Maha Elgenaidi’s Opening Remarks for the 2017 Halaqa-Seder Dinner at Congregation Beth Jacob, April 2, 2017

By Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director.

This speech was delivered at a Halaqa-Seder Dinner at Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City on April 2, 2017. Learn more about the Halaqa-Seder program here.

Salam alaikum, shalom alaichem and greetings of peace.

My name is Maha Elgenaidi and I’m the Director of ING.

I would like to welcome all of you to the event today – ING’s third annual Halaqa-Seder program done this year in cooperation with the Muslim-Jewish partnership that brings together for the first time dozens of Bay Area mosques and synagogues as well as beloved religious leaders from both communities.

From mine here today are Imam Tahir Anwar, and Dr. Ali Ataie from Zaytuna College. Welcome and thank you both for being here.

To provide some context to this event, I wanted to share with you what the catalyst was for this program and why it’s important to read and understand each other’s texts.

I was fortunate enough to read parts of the Torah with Jewish professors where I studied religion in graduate school. What struck me most about the experience was how familiar the Torah was to me as a reader of the Quran since both books share many of the same stories, while adding different dimensions and understandings.

And these stories, I feel, with all their powerful characters and drama, are made for television, or better yet, the stage, and this is where the Halaqa-Seder was born.

I originally envisioned this program for children, but the adults took it on so well, that it’s been an adult program for three years now. And maybe the adults need it much more.

But I am hoping that it will develop for children’s theatre, something that Muslim and Jewish day, and weekend schools, could do together. If we want our kids to engage with Scripture, then we have to compete with what distracts them the most, the entertainment industry.

The readings you will hear today tell the Exodus Story, which is the most-often told story in the Quran, as it is the subject of one of the most important religious practices of Jews, The Passover Seder, which will be held in Jewish homes all over the world next week.

As you listen to the readings, listen for the commonalities in the stories, as well as the subtle differences in how these stories are conveyed in the Quran and Torah, which will also be the subject of your table conversations.

Now, how do these ancient stories relate to our contemporary times? In many ways.

Rabbi Ezray and Imam Tahir could teach an entire course about the answer to that question, starting perhaps from the understanding that arrogance and ignorance are at the root of all our problems today, as they were in the times depicted by the dramas we will see tonight.

Today we face a special urgency to tell these stories.

Despite the fact that Jews and Muslims are among the most educated and talented populations in this country, we are also the objects of hatred and bigotry.

Muslims and Jews are already working together on civil rights. Muslims know that Jewish lawyers were on the front lines of fighting the Muslim Ban, the first and second. Muslims are also aware that Jews were on the front lines against the ban on Syrian refugees, because Jews were once refugees.

And yet despite our shared heritage, same beliefs and similar practices, shared interests and concerns living here as the two largest religious minorities, our two communities, still live in relative isolation from one other.

In order for our two communities to come together, we have to do more than just be in the same protest.

It begins with understanding and knowing each other’s humanity, and how much more we have in common than we do differences. And as people of faith, we should feel a calling to do this.

We are believers in the same God of Abraham. We both follow the essential teachings of Moses and all the other prophets and teachers we share. Our belief in God, and our reason for being created, so that we may come to know one another as the Quran informs us, should be the incentive to view each other as brothers and sisters in faith, as we see our own co-religionists.

And we can start as people of faith by increasing our understanding of and engagement with each other’s scripture, not merely to prevent misperceptions, but also to dig deeper into the commonalities and values that bind us, and provide the bases for our work together in Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, which is also a Muslim objective: enjoining the good and forbidding what harms us, and always working to make our neighborhood a better place for all peoples.

It is up to us, people of faith, to create a new vision of engagement and interaction that seeks mutual understanding and respect, for the long haul, and not just during crises. That’s the quest that brings me here today, and gives me hope in a better world, where communities of all faiths and backgrounds are working together.

We hope that you will enjoy today’s event and see it as a beginning of a broader conversation about our commonalties and differences, and how we can benefit from, and celebrate both.

Thank you.