JERUSALEM - A week ago I was invited to a Jewish wedding. As a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, this would have been my first, and I was ambivalent about attending the ceremony. So many questions flooded my mind: how would they react if they knew that I was a Muslim? Would I be the black sheep? Would they wonder what the hell I was doing there? My feelings were mixed to the very last moment. It was not until the day of the wedding that I finally decided to go. What was the worst that could happen? If I was not welcome then I would go home.
At the entrance to the wedding, another bombardment of questions attacked my mind: what should I do? How different are they from us? What do Jews do at their weddings?
I overcame my hesitation and entered. The ushers gave me my table number and I was directed to the small reception preceding the ceremony. The bride and groom's families were very friendly; one could feel the joy and happiness in the air.
After thirty minutes, the Rabbi asked that people be seated so the ceremony could begin. Escorted by their parents, the bride and groom entered the garden-soft music playing in the background. The couple walked with their parents to the Chuppah, joining the Rabbi, and signaling the start of the ceremony. The Rabbi then read the ketubah-a legal marriage document signed by the bride, groom and their parents before the wedding. (It is the same document that Muslims sign before their weddings and we call it Katb el Ktab). When the Rabbi finished reading, he and the family members offered blessings to the newlyweds.
The ceremony differed from Muslim weddings only in the symbolic breaking of the glass, an act that reminds the groom, even in the happiest of moments, not to forget the destruction of the Jewish Temple. And the sounds of music remind us that the time has come for dancing, celebration and dinner.
I thought Muslims and Jews were different, but witnessing this ceremony taught me what we share. Just as we all take the same steps in our weddings, so we take the same steps in our lives. We bond our histories with marriage, with faith, and with our shared values. The "holy wars" of the Middle East often cause us to forget that the three religions of Abraham are almost the same. These faiths teach us deep commitment to peace and brotherhood. It's our ignorance that makes us different; we need to know the other side before passing judgment. We all believe in the same God, though we write it differently. Even the messages we teach are almost the same. It is like having the same coat but in different colors. What difference does the color make? The most important thing is that a coat provides comfort, and keeps us warm in the winter.
Religion is God's gift, and it should not pave our way to destruction and misery, but to happiness and joy. All sacred texts of the Abrahamic faiths call for peace and brotherhood:
From The Quran
8:61 But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace. In Allah: for He is the One that heareth and knoweth (all things).
8:62 Should they intend to deceive thee, verily Allah sufficeth thee: He it is that hath strengthened thee with his aid and with (company of) The Believers.
8:63 And (moreover) He hath put affection between their hearts: Not if thou hadst spent all that is in the earth, couldst thou have produced that affection, but Allah hath done it: for He is mighty, wise.
From The Old Testament
Isaiah 2:4 ... and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.
Psalms 34:14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
From The New Testament
Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
James 3:18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
We need to start listening to the other side. When we learn more about each other, we'll discover that we are not that different from each other. We all share the same values and beliefs.
* Rami Assali works for Search for Common Ground in the Middle East. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007, www.commongroundnews.org
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