The Western Wall, a sacred site with over 2,000 years of history, has always been a must-see destination for tourists in Israel. However, for a group of nine African-American Imams from various cities across the United States, their visit to the Holy Land held a profound purpose beyond tourism. Their mission was to promote faith-based peace in the Middle East, and their journey brought them face to face with shared history and a deeper understanding of Israel.
Discovering Shared History in Jerusalem
As the delegation embarked on a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem and explored the Jewish quarter, they were struck by the richness of their shared history. Imam Marquq Abdul-Jammi, President of Global Religious Affairs for the Desoto Islamic Center in Desoto, Texas, aptly summarized their experience, saying, “We have more in common than we have in differences.” This sentiment echoed throughout their journey.
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Their pilgrimage through the ancient city eventually led them to the Western Wall. There, these Imams, wearing kufis, stood alongside Jewish men in skullcaps, united in prayer before the holy stone wall. Imam Dr. Talib Shareef from the Nation’s Mosque in Washington, D.C., reflected on the experience, saying, “Just to be able to touch it from 2,000 years ago, we can think back, and we have something that’s from the past in our presence.” It was a moment that transcended time and reinforced their shared heritage.
Glimpse into the Past and Present
Imam Shareef emphasized how this journey offered a glimpse into the history that has shaped the current situation in the Middle East. “This is a reminder for us how close we really are. We overlay each other. We’re a part of each other,” he remarked, acknowledging the intertwined histories of the Abrahamic faiths in Israel.
This transformative trip was made possible by the non-profit organization Sharaka, which means “partnership” in Arabic. Founded in 2020 after the signing of the historic Abraham Accords, Sharaka’s mission is to build a new Middle East through dialogue, understanding, cooperation, and friendship.
Week of Exploration and Learning
During their weeklong journey, the delegation explored various sites across Israel. They visited the Muslim Quarter and the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, a Bedouin village in northern Israel, and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center. Additionally, they had the privilege of attending more than a dozen lectures from experts and activists, including Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli-Arab filmmaker and journalist, and Rabbi Sarel Rosenblat, co-founder of the Ohr Torah Interfaith Center.
Sharaka’s unique composition, with members representing Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze from across the Middle East, highlights their commitment to educating and building upon the Abraham Accords. “One of the things that was mentioned a couple of times is that Jerusalem is a model because we see the mixture of different religions, different ethnic groups, but all sharing a common history,” observed Imam Rashad Abdul Rahmaan from the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam in Atlanta, Georgia.
Teaching Coexistence and Shared Heritage
Imam Rahmaan expressed his intent to share the lessons of coexistence he witnessed firsthand during his tour of Jerusalem with his congregation. “I had no idea all of these layers were added one on top of the other, which lets us know it’s not only a sacred site for one group, it’s a sacred site for several groups, and we have all been contributing to it. And not just as Muslims, Jews, and Christians, but also as human beings, this is our shared inheritance,” he emphasized.
The delegation of American Imams journeyed halfway around the world not only to explore their own history but also to understand how the Abrahamic faiths are intricately woven together. Their newfound perspectives will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in promoting peace and fostering interfaith understanding back in the United States.