Jews and Muslims Share Stories of Immigration

Reflections on our Jewish-Muslim Text Study on Immigration 

“So many talk about it. JCUA and JMCBI DO it. Bringing the people together and learning about each other’s experiences and traditions is very moving and shows how much we have in common.” 

–Ray Grossman, Text Study Participant, February, 2012 

Being a stranger in a strange land is an experience that is familiar to Jews and Muslims in the United States. In the text study on Feb. 23, Jews and Muslims gathered at the beautiful Dollop Café to explore what our traditions tell us about immigration. The discussion was facilitated by Imam Abdul-Malik Ryan (the Muslim Chaplain at De Paul University) and Asaf Bar-Tura (Associate Director of Programs at the JCUA and Ph.D. Candidate at Loyola University Chicago).

We began by reflecting on our own connection to immigration in our personal lives and histories. One participant said that though her family had been in the U.S. for three generations, she still caught herself speaking in patterns similar to her grandmother from Europe. Another woman shared that she had grown up in the U.S. with her family’s memories of their homeland, and stepping into her parents’ home is like a trip to Pakistan. We learned that migration is tied to memories, to what was left behind, and passed on from generation to generation.

Both facilitators then gave some brief perspectives on immigration in Jewish and Muslim traditions.

Asaf Bar-Tura pointed out that for both Abraham and Moses, migration included the promise of a better life – not only materially, but also spiritually. He also highlighted an inherent tension between building a community and treating all humans equally: being a part of a community means membership, which will exclude some; but the Torah and Talmud also demand to treat all, citizens and non-citizens, equally.

Abdul-Malik Ryan explained that not only Ibrahim, Yusuf and Musa were strangers, but also the Prophet Mohammad himself. The Muslim calendar in fact started with Prophet Mohammad’s migration. He created a brotherhood between a stranger and a native, where two men really were considered as blood-related brothers.

After this introduction, we broke out into small groups to exchange thoughts on the texts our facilitators had brought. In the small groups, as well as in the larger group we rejoined a little later for discussion, we discussed challenges immigrants face in the United States today, and problems undocumented immigrants are confronted with in particular. At the end of the evening many participants indicated how much knowledge and insight they had gained.

Abdul-Malik Ryan said of the text study that, “As always, the diversity of people attending the text study and learning of their own perspective and experiences with the issues of immigration was enriching. It was especially interesting to think about how the stories of many of the key Prophets of the Torah as well as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them all) were tied with stories of immigration.”

Considering the relevance of the text study for us today, he added that “our discussion also focused on the lessons we draw about the profound reciprocal relationships that can and must exist between communities of immigrants and their allies and helpers who have more established roots in our society.  We can all benefit so much from each other.”

Our next Jewish-Muslim event will be Café Finjan, our annual interfaith night of arts with music, poetry, short films and visual art (RSVP here). Join us for coffee, conversation and meet other Jewish and Muslim artists who are eager to learn more about each other’s background, faith, and culture!

Thursday, March 15, 6:30 pm
Conaway Center, Columbia College
1104 S. Wabash, Chicago (map it).

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