2017-04-20 / Faith

Jews, Muslims discuss their ‘intertwined’ religions at local temple

By Becca Whitnall


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS—Temple Etz Chaim member Mark Cher asks local Islamic leader Atif Akbar about Islamic theology, values and about how Muslims feel about Jews during a brunch on March 26 at the temple. The discussion was presented by the temple’s men’s club to increase understanding of the Muslim culture. 
SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS—Temple Etz Chaim member Mark Cher asks local Islamic leader Atif Akbar about Islamic theology, values and about how Muslims feel about Jews during a brunch on March 26 at the temple. The discussion was presented by the temple’s men’s club to increase understanding of the Muslim culture. SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers It’s not every day that Jews and Muslims sit down to break bread together and openly discuss their faiths, but it happened on a recent Sunday at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks.

“We thought this is one of the most important topics of our time, so we decided to do it,” said Mark Zucherman, of the relationship between Muslims and Jews.

Zucherman is president of the temple’s men’s club, which hosted the March 26 talk.

Aref Abedi and Atif Akbar of the Islamic Center of Reseda, after accepting an invitation to speak, worked with leaders of the men’s club to compose a list of questions to address, beginning with “What is Islam?”.

“A Muslim is simply someone who submits to the will of God,” Akbar said. Having attended Catholic school for most of his life, Akbar had studied the Bible, but he had not seen a Torah before coming to the temple.

“Saalam is the root word— saalam/ shalom— and means ‘peace and submission to the will of God,’ so any human being on Earth who puts the priorities of God before his own priorities is a Muslim,” he said.

There are five main pillars of the religion, said Akbar, who teaches about Islam throughout the San Fernando Valley and parts of Ventura County, including at the Islamic Center of Simi Valley.

“God is one and God is omnipotent,” he said.

The faith requires Muslims to pray five times a day and contribute 2.5 percent of their earnings to charity, he said.

Islamic practitioners are expected to fast during the month of Ramadan, which this year lasts from May 26 through June 25. Refraining from eating and drinking from sun up to sun down during the month is a part of the observance, and controlling one’s words and actions, including swearing, arguing and gossiping, is another component, Akbar said.

“Everything about me, my demeanor while fasting, is humble,” he said.

At some point during their lives, Akbar said, Muslims are expected to make a hajj, or a pilgrimage, to Mecca, where they perform certain ritual acts, like walking seven times between various points.

While Muslims believe in what Akbar called “the miraculous birth of Jesus and the virginity of his mother,” they do not believe his dying on the cross can be used as salvation for human sins.

“After we leave this earth, we will be held accountable for everything,” he said. “For us, it is simply our deeds, so whatever good I do in life is recorded and whatever evil I do in life is recorded.”

After answering a number of the predetermined questions, Akbar took questions from the audience. One of the first asked about the violent attacks made by self-proclaimed Muslims.

“There’s nothing in Islamic theology that provides justification for terrorism,” Akbar said. “Islam does not believe in the killing of anyone except when people are in the state of warfare, and that war has to be determined by the government where you live.”

The religion does not believe in vigilantes or militias, nor does it say to take up arms without the state saying to do so, he continued.

“Islam has no room for terrorism, the theology has no room for terrorism,” he said. “Politics being what politics is, it’s a dirty game, but as far as the religion itself is concerned . . . the theology does not in any way shape or form tell people to take the law into their own hands.”

Along those lines, Akbar said, the denouncement of terrorism by Muslims exists but goes unreported or underreported by the major media, likely because it brings no advertising money.

The best way for people of either faith to support peace between Jews and Muslims is to learn more about one another— and perhaps avoid CNN—he said.

And it’s important to do just that, said organizer Zucherman, referring to healing the divide between the religions.

“My takeaway is that, as a Jew and hearing from a Muslim, our faiths have historically intertwined,” he said. “And our fates in the future are also intertwined.”

One topic the participants did not dive into was politics of the Middle East. The men’s club leaders and their guests agreed beforehand to steer clear of Israel- Palestine relations, at least for this initial visit.

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