A very successful gathering, organized by Crescent Youth (an organization of Muslim Youth of the Greater Houston Region), was held on Christmas Eve (Saturday) at Masjid At-Taqwa with a packed house of 60 Muslims and Jews. Last year, 40 Muslims went to a synagogue to observe Sabbath worship, explain Muslims worship, and have snacks and drinks together. This year, the Jewish community came to Masjid At-Taqwa for a closer gathering of group discussion on stereotypes faced by people of the two faiths, the lighting of a menorah for Hanukkah (held at Shifa Clinic), observance of Maghrib Prayer (Salat), and a Masjid tour.
According to Shariq Abdul Ghani of Crescent Youth, in addition to this Christmas Eve event, both the religious communities have joint-volunteering activities & a dodge-ball tournament, and more discussion based programs lined up for 2012.
At this event, in five smaller groups, the participants discussed their traditions and stereotyping, over a meal of latkes and Pakistani Pakora treats. Jews said they are always referred to as cheap, money hungry, and non-caring people, while Muslims are accused of oppressing women and involved in terrorism. Also another thing that came into discussion was that Jews have monopoly over media. Jewish participants said there is much emphasis on education, plus people from their community are very much interested in art & culture; and as such gone into media may be more than other community persons. Muslims said that becoming doctors and engineers are the ambitions of Muslim parents for their children, but over the years that is changing and Muslim parents are letting their children find their way and use their natural talents in choosing their field of studies.
These types of events are just the beginning of increasingly friendly Muslim-Jewish relations in Houston. More gatherings will build trust, and with trust comes understanding, and with understanding comes the elimination of fear. And that elimination of fear is crucial for both of the communities, especially the Muslims. The administration of ISGH Masjid at-Taqwa has been extremely helpful, generous, and supportive of such programs and activities; and is always there when the Youth of the Community needs them. Programs like these are only possible with the assistance of forward-thinking elders and amazing youth volunteers.
Some of the Youth that were involved with this effort include Crescent Youthâ€™s Program Director, Harris Wahid (firstname.lastname@example.org); Irbaz Arab; Husnain and Waleed Vohra; Rizwan Ali; Muhammad Aijaz; Harris and Khizzer Wahid; Rayan Siddiqui; and many others.
On Christmas Eve, Jews and Muslims usually find themselves with nothing to do, while their Christian neighbors plan fancy dinners and special church services. That is why for the past two years, the Jewish and Muslim communities in Houston have taken advantage of their free schedules to gather together to learn about each othersâ€™ traditions and find commonalities as minority faiths.
â€œWeâ€™re doing it on an evening when we feel a little out of place,â€ said Rabbi Steve Gross, of the Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism. â€œNot that we have anything against Christmas and the entire extravaganza around it, itâ€™s just that during this time of year we are acutely aware of own religious identity and that our celebration is different.â€
â€œI think itâ€™s amazing we use Christmas as a platform for Jews and Muslims to get together,â€ said Shariq Abdul Ghani, a Muslim community leader helping to organize the event. â€œIt shows solidarity as Abrahamic faiths.â€
During the event, Muslims prayed the evening daily Mughrib prayers, and Jews lit a menorah for the fifth night of Hanukkah.
Gross said that yes, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are when most Jewish families will eat Chinese and go to the movies.
Despite the religious diversity in the Houston area, interfaith relations arenâ€™t perfect. The regional chapter of the Anti-Defamation League continues to collect reports of slurs and discriminatory remarks against Jews and other groups. Muslims in Houston face mosque vandalism and violence.
â€œUsually we hear about Muslims and Jews at odds with each other, but today hereâ€™s an example of us coming together for good,â€ added Rabbi Steve Gross.