Teens from Temple Sholom and Al-Jamia Masjid at a dialogue session. (photo from Temple Sholom)
“We enjoy great conversation and great food and sharing some bad jokes,” Tariq Tayyib said in a recent phone interview. He was talking about the Jewish-Muslim dialogues that have been quietly underway between Temple Sholom and Al-Jamia Masjid. (Masjid is the proper Arabic name for what is often called a mosque, according to Tayyib.)
The dialogues began when Tayyib, a community volunteer involved in outreach efforts for Al-Jamia Masjid, and Haroon Khan, formerly its president and now trustee, came as observers to a Friday night service at Temple Sholom after arranging it with Rabbi Dan Moskovitz.
Tayyib and Khan have been hard at work over the past several months on an initiative called
Islam Unraveled, which seeks to explain Islam to the average Canadian and dispel stereotypes and misunderstandings.
“I wake up in the morning and turn on CNN and, more often than not, I find some crackpot doing something crazy in the name of Islam,” said Tayyib. “Muslims and non-Muslims both feel this way. Muslims are like, ‘Oh no, not another one,’ and non-Muslims are like, ‘What is it with this faith?’”
Tayyib and Khan spoke to Moskovitz about holding a dialogue, and Moskovitz suggested one for high school-age teens involved in the synagogue’s program and teens in the Al-Jamia community. In the following weeks, the teens met, and a series of other meetings occurred as well. The imam of Al-Jamia spoke at Temple Sholom to a group of seniors, and the Muslim group was invited to a Shabbat service and lunch afterward at Temple Sholom, catered by local Israeli vegan restaurant Chickpea. Following that, a delegation from Temple Sholom visited Al Jamia Masjid, bringing to a close a month of discourse events between the two communities.
Al-Jamia Masjid was founded in 1963. Khan’s father was instrumental in its founding. He said the masjid has been at the forefront of interfaith and multicultural work for generations.
“The masjid had a longstanding relationship with Rabbi [Philip] Bregman, and now with Rabbi Moskovitz,” said Khan.
In another dialogue event, Imam Aasim Rashid from the Al-Ihsan Islamic Centre in Surrey came to talk to the seniors. The meeting went well, even though the seniors asked some hard questions, according to Moskovitz – questions dealing with antisemitism in the Arab world and questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example.
After expressing interest, Moskovitz was invited along with a group of other Temple Sholom members to the Al-Jamia, where they had a “wonderful visit.”
“Some of the members said that they had previously wanted to visit a mosque, but were unsure whether they would be welcome. It was meaningful to them to see how warmly they were met and embraced by the Al-Jamia community,” said the rabbi.
The visitors from Al-Jamia also enjoyed their Shabbat visit to Temple Sholom. “We saw many passages in the prayers which were reminiscent of the Quran,” they said. “We were very heartened by the welcome we received.”
The interaction between the teens, around 20 in total, has been particularly meaningful for both communities. The teens asked each other about their perceptions of the other community, and about similarities and differences in practice, comparing, for instance, kosher and halal.
“The questions tended to be more social and cultural than political or theological,” said Moskovitz. After the initial discussion, the teens went downstairs to hang out informally, and the adults report hearing sounds of lively and friendly conversation.
“We really saw the commonality that we share as being inspired by the Abrahamic principles and the teachings of the prophets,” said Khan. “All of the prophets of God carry a similar message. We have more in common than not. We should all make common cause to build bridges of understanding.”
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.