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First Meeting with a Jew It was Friday at Islamic Centre - a day of prayer for us, the Muslims. My parents back in Pakistan have always stressed the need of prayer which I mainly missed until this Friday when I requested the editor Frank Denton of The Florida Times Union to help me find an Islamic Centre here in Jacksonville.

He did so by linking me and my fellow journalist Sidrah Roghey to Dr. Pervez who is the president of the Islamic Centre of North East Florida in Jacksonville. After attending the Friday prayer at Islamic Centre, I met many Muslims there from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, China and Africa. Later, I started a discussion with Dr. Pervez an Indian Muslim and Dr. Nasrullah a Pakistani Physician about "Islam in USA". It was revealed in the discussion that Islam in USA is equally safer as any other religion and Muslims in America are enjoying equal religious rights.

However, extremist are everywhere and in an incident on May 10th, 2010 a middle-aged Christian male carried a can of gasoline and a pipe bomb into the Islamic Centre during evening prayers and detonated it. Fortunately, there were no injuries to people, though the bomb did damage property. However, the bomber was unable to escape for long and was killed by FBI on May 04, 2011 in a shoot out.

This was a wonderful example of equality before the law that US guarantees to it's every citizen irrespective of the religion. Later after receiving a lot of lunch and dinner invitations from Muslim community in Jacksonville, we came back from there to Times-Union office. All along the way, I was thinking of bombing the Mosque by terrorists. It was a hurtful feeling and this took me to another Idea, why can't I meet those who are bombing Palestine? I requested my Editor again to help me visit a Synagogue, a Jewish place of worship.

Just to mention that the editor, Frank Denton for me has always been like "The Granted Wish Foundation" and hence arranged a visit for us to Synagogue with a welcome note by Rabbi Lief, the president/head of the synagogue.

For me, It was a great opportunity as I had never met a Jew or visited a Synagogue before in my life. Me and Sidrah reached at Congregation Ahavath Chesed at about 5:00 PM. There was a grand dinner going on in the temple. It was a "Back to School Dinner" and was arranged to invite Jewish philanthropists to donate stationary and other school Items for the children who cannot afford to buy. I met with a nice couple over there and had a plenty of discussion with them on different topics including Arab-Israel conflict.

Later Rabbi Lief invited us to attend the prayer which we did in a big hall. It started with "Aava Nasheela, Sheela Narooya", I was unable to understand it but in pauses Rabbi Lief used English for communication from which I felt that it was a heart touching prayer for love, peace and prosperity for all irrespective of religion, cast and creed. Readers can access the video at

At the end I had a short discussion with Rabbi Lief and was astonished to learn that how fluent he was on different issues including Pak-India conflict, Pak-Iran relations, Pak-Afghan issues, Arab-Israel conflict and so on.

A day later, I received an email in response to my survey questionnaire which I am conducting these days to complete my comparative study between Pakistan and US. The woman introduced herself as "Rhoda London". She told me that she is 70 years old, a Jew and have taught in public schools for 33 years and at Mercer University for 10 years. I also learnt that her late father was a professor and Rabbi too.

A discussion which started from democracy in America ended after a dinner at San Marco. The discussion started from Ashkenazi (Eastern Europe) Jews and Sephardic (Mediteranian) Jews. She told me that how in traditional synagogues, male and female Jews are not allowed to sit together even to date and in reformed Jews it is allowed for male and female Jews to sit together in a synagogue. This was in-line with mosques in Pakistan where the same rule is followed. I felt that there is something common between us. I then found some more commonalities between Muslims and Jews. Few are as below;

  • Both believe that "Christ" is not the Son of God.

  • Both believe in Prophets.

  • Both believe in Angels.

  • Both believe that "Fasting" is a way to purify soul.

For life after death, what I learnt is that Judaism has a different perspective. They believe that Heaven and Hell are more imaginary than real and said that Jews believe that its all about the good or bad legacy that we leave after death. She was a bit confused on my questions about life after death, heaven and hell. She said, "we are born to TIKKUN OLAN (repair the world)". My next questions were about the "repairing" Israel is doing these days in Gaza. Honestly, I found that she was upset and quoted a statement of former Israeli Premier, Golda Meir.

We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.

She was of the view that peace is a two way approach. She accepted that killing Palestinians is a brutality but in the same breath she also pointed that bombing Israel is equal brutality too. She pointed towards the philanthropic activities Jews are doing across the globe and also said that Jews in comparison to all other religions have low rate of abuse and divorces.

"Moses" always questioned God, others just followed. We are friends of God and better able to understand God than anyone else. We are leaders in ethics and have brought innovation, technology, science and knowledge in this world, she added.

The discussion ended on a mutual consent that Palestinians lives are equally sacred as Israelis. I do not know, If Jews in Israel are listening to Rhoda. I hope they would. Bombers are present in every religion. It is necessary to bring bombers down and raise humans up. Tolerance and accepting each others differences is a key to peace. Let the love take it's course, let the hope live and let the hate die.

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