Jews, Muslims sing from same hymn sheet

Jews and Muslims shared prayers and food in a trail-blazing event at Temple Israel Synagogue in Wynberg.

Jews and Muslims held a trail-blazing event at Temple Israel Synagogue in Wynberg on Friday evening. In what was possibly a first, a group of Muslims, male and female, said prayers, after having broken their fast and then dinner and socialised with their Jewish counterparts.

“Cape Town is sending out a message to the world that local Muslims and Jews can co-operate and work together, unlike our counterparts in the Middle East. Tonight is a result of all our inter-faith initiatives over the past inviting those of other religions to our mosque,” said founder of the controversial Open Mosque, Taj Hargey.

“We had a peaceful revolution, but we haven’t had a religious revolution, bringing us together as believers in God,” he said.

Since the mosque in Lester Road, Wynberg, opened its doors on September 19, 2014, it has been embroiled in debate within the local Muslim community and has seen several arson attacks.

Dr Hargey said the mosque is controversial because of three things.

“We are accused of being homosexual, we are not. We’re accused of being heretics, we are not, and I’ve been accused of being an agent with MI5 and MI6,” he said, eyes crinkling.

The previous week, Open Mosque was invited for a special Ramadaan iftar (breaking of the fast) by the Catholic Church in Constantia and to perform Muslim prayers at their premises.

And as children played in a corner of the synagogue, Salie Jaffar performed the athaan (call to prayer) encircled by Jews and Muslims sitting on benches.

Then everyone was invited into the hall where Muslims broke their fast with dates, oranges and nuts, inviting their hosts to join them.

Frances Fortes, of Camps Bay, chatted to Faarah Kaswell, from Century City, as Louis Berkley, of Murambi House Retirement Home in Wynberg, tucked into koeksisters. Businessmen Leon Fortes and Yazeed Lakay realised they know each other from work.

The snack was followed by the salaah (prayer performed five times a day), facing east and performed by a group of Muslim men and women, which is unusual.

“It happens at Mecca,” said Dr Hargey after the ceremony.

More food and more sharing followed before the Jewish congregation performed traditional Friday night shabbat, ushered in by lighting candles and reciting a blessing, followed by musicians and joyful singing. Prior to the evening, Rabbi Greg Alexander, who lives in Vredehoek, said he does not see the Open Mosque as controversial for them at all.

“For the last 200 years, we have been teaching the progressive side of Judaism. We know what it’s like to be hated and judged. That’s our history. We understand where they’re coming from; we’re just a bit further down the road. In our community, women can be a rabbi, read from the Torah, lead the service. The dress code is informal for all, and we don’t require women to conform to a gender norm – that’s a social prejudice,” said Rabbi Greg.

Temple Israel is in Salisbury Road, Wynberg, and according to Rabbi Greg, “It’s ideally situated, in a community where people of both faiths live, work and go to school, side by side. So why not pray and eat together?”

The event ended with a feast shared between about 250 Jews and Muslims, beginning with a kiddush (blessing) and another blessing recited over challah (traditional plaited bread).

Ismael Achmat, from Bo-Kaap, said he was emotional during the prayers.

“I’ve been fighting for this unity for many years, but there is tunnel vision; maybe this is the start of something big,” he said.

David Lipschitz, from Milnerton, said God is the most widely used word in the Torah, and stranger is one of the second-most used words.

He explained that we must take the time to understand and to welcome the stranger. And in many cases the stranger is someone sitting at our dining room table.

He said the evening was a pioneering experience because of all the issues and conflicts. He said it was the first time he had prayed with Muslims.

There are almost half a million Muslims in Cape Town compared to 16 000 Jews. The history of the community began in the Mother City and this year the South African Jewish community celebrates its 175th an-niversary.

* On Saturday July 2, the Open Mosque is holding an iftar (breaking the fast), at 5.45pm, at 4 Lester Road, Wynberg, and invites everyone to attend. Contact them at info@ theopenmosque.org.za On Tuesday evenings they discuss, debate and dissect the Quran. All are welcome.