Last Wednesday, November 8, with war raging in The Middle East, the Silicon Valley chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community hosted an event called “The Israel-Palestine Crisis: Call For Peace” at the Baitul Baseer Mosque (926 Evans Rd.).
Billed by its hosts as “a live discussion on the heartbreaking situation unfolding between Israel and Palestine,” the event’s main speaker was Imam Sabahat Ali, who wrote in an email prior to the evening, “As history records the atrocities being perpetrated, we have a duty as fellow human beings to come together and show that what unites us will always be more powerful than what divides us.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community works actively against division and toward a common, shared humanity. Ali spoke extensively at Wednesday’s event, saying at one point, “The sanctity of blood on both sides is an irreconcilably atrocious crime. And Islam says, ‘If you take one life, it’s as though you’ve taken all of humanity.’ You’ve killed all of humanity…And if you save one life, it is as though you have saved all of humanity…”
He recounted how by the end of the 7th century, almost all the Jews in the world were under Islamic governance, a state of affairs that changed Jews’ fortunes for the better on innumerable fronts, from the financial to the legal to the cultural. Ali then highlighted how when Islam points to prophets who are great champions of goodness and virtue, almost all the prophets of whom they speak are Jews. He said plainly, “The people that Muslims are supposed to try to be like are Jewish.” He added, “Those individuals who have hijacked this narrative and are trying to pin us against one another, they can be overcome by knowledge and education.”
Ali went on to comment on the concept of freedom of speech within the Muslim faith, warning against speech that wounds, insults, or disrespects and emphasizing the need to speak toward peace. He explained, “We will do our level best to never say anything that will hurt the religious or any other dear sentiments of any individual. If that is considered taking away our free speech, we don’t want it.”
Returning to the tie between Islam and Jews and all of humanity, Ali said, “If today I died protecting a synagogue, the Koran tells me I would die a martyr…And a martyr has a very high status.”
A variety of speakers took to the podium. Among them was Lael Gray, COO of the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City. Gray has also served as the CEO of the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos and the Interim CEO of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley; in early 2021, she led up the merger of those two organizations whereby they became Jewish Silicon Valley.
“There’s a well-known joke among Jews that some of you may have heard,” Gray said in her opening remarks. “We like to say, ‘For every two Jews, there are three opinions.’ So with an estimated 16 million Jews in the world that’s at least 24 million opinions, and I won’t pretend that I can represent any more than my own one and a half opinions today…”
Many in the audience laughed aloud, after which Gray switched to a more serious tone…
“I’m here before you today in anguish,” she said. “The best way I can think to describe this feeling is that my very soul is aching. It literally hurts.”
“Witnessing the ongoing overwhelming human cruelty and brutality – the acts of hatred and violence – it’s very difficult to know how to respond other than with despair,” Gray shared. Before closing, she held out hope for a world in which humanity can live together in peace, and celebrate our differences rather than trying to coexist in spite of them.
The mosque was filled with attendees of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. The women and men were seated in different rooms, with speaker systems in place so the speakers in one room could be heard in the other. It was a somber evening, weighted down by sadness, but quietly enlivened by the shared intention of creating community and generating some small spark of hopefulness.
Near the end of his comments, Ali summed up the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s values as follows: “Every drop of blood that is spilled is an inviolable crime against the sacredness that we all share as human beings…Where innocent life is being destroyed, we must call it out, on either side. Forget about the skin color, forget about the geographics of it. And on that front, we openly denounce the killing by the Israeli military of innocent lives, and by Hamas, of the innocent lives lost in Israel. There’s no difference in our hearts and minds, and there never will be.”
Learn more about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community here.