While much of the world is social distancing, an imam and a rabbi in Malmo, Sweden are looking to bring their two communities closer together through the sharing of their faiths.
The Muslim holiday of Eid el fitr and the Jewish holiday of Shavuot both fall in the same week, with adherents of the two religions celebrating worldwide. But Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen and Imam Salahuddin Baraka used the occasion to issue a joint statement of unity in these difficult times.
“In the days of loneliness, affinity becomes essential. We, the undersigned, have come together to emphasize that in these challenging days, we must put aside the differences and hatred of the other, to show the common beauty of humanity. Salaam Shalom,” wrote HaCohen and Barakat.
“During these days of celebration of the Muslim Eid el fitr and the Jewish Shavuot, we want to share with you the joy of the holiday and wish you well and peace,” they added, in a statement published by Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan on Monday.
The statement was put out under the banner of Amanah, an organization founded in 2017 as a joint project by Barakat and HaCohen. Under the auspices of the organization, the two run regular online classes highlighting similarities within their two faiths. The name “Amanah” was chosen as it exemplifies how the faiths are analogous and yet independent of each other. In Hebrew, the word means faith, support or certainty, while in Arabic it translates as trust, reliability and security – similar concepts while not being carbon copies.
Malmo has become well known in recent times as one of Europe’s most problematic cities in terms of lack of integration. Approximately a third of the city’s 300,000 residents are Muslims, while only 1,200 Jews live in the city, down from around 3,000 ten years ago. In November 2019, the city authorities set up a $2 million fund to fight antisemitism, which has become rife within Malmo.
It is against this backdrop that Barakat and HaCohen have been forging their joint initiative together, promoting mutual understanding while remaining true to their own traditions, for which they were bestowed a human rights award by Malmo municipality in December.
“I get yelled at, people say nasty things, but also a lot of Arab shopkeepers recognize me and come up to say Shabbat Shalom,” HaCohen told Mosaic magazine in January. “And, to be perfectly honest, getting yelled at would happen anywhere in Europe.”
Bakarat meanwhile explained that, from his perspective, the Jews have much to teach the Muslim community about integration.
“You [Jews] integrate almost everywhere you go. You learn the language and the codes [of behavior] and lead successful lives. This is to be emulated rather than envied and despised,” he told Mosaic.
Both are clear-minded in the near to support each other without becoming cheerleaders for each others’ faiths. When Bakarat spoke at an event held to commemorate Kristallnacht, for example.
“I made a point of speaking only about antisemitism because I know how it feels to have your issue hijacked by other causes, muddying the waters and diluting the cause,” Barakat said. “This was not the time to mention Islamophobia, but a time to show respect toward the Jews and what they have lived through.”
For his part, HaCohen said their friendship has been a learning experience for him. “I certainly gained a true friend in an unlikely place,” he said.
“And I learned that [Sweden’s] ultra-secular society views us both as a problem to be solved. Swedes ask themselves how to integrate us immigrants and still preserve their freedom from the religions we live by. The imam and I don’t see each other or our communities as problems; we choose to emphasize freedom for religion, rather than freedom from it.”