Muslims and Jews share stories, questions over Palo Alto feast

Interfaith groups draw 100 to unusual 'Halaqa-Seder' celebration

Jews and Muslims mingled in Palo Alto Sunday evening and talked with one another about their faiths in a first-of-its kind "Halaqa-Seder."

A crowd of about 100 professionals, seated at small tables that were equally divided between members of the two religions, shared dinner and discussed re-enactments of Muslim and Jewish perspectives on the story of Moses, who was revered in both traditions.

The "Halaqa-Seder" -- a nod to the Islamic tradition of gathering to learn about theology and the Jewish Passover observance beginning Friday, April 3 -- was jointly organized by two interfaith-minded organizations, the San Jose-based Islamic Networks Group and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Silicon Valley.

"When we started out we didn't know what we'd find out or where it would lead, but basically we wanted to open the door," said Diane Fisher, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Silicon Valley.

Maha Elgenaidi, founder and president of the 22-year-old Islamic Networks Group, said her organization expanded into interfaith work a few years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in response to many queries and invitations from churches and synagogues.

Interest in Sunday's Halaqa-Seder was so great that the event had to be moved from a private home in Los Altos Hills to a larger venue at the Mitchell Park Community Center on Middlefield Road.

Volunteer readers presented brief re-enactments of both Jewish and Muslim versions of Moses' story as well as Muslim and Jewish women's roles in the story. Participants were then asked to discuss their reactions with their table companions.

Questions and comments from both sides were plentiful, ranging from the nature and relative authority of various religious texts to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia to the segregation of the sexes in mosques and synagogues to issues posed by radical fundamentalism.

A Jewish participant, who asked not to be named, explained that Jews are encouraged to continually re-interpret, challenge and discuss the meaning of the Torah and other texts.

"This is the way you're supposed to learn it deeply," she said.

Seated across the table, Atherton physician Isha Abdullah described her recent pilgrimage to Mecca, a once-in-a-lifetime obligation of every Muslim who is capable of making the journey.

Discussions were so intense that Ameena Jandali of the Islamic Networks Group had trouble interrupting with a microphone to announce dinner, a buffet that included halal and kosher dishes. No alcohol was served.

Islamic scholar Ali Ataie and Los Gatos Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper recited blessings over the food in Arabic and Hebrew.

The Halaqa-Seder also concluded with a Hebrew blessing and a Muslim call to prayer.

Farid Senzai, who teaches Middle East politics at Santa Clara University, said, "I learned a lot about Judaism just in the short period we were here."

Senzai said many of his students are "absolutely shocked to find out that Islam speaks so highly of Jesus or Moses, and the similarities that exist among these faiths."

Jewish participant Robert Chaykin, who is a member of the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission, said, "I was very surprised at how many references there are in the Quran and Hadith (collected sayings of the prophet Muhammad) to Jewish figures," adding that he'd like to learn more through critical study of the Islamic texts as he has done continually with the Torah.

"Our purpose is to build relationships across faith, ethnic and cultural barriers that others might see, and strengthen them," Fisher said. "We also just want to enjoy each other's culture and faith."

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6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:09 pm

We were pleasantly surprised when the new mosque was built across the street from the JCC. Then we realized there are no crosswalks on that section of San Antonio Road, so they may as well be miles away from each other. We are glad to see that local Muslim and Jewish groups have found a way to bridge their divide with these joint programs.

4 people like this
Posted by no announcement
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:36 pm

I wish that there had been a general announcement of this event. As someone with one Jewish and one Muslim parent, I would have liked to have participated.

5 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2015 at 8:33 am

It is for reasons like this that we should be teaching our children, I mean all our children, about the different major religions in the world. When we ignore teaching about religion, we are instead teaching that religion is not relevant to either history or modern world events. When children know that religions and their followers are normal people living normal lives but have a faith to help them, it is a good lesson.

1 person likes this
Posted by Katz
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 31, 2015 at 11:50 am

I'm disappointed in the article in that it did not say HOW Muslims view Moses and Jesus.
The similarities between Judiasm and Islam are many and they probably had a common origin. The orthodox in both faiths observe the same dietary laws and the women are segregated in the orthodox shuls and in the Mosques. Orthodox Jewish women even cover their heads if they are married, with wigs or scarfs or hats.

Like this comment
Posted by observer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 31, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Isn't there a crosswalk at Charleston and San Antonio?

1 person likes this
Posted by Religion--Devine or Man Made?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2015 at 3:10 pm

> I'm disappointed in the article in that it did not say HOW
> Muslims view Moses and Jesus.

If you are interested, then google a bit and you will find more about this topic than you can read in several days.

> The similarities between Judiasm and Islam are many
> and they probably had a common origin

There is no “probably” about it. Both religions are called “Abrahamic” – meaning that they trace their origins to a single man—Abraham.

Because Judism, and Christianity, were well established throughout the Middle East by the time that the so-called “Prophet” Mohammed came on the scene—Islam found itself wrapping its theology around these two monotheistic religions. There are many commonalities between Judaism and Islam, particularly as demonstrated in the more orthodox practices of each of the faiths—ie, dietary restrictions, covering of one’s head, and so on.

Early Islam was a monotheistic revivalism in the Arab world for the first two hundred years, or so. Eventually, politics, nationalism, and family feuds took the religion far away from anything envisioned by Mohammed. Unlike Judism, Islam spread itself across the Middle East, Africa, Spain, and as far as India under the sword—killing hundreds of millions of people in the process. Judaism, clearly exclusionary, was never promoted to the world as its derivatives—Christianity and Islam—were. So, it never grew in numbers, over time.

With thousands of religions that have come, and gone, it’s probably impossible to ever learn very much about many of these belief systems that have been created by man over the last 35,000 years, or so. Luckily, with the Internet at our disposal, people can educate themselves, as they see fit.

2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2015 at 7:33 pm

>> Unlike Judism, Islam spread itself across the Middle East, Africa, Spain, and as far as India under the sword—killing hundreds of millions of people in the process. Judaism, clearly exclusionary, was never promoted to the world as its derivatives—Christianity and Islam

First, I think like most small groups and religions Judaism had its conquering phase. It may be the case that Judaism's value was not in its military but in its society and cultural values, open debate, etc. but they were just out-gunned or out-competed militarily, particularly by the Romans.

Religions evolve, change, mutate and progress ... grow, along with the people and societies that make them up, at least they should.

This is a weak point of Islam, since it has been so rigid and insular it lost its place as leader of civilization long ago to become in much of the world a low-tech system of totalitarianism - which projects darkly on the vastly different Muslims that come here to the US to join the modern world.

I find simply classifying these religions as Abrahamic is not helpful, but I am not a religious scholar, nor even religious at this point in my life, though I am familiar with the concepts and much history.

What I find a dividing line is the status the golden rule is given in religions. Most religions now are based on the golden rule - various expressions of the form - do unto others as you would have them do to you. The basic morality or reciprocity of all life. Secular Jews and Christians work in the broader society for the common good, assuming that is for all people who are contributing to the country.

When I see the embodiments of political Islam ( not in the US ) I see this commonality missing, although there is a little of everything thrown into the books so that some scholar can quote them back if challenged. The golden rule does not seem to play a role as the cornerstone of human relations. That role is usurped by idea of Jihad.

The problem is that whole countries are run under Islamic, and a religious interpretation of the law, unchanging, and unable to really even be looked at because it is a subversive act to challenge God. So we see Muslims against Muslims , Muslims against Non-Muslims in Muslim lands. Muslims against other countries, Muslims expanding and demanding changes from other countries - even as they refuse change, or reform or even discussion in their own. Problems that cannot be reformed because of the very successful, and really brilliant design of socialization in Islamic societies.

It cannot be that hard to make a PR moment and get together and make nice with whatever group one finds difficult for a few hours. But how to live with them in peace and tolerance forever when religious groups are so well-known for holding on to ideas and laws that are based on ideas most modern people would reject is designed to be impossible - unless something gives.

What I have to wonder as the history of my family, society and and culture have been a dropping of most ancient religion in favor of the secular widening perspective and tolerance from the Western religious and social reform has brought about - what is there about Islam that people want to keep that they find out-weighs the negative association of all that is wrong with so many of the Islamic Republics in the world - and how can they keep that without being dragged down by the so-frequent misinterpretations of Islam we all hear about in the media and debates on this subject?

The very things that keep religious people at odds are the same things that they feel they have to hold on to, even if those things are remnants of an expansive militaristic strategy.

1 person likes this
Posted by Big Bang multiverse
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 4, 2015 at 10:10 pm

Big Bang multiverse is a registered user.

Islam, means peace through submission to the divine. If I ponder the question, who created the universe and who created me, I am faced with three possible answers: 1. A divine force. 2. Random chance 3. Multiple Random chance events, one just happened to be right.

Ponder, why is there structure in the universe, why does maths exist at all, did structure and a number system and maths exist before the Big Bang, why is the universe so comprehensible, what is randomness, can something be truly random?

Only you can be the jury as you ponder these questions. Most of my pondering these questions make me discover and rediscover Islam. And the experiential proof of prayer to divine and receiving an answer to prayers and added icing on the cake. A person of faith perhaps may understand where I am coming from.

No matter where you heart leads you ... Reality is we live in a multi faith world and dialogue, communication, and exchange of ideas is key to our growth as humans and living and sharing this planet with each other.

Islam is the fatests growing faith in the world. According to a pew study released few days ago:

The analysis is based on birth and death rates, immigration patterns and other information found in censuses and studies around the world. Christians will remain the largest group, with 2.92 billion adherents. Muslims are projected to reach 2.76 billion. Each group will be about 30 percent of the world population.
Much growth in Christianity and Islam will occur in Africa. Muslims are also expected to become 10 percent of Europe's population. In the U.S., Muslims are projected to outnumber Jews by mid-century.

If you are sitting at home this morning in your pjs, sipping coffee, legs on your Ottoman - Islam is all around you. Explore the origins of pjs, coffee, ottoman.

Let's be the agents that create a better world. Tikkun olam.

5 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 5, 2015 at 10:45 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

This possible, local understanding between Jews and Muslims is encouraging, as are the great steps the current Pope has taken to link with other faiths. I'd ask Jews, Muslims and Christians to take it one big step further and acknowledge to their respective flocks that their religions are inherently limited in their ability to know the unknowable, and that the differences in their religions are made my humans and therefore not the basis for faith-based strife.

How hard is it to understand that?

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