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Children of Abraham.

For African Jews, there is, and never was, a conflict between Judaism and Islam, or between Jews and Arabs. Everyone is aware that the prophetic message of Abraham to humanity, is fundamentally a message of unity. According to this message, we humans must learn to be united below, to reflect the Oneness above. This unity of destiny, calls upon us to work to establish equality, justice, and kindness to others, by acts of charity, and hospitality, in our communities. To accept a guest under his tent, Abraham never asked him where he was from. In return for his hospitality, Abraham only asked his guests to thank and praise the Most High, Who created us all, equally. Abraham’s descendants, both in flesh and in spirit, are the inheritors of this path, based on kindness and love extended to all humanity. One of the world teachers of African Judaism in the 19th Century was Elijah Benamozegh. He showed through his writings (Israel and Humanity etc) that that Islam, as a faith and civilization, is a sister-culture to Judaism; and that on the true level of understanding of both, one can find that they share the same Abrahamic call, to unite humanity through the bond of brotherly love. That bond even preceded Abraham, through the message of the Prophets Enoch, and Noah. Abraham came to remind it to the generation of Babel. Babel is the world divided by the confusion of languages, each one believing that he is different from the other because of the difference of language. Or rather because of the ignorance of another person’s language. In the world after Babel, it took a prophet such as Abraham to be able to explain Unity and live by Unity. This work of Unity is still being done, humans have not united yet. They still need to realize the common conditions we all share, and the necessity to help each other, lovingly. In today’s world, we still can find the competitive taint of Babel, even in religious people claiming descent from Abraham. But among the true believers, who are focused on their own duty to the Creator, rather than on their neighbor’s shortcomings, there is, and never was, a war between practitioners of different branches of the same tree. Maimonides wrote in his responsa that « ..The ones who know these two languages well, know that Hebrew and Arabic are in fact one same language ». Actually, many Yemenite Jews say that the word ‘Arab’ originally applies to Yemenite Jews. It was customary in most African communities, from North Africa to Djibouti and Yemen, to read along with the Torah, the Sa’adya Gaon translation of Torah in Arabic. In his writings in Arabic, everywhere Maimonides speaks about the Creator he mentions « Allah, Blessed Be He ». Many Jewish teachers quote the works of Sufis and Muslim philosophers, with whom they were often in agreement. Our teachers always knew and professed that Jews and Muslims worship and believe in the same Source, and their faith in the Unity of the Creator is the same. Only human failure to uphold the moral challenges of religious demands, is to blame for the historical transgressions of these shared values. Why is it important to mention these known facts? Because today, if people are not careful, religions can be used for political positioning, and lead to unnecessary confrontational language, where there needs to be none. The United Nations is based on economic and military might. The European Union is based on economy. China is based on economy. India is based on economy. Only Africa is based on culture. Culture is where Africa is the richest, most ancient, and most diverse. Material resources are plentiful in Africa, but it takes culture to preserve them, to respect these resources and the future generations they will be passed on to. Religions are precious elements of human culture. They cultivate a better human being. Those representing these religious cultures must be worthy examples of mankind. We all know who these are. Not the fanatic. Not the gluttonous greedy millionaire. Not the violent brute. Not the colonial employed preacher.
A true person of religion in Abrahamic terms can only be a loving, hospitable, righteous, and kind being. Is there a need to say that all this applies to the relationship between Jews and Christians? Or Jews and other African faiths ? One only needs to look at the wisdom of the founders of African Unity, H.I.M. Emporor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia and H.I.M. King Mohammed V of Morocco, to realize their message was the voicing itself of Abrahamic faith to all humanity. Speaking in the name of true faith in Unity, they reminded us to raise ourselves to the level of nobility of our claim, the Abrahamic message of love to all humanity. They incarnated what is most noble in religion. As Jews we feel we are their intimate family, and that feeling transcends religious definitions.
He was a devout Muslim who also respected Judaism, heroically protected Jews in his lifetime, and honored the Jewish saints. Emperor Haile Selassie surrounded himself with Beta Israel Ethiopian Jews, many of whom fought heroically at his side against the Italian fascist invasion. He defended the Ethiopian Jews rights against racist elitist elements of the Ethiopian community, at home, and the Jewish people’s rights against the fascists in Europe. Many Beta Israel Jews consider him a saint. These examples clearly demonstrate the Unity of purpose in the Abrahamic family within an African context. Together, with respect for each other, with mutual empowerment, we can advance the cause of African cultural and educational progress. The African Jewish community can provide the presence of its Elders, leaders, and rabbis, to meet with their counterparts of other communities. Through gatherings of Eldership, the various religious and cultural communities can put their best personalities forward to discuss the cultural advancement of Africa, within its rich diversity. Peace is not a wish, a hope for a remote future time. It is a daily practice of devotion to the principles of wisdom that lead to harmonious living.
We are inspired by the example of our mentor and leader, Professor Ephraim Isaac. His work for Peace in the Horn of Africa and other parts of the continent is based on the contribution of the wisdom of Eldership to solve regional and inter-community disputes.
His deep knowledge of the different cultural contexts is what showed him the respectful attitude needed to ensure success in achieving peaceful conflict resolutions within, or between communities. He is an African Jew, yet highly respected in Islamic and Christian milieu everywhere he goes. Just like the Hebrew sages of old, such as Hillel and Rabbi Judah the Prince, he commands respect and inspires feelings of peace and wisdom.
Following the moral giants of Africa who were King Mohammed V a devout Muslim spiritual leader, and Emporor Haile Selassie, who was an Orthodox Christian spiritual leader, Professor Ephraim Isaac is a man of universal peace, who is a Jewish spiritual leader. His vision is in harmony with theirs, and the nobility of his intention, brings the African Jewish perspective to the forefront of the Pan-African vision of universal human dignity.


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