On Friday, March 16th, 2012, I premiered the documentary “My Neighbor… The Jew” at the American Language Center of Fez. As part of the event, I introduced my work. My presentation was as follows:
In 2008, I was walking by a mosque in my neighborhood and I heard the Imam shouting “May God kill the Jews.” I was frightened to hear such a statement from an influential person, someone who is preaching to thousands of people. It was like a slap in the face. Now, to give background to this, it was Friday, and Gaza was under Israeli attack. The Imam did not draw a line between Israel and Jews. In other words, Jews in Morocco, for instance, are not responsible for that massacre. On the contrary, in that evening during the Shabbat service, there was a prayer for peace in the Middle East. Here is the thing, only few people know about this act: Jews praying for peace in Gaza. However, a lot of people think they know that Jews are evil. That is when I decided to bring that out from the synagogue where there were at most 15 people, to be shared with the world, or at least, with Moroccans.
Let me share a funny story with you. Usually, to mark the end of the Shabbat, three stars should appear in the sky. Jews in the synagogue of Fez are a bit spoiled; they depend on the evening call to prayer, saying that “this man knows!”
My Neighbor… The Jew is the product of this desire, to show this common life between Jews and Muslims in Morocco. I worked on this documentary with two veiled Muslim girls: Camellia Filali, and Afaf Lahbabi. They both joined in this ambition and journey of presenting a balanced view of Jews in Morocco. We opted for this title, in order to highlight the concept of Neighbor. The neighbor in both Islam, Judaism as well as in the Moroccan culture is almost hallowed. The Hebrew Bible says: “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself” (Leviticus 19: 18) which includes the Muslim neighbor. There is a Hadith narrated by the Prophet of Islam that states “The best neighbour in Allah’s estimation is the one who is best to his neighbour.” (Al-Tirmidhi, Number 1287) and the famous Moroccan proverb declares “Choose your neighbor before your house.” With these thoughts, I will leave you to watch the film.
These were the very same words with which I presented My Neighbor… The Jew at the American Language Center of Fez. The hot room did not take away people’s interest in watching all the documentaries presented. After the presentation and showing, the audience was given room to ask questions and react to the film. To my surprise, people reacted rather to my presentation. I was attacked for using the word “Imam” and one girl addressed me saying “you show two different groups, the Jews are praying for peace, and Muslims as evil” others agreed saying “you over generalized.” This article is basically a response to these remarks.
It was amusing to learn that these people who criticized my usage of the word “Imam” were rather concerned for the westerners who were present in the room. They believed that these westerners would get the idea that the Imam is an evil person, and then end up stereotyping Muslims. Wait a minute! The Imam is not an angel, is he? An Imam is someone who learns the whole Quran by heart, there are many Imams in the mosques who do not even have a decent education. And having them preaching to thousands of people, is dangerous!
I made sure before starting my presentation that I was going to share personal stories. I started with “I was walking by A mosque in my neighborhood…” I see no generalization here, I did not say “throughout Morocco” or “I have always heard Imams saying”, etc. Now to tell the full story. On a Friday, I was walking by the mosque in my neighborhood, and I was attracted by the large number of people praying, who even used the street as an extension of the mosque. The Imam/ preacher’s voice was loud enough (loud speakers) that it could be heard from miles away. I was amazed with the excitement that accompanied “Amen!” The Imam in a trembling voice, full of faith, was cursing the Jews. He was literally shouting “May God kill the Jews, May He pour his anger on them, May He orphan their children.” I understood that the sermon must be about the war on Gaza which was going on at that time (2008).
As long as there are feelings like that, there will be Muslims who feel responsible to “change” the world and make it better, and go to Jewish schools (like in Toulouse) and kill innocent people to please their leaders. The dangerous thing is that they believe that they are doing the right thing and maybe are even promised paradise by doing such acts. Let me remind you, that these are not purely Islamic acts, but Muslims’ acts, and there is a difference. Islam is not terrorism and it does not promote the killing of innocent people nor of the people of the book. It is rather the Muslim religious leaders who interpret the religion differently to satisfy their political agendas, or simply their hatred. The best example of a Muslim man to be talked about in this regard is the prophet Mohammad. Nobody can deny his peaceful relationships with the people of the book. There are several Hadiths regarding this. I recall one that says: if the Day of Judgment should arrive and if someone has a sapling in his hands, he should plant it first. One should deduce that the man who brought Islam to the world is against destruction. He is against such terrorist acts. So learn from him and follow his example. The Quran promotes respect to the people of the book, since they are the first to belong to a monotheist religion. The Quran clearly states that “If any one slew a person it would be as if he slew the whole people, and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” (5: 32) It is obvious that the religion is not to blame, but rather the people. I suggest that the imams, religious leaders, revise their sermons.