Written by: Isabel Hoffman
Coming from the predominantly Jewish area of Bethesda, Maryland, I don’t have many opportunities to interact with Muslim folks at home. I had never been to a mosque in the United States, and only a handful of students at my school wear hijabs. I briefly learned about Islam in my AP World History class this year, but truthfully, I never had sat down with a Muslim person or listened to stories about Islamic culture and religion. When our Jewish History class visited Ein Rafa, that finally changed.
We started the day off with a lesson with Josh in the Zula, where we learned about the basics of Islam. While the heart of Judaism is to struggle with God and Christianity’s focus is salvation, Islam is focused on submission to God. As one of the three monotheistic religions, Islam recognizes the Torah as a valid text of God and sees Moses and Jesus as valid prophets. However, Islam believes that Muhammad is the third and final prophet. Born in 570 CE, Muhammad adapted tactics he saw in Jewish and Christian communities as tools to create order in his own. In 610 CE, he received his first revelation from the angel Jibril (or Gabriel, as we’d refer to him in Judaism). These revelations continued for two years. Muhammad compiled them in the Qur’an, the sacred book of Islam, as a means of sharing his prophecies. The local authorities were unhappy with all of Muhammad’s noise, so he fled to Medina in 622 CE. In 630 CE, he returned to Mecca, making it a Muslim city.
The second part of our day was spent in a local Muslim village, Ein Rafa. This town is only half a mile down the hill from Kibbutz Tzuba, where we lived, so it was a quick bus ride to get there. Despite the short distance, it was very obvious that we were entering a completely different community than we had previously seen as we unloaded off the buses. Nestled in the Judean hills, Ein Rafa is an Israeli Arab village with a population of about 1,000 people total. It is a unique community with almost a utopian aspect of coexistence; Jews and Muslims live together peacefully and frequently interact.
Our host family for the day was a welcoming couple named Yasmin and Mussa. We visited their lovely home, which had a garden, chickens and sheep in the back. Yasmin walked us through the five pillars of Islam and the concepts of free will, oneness of God and the Day of Judgement, all of which are essential in the Islamic faith. Next, Yasmin led our class on a tour of Ein Rafa. She told us that as Arab Israelis, many people living in the town aren’t required by law to serve in the Iraeli Defense Force, and that many people in the village chose to live in Israel because women have far more rights here than in other Islamic nations
As we walked, I asked Yasmin about the purpose and meaning behind the hijab. Yasmin explained to me that for her, the hijab embodied empowerment and gave her an opportunity to let the world judge her for who she is, not what she looks like. This was a completely different view on hijab than is presented by the United States media. For Yasmin, the hijab was a choice, not a restriction. Our conversation made me see that choosing to wear a hijab is not a way to hold women back. Instead it is a way lift them up beyond their exterior appearances.
After the walk, Yasmin answered more of our questions. Something that I personally loved is the Islam idea of the Day of Judgement, which occurs after death and determines the next chapter of a person’s journey. Yasmin explained that God judges each person based on their own capabilities. For example, if a child dies, they cannot be judged and automatically are sent to heaven. This really resonated with me; I like the idea that as humans, we should only strive to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.
We finished our tiyul (trip) with an amazing meal prepared for us by Mussa. It was a very enlightening day where preconceived notions dissipated. I left with a completely different perspective of how religions could interact and coexist; by sharing both monotheistic beliefs and the land of Israel. I wonder how Israel would be different if all Muslims and Jews sat down and discussed our similarities and differences.