Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Imam and the Jew

It's getting near to the end of my time in Israel. I'm moving about a fair bit and access to the Internet is getting patchy. So these last few posts could arrive at any time. I will keep up the blog once I'm back though it may be more spasmodic.

Yesterday I left Nazareth, a delightful town in many ways, with many inspiring people. Being up in the hills and catching the breeze the temperatures were in the low twenties. Getting off the bus in Tiberias, on the shores of Galilee, was like walking into a wall of heat, as the temperature was a good ten degrees higher. I'm sitting on the shore after sunset to write this and I guess the temperature has fallen to about what it was in Nazareth at noon. More about Tiberias in the next post, possibly...

For now I'd like to mention the most inspiring, faith-lifting thing I have seen so far on my trip. The hostel where I was staying in Nazareth was a wonderful, groundbreaking place, seeking to encourage a handful of the thousands of tourists who breeze into Nazareth each day in their air-conditioned coaches to stay a bit longer and see a lot more. To this end the hostel runs a free tour of a few behind-the-scenes bits of the town for anyone who is interested. It's won international awards and it's easy to see why. So I tagged along with Linda, our guide; as we visited a Roman era house filled with refugee families, presenting unique conservation problems; a coffee mill, producing the most amazing coffee I have ever tasted; a spice merchants, still using the same alarmingly loud and unsafe equipment installed by the British in the 1920's; and the imam of the local Mosque. We only had a few moments with him. Why? Well, because he was busy going up and down the stalls in the souk, run by Christian and Moslem Arabs, collecting free parcels of food and household items that were needed by a Jewish woman whose husband had been imprisoned and was left with children and no income. Just think about that for a moment. There have been several wars fought between the factions I mentioned in that earlier sentence, and the conflict still goes on.

Let's recap: A Moslem leader encourages Moslems and Christians, of one tribe, to help a Jew, whose own people have developed a form of apartheid that guarantees a worse deal for Arabs. There is hope, there is faith, there is love. And because of that, all things become possible..... Wonderful.

As the imam couldn't take us around his mosque, Linda gave the tour. She showed us the space where they are setting up a primary school, for children of all faiths, with teachers of all faiths. Next door is a new Christian initiative, extolling the virtues of Mary (well, this is Nazareth) and presenting her role, not just in Christianity, but in Islam too, as well as reminding us of her Jewish faith. None of this is done with a bland "all faiths are the same" attitude. People here are painfully aware of differences in faith, race and culture. But, it is all done to demonstrate a respect, and a love for those neighbours who were once regarded as strangers. This holy land needs people such as this to make it whole and heal the wounds of bigotry and pride. The First Testament extols us to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem". Those words were written many centuries ago. They are still needed today.

The Exodus of the Jewish people from a state of slavery to a place they could call home happened with small steps. Human nature being what it is it turned out far more small steps were needed than should have been, but they got there in the end. The Fauzi Azar Hostel, the Imam, Linda, and many others are all taking small steps. Maybe in time they will lead both Jew and Arab to a land that holds promise for everyone.

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