This month a divine convergence is taking place, the sacred Muslim Month of Ramadan and the Sacred Jewish Month of Tishri are starting and ending at the same time. The High Holy Days for Jews around the world is started at the exact same time as the start of Ramadan. The Holiest day of the year for Jews is Yom Kippur (or Day of Atonement), what better way to spend this day than to visit a local Synagogue and learn from each other. I took the opportunity to visit a wonderful Clearwater, FL Synagogue Congregation Beth Shalom led by Rabbi David Weizman. Since I was observing a day in Ramadan and the congregation was observing Yom Kippur, it meant that we all were fasting and abstaining from food, drink and other activities ;). It was a wonderful time. Below is an article that was published in the St. Petersburg Times the next day. Rabbi Weizman and I pray that this would set an example for future bridge building between Muslims and Jews. The bottom line from our meeting is that we all learned how much we have in common.
Shalom & Salam , Ahmed Bedier
Synagogue welcomes Muslim speaker
The director of a local Islamic group stresses the similarities of both religions during their observance of holy days.
By SHANNON TAN, Published October 14, 2005
CLEARWATER - Thursday was Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest day, and it also happened to be one of the blessed days of Ramadan.
Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was invited to speak at Congregation Beth Shalom. Rabbi David Weizman suggested that he speak on the afterlife, but Bedier had a different idea.
"We're all starving," Bedier noted, as both Jews and Muslims were fasting Thursday.
Religion can divide people or bring them together, Bedier said. He chose to unite the group Thursday by discussing the similarities between Judaism and Islam.
"We don't have to talk about whether to resolve the Middle East conflict today," he joked.
Bedier pointed out that both religions share a true belief in God. Muslims and Jews believe in prophets and messengers. They fast. They give alms. They pray.
He told a story about how the prophet Mohammed was told by God to pray 50 times a day. Then Mohammed met Moses, who pointed out that Jews pray only three times a day. After some negotiating, God agreed to let Muslims pray just five times a day.
Fascinated, the group of more than 35 people peppered Bedier with questions.
Why the name Ramadan? Are there religious differences between the Shiites and the Sunnis? Are all Muslims Arab? When you say praise Allah, is Allah God? What are your prayers like?
Bedier explained that Muslims have a washing ritual before praying if they perform an impure act such as going to the restroom or passing gas. He demonstrated how they face Mecca to pray.
What does the Koran say about the afterlife for Jews and Christians who don't accept Allah as God?
"It's not clear if they're going to hell or not," Bedier said. "Ultimately, God is the judge."
Leslie Freedman, 55, of Clearwater, said she was glad Bedier's talk was so positive.
"It was wonderful," she said. "I loved his openness."
It was the first time Bedier had visited a Conservative synagogue. Rabbi Weizman met Bedier at interfaith services in the aftermath of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Since Weizman was unable to attend an interfaith celebration in St. Petersburg, he invited Bedier to speak at the Clearwater temple instead.
Bedier said he'd also like to invite rabbis to speak at local mosques.
"I would like to continue to reach out to other Jewish congregations in the area," he said. "We have to build those bridges of understanding."
Shannon Tan can be reached at email@example.com or 727 445-4174.