Galilee Diary: Free Will
A few years ago our foundation facilitated, for the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel, a course on Judaism for local village imams (Moslem religious leaders). The group of about a dozen imams met monthly with various rabbis, and were a congenial and curious group. A question that was asked more than once was, "How come this is one-way? Where are the Jews who are curious about Islam?" We decided to find out the answer, and invited, a couple of times over the past year, a local imam to speak on Islam, publicizing the event through our usual local channels of advertising. The attendance both times was about 15 people. Unfortunately, the speakers were not really successful at conveying a coherent and intellectually satisfying account of Islamic customs or beliefs, in Hebrew, and the audience went home frustrated. The training that these clergy receive in Islamic seminaries does not include much in the way of pedagogy or critical inquiry - or comparative religion. Meanwhile, a friend referred me to an imam from a village a little farther away, near Nazareth, whom he recommended for such settings. I called Khaled Abu Ras and we arranged to meet at his home, and he turned out to be a charming and articulate 30-something doctoral candidate in religious thought at Bar Ilan University, a teacher in his local high school, and a Sufi (devotee of Islamic "Kabalah"). We talked for a long time - and looked at all the photos of him and his wife on their recent pilgrimage to Mecca, and I invited him to speak.
On the one hand, it has always surprised and disappointed me to be reminded of how ignorant Jews and Arabs are about each other's religion and culture beyond superficial knowledge - which often turns out to consist of distorted stereotypes. After so many decades of living in the same small country, you might expect a little more mutual knowledge to have rubbed off. On the other hand, it was encouraging to learn, from this evening, that the glass is also half full, that there is mutual curiosity and good will, and even, if you look, someone to talk to.