In the comfortable and warm Bourgeois Pig Cafe, Jews and Muslims gathered on a cold but sunny December afternoon. In times of foreclosure, unemployment, poverty and homelessness, they came to explore what their traditions say about economic justice.
Participants, facilitators and organizers put together chairs in a big circle with a few tables on the side for their coffee. Approximately 15 people came, eager to learn more about the topic and each other’s stories.
The event organizer from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs welcomed everyone and introduced the facilitators – Rabbi Alison Abrams from Temple Chai and Imam Abdul-Malik Ryan from DePaul University – and gave a quick overview of the structure of the text study. Everybody then shared their names and why they were interested in the issue.
Participants were asked by Rabbi Abrams to share, if comfortable, what had changed in their own life (or the life of someone close to them) after the economic crisis hit. One woman acknowledged that she was privileged because she had work and she earned a living, but said that it was true for herself, as for all of her friends who worked in non-profit organizations, that often one person now did the work of two people, and they were constantly overworked and extremely exhausted. Another participant said that workers nowadays were expected to be happy having a job no matter how much they were exploited, and that many employers took advantage of this situation. Yet another participant explained that she felt that in her generation, you could have done everything “right” – good high school and college education – and still end up being unemployed; that there was a basic insecurity about the future and supporting a family that her mother hadn’t experienced a generation ago.
Then Imam Ryan and Rabbi Abrams introduced the topic of economic justice in Muslim and Jewish tradition:
Imam Ryan gave an overview of how economic justice was depicted and interpreted in Islam. Rabbi Abrams pointed out that there are many similarities between the Muslim and Jewish faiths – for example the Islamic concept of Zakat and the Jewish concept of Tzedakah, and that in Jewish tradition Tzedakah didn’t mean charity but was translated as justice, so giving to the poor wasn’t a charitable act, but an act of social justice.
After the presentations by the two facilitators participants split up into groups of two or three and read at least a paragraph from the Jewish and the Muslim text. Rabbi Abrams and Imam Ryan went around and offered assistance.
Towards the end of the scheduled time the small groups joined again and engaged in a full group discussion. Imam Ryan, who concluded the conversation, asked if there were still questions that hadn’t been answered. Respectful of everybody’s time, the event ended on time. As people were leaving, and as the sun was setting, participants walked out still engaged in conversations.
Interested in future text studies?
The Jewish Muslim Community Building Initiative (JMCBI) has organized Jewish-Muslim Text Studies for a number of years. The next one will take place on Wednesday, January 18th. Topic: Women in Judaism and Islam. Northwestern Muslim chaplain Tahera Ahmad and Rabbi Andrea London will facilitate the event. More details coming soon.