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In Memoriam: Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari

The Naqshabandi Sufi Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, Ambassador for Peace of the Holy Land, died on June 3 near his home on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Sheikh Bukhari was a leader of interfaith gatherings in Jerusalem, such as the Israeli Sufi Way (also known as the Abraham Way, 1998). Since 2003 he participated in every Middle East Peace Initiative interreligious conference and the Sulha Peace Project. He was involved with the World Conference on Religions and Peace, Israel, and later in the Israel Interfaith Coordinating Council. He initiated the Jerusalem Peacemakers, a partnership of interfaith religious leaders in 1999 who initiated during Operation Cast Lead, a delegation of Arab youth and religious leaders to show solidarity on the one hand with the Israeli town of Sderot, and to share the pain of his own family in Gaza. His latest peace initiative was the Jerusalem Hug Project, where Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners of all faiths form a human chain of prayer around the Old City on each June 21 since 2007 onwards.

Sheikh Bukhari's participation in the ongoing interfaith peace dialogue was extremely important because of his personal contribution as well as his lineage. He also headed the Holy Land Uzbek community as a direct descendant of the Sunni scholar Imam Muhammad Ismail al-Bukhari of Bukhara, the ninth-century author of the Hadith al-Bukhari, a collected oral tradition that contains guidance about Islamic tradition, religious law, and practice.

Rabbi Eliyahu McLean spoke on June 22 at Neve Shalom in an event that the Israeli Sufi Way (derech avraham) held in memory of Sheikh Bukhari: “Indeed, he was a person of great teaching for many rabbis, Muslim and Druze sheikhs, Christian clerics and students of all faiths. He was a teacher for Jews who had studied Islam."

I recall his lecture through Dr. Abraham Elqayam's academic course at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan on Islamic Mysticism: "The hero is the one who can love the other and can change anger into love and understanding. It is not an easy task, but this is the true jihad." Sheikh Bukhari considered being an Ambassador for Peace an important aspect of his activity for peace and unity, as he told his students in class.

Sheikh Bukhari traveled extensively in the USA, Europe, Asia, and North Africa as part of his mission to give a Muslim face to a message of unity and tolerance and to show the friendship possible between Muslims and Jews. For that cause he even gave up his regular job in 2004.

He was 61 when he was laid to rest in his ancient family plot dating back to the 17th century and attached to his ancestral home in Jerusalem’s Old City. The Bukhari family migrated from Bukhara to Jerusalem in 1616 and played a role in the political history of Jerusalem during the time of the Ottoman Empire, when they oversaw the Islamic holy places in the Holy Land and Lebanon.

The Bukhari family built their home on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, where they have lived and taught until now. The Sheikh's home also serves as a library of ancient, hand-written Islamic manuscripts and as the Uzbek Cultural Center for the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Palestinians of Uzbek heritage in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

“Sheikh Bukhari's teaching of peace, tolerance, harmony and moderation put him, his wife, and children in danger and the great stress harmed his health,” said Sheikh Ghassan Manasra of Nazareth, son of the regional head of the Holy Land Qadari Sufi Order, Sheikh Salam Manasra, who is also an Ambassador for Peace. “On both sides, Jewish and Muslim, there are moderates but also extremists, so our work was very dangerous, with a lot of pressure and stress until now, and I think this explains, in part, the problems of his heart.”

Sheikh Bukhari was teaching nonviolence, tolerance, and interfaith understanding. The Jerusalem Post reported that “he found his inspiration in Islamic law and tradition, as well as in the writings of Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela."