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World Interfaith Harmony Week Observed in Israel

Israel-2015-01-20 Jerusalem Peace Forum Hosts Azerbaijan

Jerusalem, Israel - The Jerusalem Interfaith Forum held a special session for a group of Muslims visiting from Azerbaijan, entitled “Interfaith Cooperation for Peace.”

The session, held in honor of the United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony Week, took place on January 20, 2015, in the Dan Jerusalem Hotel.

The group from the Muslim-majority former Soviet republic wanted to learn about the situation in the Israel region and to hear about interfaith efforts to promote peace. This specially convened forum was led by a panel representing Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives.

The session started with a moment of silence in remembrance of the Khojaly Massacre, in which at least 161 ethnic Azeris in the predominantly Armenian nation of Nagorno-Karabakh were killed by Armenian and Commonwealth of Independent States forces on February 25 and 26, 1992. It provided a profound moment, and the Azeris were noticeably moved by the solidarity of the Israeli participants.

The Jewish representative, Rabbinith Esther Bar-Dea, opened the discussion, explaining that human beings are all created in the image of God and are all descendants of Adam and Eve, the first ancestors. She spoke pointedly about the moral obligation of each human being to avoid doing evil to others, regardless of their religion or nationality.

Dr. Isam el-Kasem, a lecturer on Christian theology, spoke about the value of loving your neighbor as yourself. He quoted verses from the Bible in which Jesus asks his people to forgive, to pray for others and, when struck, not to fight back but rather to offer the other cheek. “If everyone hits back, war will never stop. Through prayers for the sake of ‘the other,’ including the enemy, we resemble Jesus and help God to bring peace on earth,” Dr. El-Kasem concluded.

The Muslim representative on the panel was Dr. Ghassan Abdullah, a mental health professional and Palestinian educator. He opened his speech by strongly condemning the rebel group Islamic State, saying clearly that it doesn’t represent true Islam or its values. He lamented that both Palestinians and Jews will prolong their ongoing conflict if they remain ignorant about each other and continue to see the other as an enemy. Alternatively, both cultures will be much happier once they learn to live together as friends.

The final speaker was Professor Veliyev Isakhan, a prosecutor and department head of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Isakhan talked about religious freedom in Azerbaijan, where churches and synagogues are respected, despite Muslims comprising some 95 percent of the population.

The meeting concluded with an animated discussion about the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. Muslims at the event were moved when RabbinithBar-Dea criticized the magazine’s disrespectful attitude to Islamic feelings. Still, all of the panelists condemned the January massacres in France that were associated with the Charlie Hebdo caricatures, and they agreed that terror and violence are not acceptable means of addressing issues.

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