kind and courteous. They checked my documents and I am now assuming that my details are now held on some file. I exchanged some money and then took the shared taxi (Sherut) to Jerusalem. I did want to sleep during this ride but I couldn’t as the driver was driving like a madman! Infact at one point he reversed so harshly that he banged into a pretty new Mercedes! After a few loud noises he drove on and I went back to resting my head against the window.

I arrived at the Mishkenot Shana’nim (MS) at around 5am. I think Wikipedia introduces MS better than I could. It says ‘Mishkenot Sha’ananim (Hebrew: משכנות שאננים‎) was the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, on a hill directly across from Mount Zion. Financed by Sir Moses Montifiore, the building was dedicated in 1861 and providing housing for 20 families.’ Today there is a conference centre and a guest house which is pretty exclusive and by invitation only. Every year I share with a friend from Bosnia who brings an interesting European Muslim perspective to the table.

I slept for a few hours and then went for breakfast. I then met up with a friend also from Glasgow University and we went for a coffee in very nice coffee shop. We then headed to the Old City where we first headed to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. As a Christian he had been unable to enter the Dome of the Rock to see the amazing architecture of the Mosque precinct. However, the security at the gates of the Mosque did not allow him to enter but after authenticating my Muslimness allowed me to enter. I was quite sad that I had to leave a friend behind. Inside the al-Aqsa Mosque you are hit with the grand golden dome of the rock. I was also quite surprised that inside there were a lot of tourists! It was quite a lovely sight to see so many people enjoying the architecture and gardens of this holy site. I managed to pray in the Mosque and then take some photographs. We then wandered around the streets of the Old City and managed to get some Arabic music cds and postcards.

It was then time to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is an amazing Church with so much history and traditions. As you enter you see the slab of stone where it is said that Jesus Christ’s body was prepared for Crucifixion. My Christian friend offered insights and commentary on the Church which I was not aware of and it was great to experience a religious building through the eyes of someone from that tradition. I felt quite moved to see the religious emotion and spirituality in the eyes and actions of my friend and it was also nice to hear him mention his reservations on some of the activities that take place which he categorized as quite superstitious. For example some Christians would place rosary and crosses at certain places in order to have them ‘blessed’. This reminded me of the practice of kissing and stroking a cabinet in the Dome of the Rock which is alleged to house relics associated with the prophet Muhammad. It is clearly a personal matter as to the way in which we experience such material culture of faith traditions but we must not forget is that they are a means to God.

In the evening we had our welcome reception and dinner. A nice moment to meet friends and chat about how life has treated us in the last year. The opening remarks of Professor/Rabbi David Hartman discussed the way in which the concept of family must be kept in the context of getting closer to God. I have a good feeling about this conference as we begin to explore some difficult subjects.