Last week, both British Jewish and Muslim communities fasted together to mark the harmony between the lunar Jewish and Islamic calendars Tishri and Muharram.
The tenth day of these months, also marks Yom Kippur, literally meaning the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Ashura for Muslims is commemorated in different ways, and for different reasons. For some it is an acknowledgement of Moses’ salvation from the Egyptian. Like Yom Kippur, it is an opportunity to seek forgiveness for the sins committed in the previous year, often by a day of voluntary fast.
For Jews, this spirit is embodied in the Hebrew word “Teshuva” (atonement). Fasting is also undertaken in pursuit of Teshuva, and it is Teshuva that is returned to time and again over the course of Yom Kippur prayers. Through reference to this central ethic, Jews seek to acknowledge their individual failures of faith, renew their relationship to God and seal their names in the Book of Life.
For others, Ashura is a solemn day of mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. It is a day of commemoration, focused on Hussain’s justice in the face of Tyranny.
The affinity between the two faiths is nothing new – the parallels can be traced to the early ages – but it is a poignant reminder of how far our traditions and principles overlap.
A starting point for discussion
Yom Kippur in Judaism and Ashura in Islam unites Jews and Muslims against oppression and wrongdoing. On these days, we acknowledge our own fallibility, and seek to become better by discovering, through God’s love, humility, devotion, forgiveness and mercy.
These aren’t values we share on one day of the year. They are central tenants of the Jewish and Islamic faiths.
Let’s use Ashura and Yom Kippur as bridges to conversation between our two communities. Let’s catalyse the sharing of stories of history, community and God. Let’s initiate a closer examination of not only our commonalities but our differences; and commit to their embrace or resolution.
This imperative has never been more important, with hate crime on the rise and Antisemitism and Islamophobia becoming a greater challenge.
Perhaps, this year, we can use the synchronicity of these holy days day to bring our two communities together, whilst celebrating the unique qualities of both which enrich our society.
At Faiths Forum for London, we believe solidarity, established through dialogue, is our best protection against hatred. As one of the United Kingdom’s leading interfaith organisations, we are passionate advocates of education and debate.
By providing a platform between faith communities and wider society, we hope to fight intolerance with respect and mutual understanding. For it is only by engaging one another – by asking the important questions – that we will build a truly harmonious national community, built on the goals we share, and the concerns common to us all.