Hashlamah Project Study Circles (HPSCs) are specifically about using modes and methods of Jewish and Muslim common ideas, shared worship, and pluralistic exchange – from eras past, when they worked so well – to re-engage Jewish and Muslim shared worship and dialog. Part of the task of HPSCs is to educate facilitators and those who attend meetings, on just how, when, where and – perhaps most importantly – why Jewish and Muslim groups were able to work together, dialog, worship, meditate, chant zhikr, and pray together. Much of the suggested reading list (listed elsewhere), has been compiled to that end.
Since Jewish and Christian and Muslim and Christian interactions have never succeeded on the level of what we see throughout Andalusia, North Africa and the Levant during the activity of the Medieval “Chassidim,” the Hashlamah Project Study Circles are sticking with what we know HAS worked in the past. Engagements with Christianity have their own set of difficulties, and are beyond the scope of the Hashlamah Study Circles.
Christians are nevertheless welcome to attend, but the HPSCs will be lead jointly by Jews and Muslims, with respect for other faiths being shown, and with full awareness that there are other religions, like Sikhism, which share a common vision of the absolute Oneness of the Divine. Still, since Sikhism has never been in conflict with Judaism, for instance, and since conflicts with various other faiths by extremist perversions of Islam are common, the HPSCs will stick with what we know has worked: shared worship, interaction and exchange between Jews and Muslims.
Other projects reconciling between Muslims and Hindus for instance, are necessary and supported, but are beyond the scope of the Hashlamah Project. To that end, the HPSCs are more narrowly-focused that typical interfaith communities that aspire toward the laudable cause of pluralism, even universalism and ecumenical acceptance within various faith communities. HPSCs are focused on doing what we know already has succeeded, re-building the proverbial “wheel” from the blueprints set before, rather than trying to reimagine and reinvent the wheel. Broader religious universalism and co-worship is a much larger front, and rarely succeeds on a wide-scale when not limited in scope to the particular challenges facing reconciliation between specific communities, with unique shared histories.
So how do you get started?
Step 1: Get a local contact address, SMALL, cheapest P.O. Box address, and make a local Hashlamah email address at Gmail: e.g. HashlamahATL@gmail.com, HashlamahORL@gmail.com or HashlamahNYC@gmail.com (actual chapter addresses).
A number of chapter facilitators mentioned using their home address as a contact point for interested parties. That is fine if money is tight, but eventually you might want to shift to a PO Box. We may, in the meantime, only list the phone numbers and email addresses of people without P.O. Boxes. Still, the P.O. Boxes are encouraged. Usually you can pay 6 months at a time, which for the smallest size is fairly inexpensive. Additionally, once you get folks going to these you can ask for volunteers to chip in a few bucks to cover the PO Box. It’ll work out.
Step 2: Send this info to Hashlamah@gmail.com with the subject heading: “NEW CHAPTER CONTACT INFORMATION” in all capitals. Michael from the Atlanta chapter, and Micah from the Midwest/Yellow Springs chapter will be updating the website to be all about the Study Circles! This will include a chapter list, times for meetings, etc. Many of the existing articles will be removed, and reserved for facilitators to print out and share at meetings, if they so desire.
Step 3: Hashlamah@gmail.com will send you a PDF of this with your local address on it, as well as other PDFs of fliers, and PDFs for your personal edification and education as a facilitator.
Step 4: Print out, copy and circulate. Go to local shuls and mosques and ask to put one up. Otherwise, put them in shops that might be favorable to such ideas of peace and reconciliation. Avoid known extremist sites. Sufi centers are fertile ground for allies, as are a variety of Jewish places of worship.
Step 5: Hashlamah@gmail.com will send you a suggested reading list for the “Historical Study” aspect.
Step 6: You then schedule a good time and location for regular meetings.
Step 7: Advertise these meetings, and keep them regular.
Step 8: Begin your meeting with prayer. This can be traditional Jewish modes of prayer, or Muslim salat. Whichever the meeting is started with, the meeting should close with the other. This should be short, condensed, not a full Jewish prayer service, unless a desire for this is eventually reflected by the regular attendees. In such a case that a minyan is present, a service can be conducted before or after the meeting.
Step 9: Meet, talk, pray together in both Jewish and Muslim ways. Have Jews lead prayer at one part of the meeting, and Muslims lead at another part.
Step 10: Consider a short “debate” period, where after discussion, worship, perhaps singing, zhikr, etc. set a kitchen timer for an agreed-upon length of time (perhaps 18 minutes). Before you set the timer, make tefillah, du`a together sincerely to Ha’Shem `Elyon, Allah ta`ala that the debate be productive. Try to stay away from polemic, absolutely stay away from ad hominem attacks, and bring the group and gently discussion back into alignment if such things occur. Thankfully, such attacks are rare in meetings like this, even while they are common in the impersonal, disconnected world of the Internet. Remind each other that we are all real people, and in the words of the Proverbs, “Every man is right in his own eyes.” Therefore, let us try to see how we might both be right, just not in the same way.
To this end, there is a famous Jewish teaching about a rabbi who was called upon to settle a dispute between two of his students. The first talmid poured out his complaints to the rabbi, and when he finished, the rabbi said, “You’re right.” But the second one interrupted, defensively stating his case. When he finished, the rabbi nodded and said, “Ah, you’re right.” The two, incensed, explained: “What do you mean, we can’t both be right!” To which the rabbi replied, “You’re right.”
The moral of the story is that there are many ways to see things, whether matters of religious law, or politics. The only perspective that is truly wrong is one which fails to recognize the validity of another way of looking at the matter. In this way, both of the students of the rabbi were right, and yet they were both also right that they could not both be right, because both of them failed to appreciate the other’s perspective, thus limiting their own, and failing to be right.
Other than that, there is general autonomy for the groups to evolve organically.
It is recommended that if a Jew starts the group in their city, they look for a Muslim to co-chair the chapter with them, and if a Muslim starts the group in their city then they should look for a Jew to co-chair it with them. In this way, both voices will always be heard, even while there will be overlap. As well, prayer methods can be of a variety of approaches. Any fiqh of Salat is fine, as this will vary from HPSC regionally, and possibly even at different meetings. Jewish prayer can be any traditional method or Judeo-Sufi “Selah” as Micah Naziri has detail elsewhere. Those who start the chapters will be given PDFs of materials to print out and circulate at meetings if they so desire.
If a practicing Jew is not known locally by a Muslim who wishes to start an HPSC, then start the study circle first and invite Jewish brethren and sistren to join. Vice versa, if a practicing Jew does not know a practicing Muslim locally, start the study circle and then be assured that the right people will gravitate towards the meetings. Once you meet the right one, ask them to co-chair. It really doesn’t need to be any more difficult than that.
If you are an individual who is somewhere in between, perhaps Judeo-Sufi in nature, but a Muslim who never converted in any official manner to Judaism, it would be most beneficial to ask a more traditional Muslim and a practicing Jew to co-chair. There doesn’t necessarily have to be a limit on co-chairs, but two is a good idea for most situations.
Rules for Respectful Discourse
1. No proselytizing. The point should be to show how Islam and Judaism can exist simultaneously, in the same way that the Theosebes movement existed WITH Judaism. Proselytes were permitted, of course, but the archeological record of donor lists shows that while there were a lot of proselytes, there were almost as many Theosebes (Gerei Toshav, essentially/Yirei Ha’Shamayim), as there were born and raised Jews. More on this later, but the point is no TRYING to convert people to Judaism or Islam. Totally off-limits. Maybe have a warning policy if this becomes a problem.
2. As alluded to previously, no personal attacks or negative predictions allowed. Dialogue and even occasional polemics can occur, but it must be about the subject matter. Because it is a highly sensitive subject and time, all parties must act respectfully at all times. Quiet listening should be encouraged as well. Our common roots in Avraham/Ibrahim should be stressed so that we can more easily discover our co-existence formula.
3. Fact-check and then fact-check again. When something is said by a Muslim about Jews or Judaism that Jewish members do not agree with, or when something is said about Muslims or Islam that Muslim members do not agree with, then IMMEDIATELY ask them the simple request: “DOCUMENT IT.” What is the source of this information? Request that the member research the subject and come back to the next meeting with direct quotes and citation from the primary sources, and thereby shelve the discussion on that particular topic until they do.
This has all been a tentative list and description. The Hashlamah Project Study Circles are evolving, and we are open to suggestions as this is a collaborative process, not a top down dictation of rigid, inflexible dictates. If you have ideas to expand on this, you most certainly are welcome to share them.