Appreciate difference in Jerusalem

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In lands where geography dominates the social agenda, little can be done to suppress suspicion and prejudice, especially when the tenets of two different cultures overlap. The Jews and Muslims of Jerusalem are two such neighbors; each is wary of the other and adamant to avenge its long-borne misery. The laws of geography in the hostile terrain have been heedlessly set and thus seldom obeyed by residents. Interestingly, this year, the Jewish and Islamic holy months of Elul and Ramadan, respectively, fell around the same time.

Elul is a religious month for Jews that commemorates the importance of repentance and forgiveness. It ends with Rosh Hashana, a Jewish holiday that is celebrated by blowing the shofar, a ram’s horn. Shortly after the days of Rosh Hashana, Jews observe 25 hours of fasting and prayer on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Similarly, Ramadan is a month where Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and observe extra prayer, encouraging sacrifice, patience, and forgiveness. Muslims engage in charitable activities and perform group prayers after sunset, conducting them long into the night. Eid ul-Fitr, a three-day festival where Muslims celebrate and socialize with family and friends, marks the end of Ramadan.

Coincidentally, Eid ul-Fitr and the last day of Rosh Hashana fell on the same day this year.

By looking at basic rituals and humanitarian goals, some strong commonalities between the two faiths are hard to ignore. The notions of forgiveness through intense prayer, patience through long hours of hunger and thirst, and the shared sacred land of Jerusalem form the significance of these holy months of Islam and Judaism. However, rituals can run on empty for the longest time if they are not exhibited in actual deeds. The fact that Elul and Ramadan were at a crossroads this year does not mean anything for the city of Jerusalem. It can only be viewed as another reminder of the extent to which Jews and Muslims of Jerusalem share the same personal histories — those that no one is willing to discard.

I’m not suggesting that Jews and Muslims are the same in terms of their values and practices, nor am I implying that they should disregard their differences. Observers of both religions should appreciate their differences, and cease to pass on anger and intolerance like a hereditary disease to their children as they have for centuries. Until both sides refuse to forget the ills of the past and embrace their differences, they will continue to nauseate at the sight of each other.

On a political level, it’s a different ball game. A potential truce between Muslims and Jews would not eliminate the need for a solution to the political context of this situation. Having said that, I also believe that small steps toward peaceful coexistence can make everyday life a better shared experience than the people of Jerusalem have been subject to in the past. Adhering strictly to rituals during holy months and not grasping their essence in practice defeats their purposes and spells sheer hypocrisy.

While I intended to write this article from a sociopolitical perspective, I changed that to a more cultural and humanitarian one because I wanted my words to serve as an agent of unity, not divisiveness, during this festive period. A change of mind often invokes a change of deed, and considering that similarly concrete values lay the foundations for Judaism and Islam, only such change can mean something, if anything at all, to the geographically and psychologically divided city of Jerusalem.