Let There Be Light

Muslim and other communities remember Jews killed in Pittsburgh mass shooting

Kolkata: Probably for the first time, people from the Jew and Muslim community came together at a synagogue in Kolkata. The occasion was to mark the first anniversary of the Pittsburgh mass shooting in which 11 Jewish individuals were killed last year.

On the eve of the first anniversary of the mass shooting that took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue, at Pittsburgh, United States, during the Shabbat period, a small prayer service and an inter-faith meeting was organised at the 1856-built Beth-El Synagogue, located in one of Kolkata’s busiest streets – Pollock Street.

At the special prayer meet, men and women from different walks of life were present, representing different communities.

“We are here to commemorate the first anniversary of Pittsburgh shooting that killed 11 elderly Jews. The oldest person to be killed during the mass shooting was 94 years old. We need to understand that anti-Semitic attacks or Islamophobic attacks or attack on any community takes place in areas where they are a minority. So, it’s a kind of a phobia that the majority community builds simply because of the identity of the community,” said Arjun Hardas, Committee Representative of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

muslim kolkata jews prayer
Participants with banner inside the Synagogue

Speaking about the need of holding such dialogues Ovais Aslam, Founder Indian Pluralism Foundation mentioned, “As we stand in solidarity with all the oppressed, nearly one year ago, the Jewish community suffered one of the most brutal Anti-Semitic attacks when a gunman open fired in the Tree of Life Synagogue, taking the lives of 11 innocent people, whilst they were praying. We continue to see a sharp rise in hatred and fear-mongering fanned by religious prejudice.” He added, “We strongly condemn these attacks upon religious centres across the world that has been blatantly taking place targeting innocent congregations of all religious backgrounds. We are here to build inter-faith dialogues to promote peace.”

Keeping in sync with the theme of discussion – Shabina Ali, representative of Centre For Peace and Spirituality (CPS) International said, “Both Christians and Jews like Muslims are Ahle Kitaab or People of the Book. Unlike the common perception that exists about Jewish-Muslim hostility, has little to do with religious conflict. On the contrary, these are politically motivated.”

kolkata jews pittsburgh prayer
Shabina Ali of CPS delivering her speech

Citing examples from the life of the Prophet, she pointed out, “The Prophet, throughout his lifetime showed his followers the path of co-existence, adjustments and inclusiveness. Allah has created every single individual. How can we hate each other? Without adjustment and mutual understanding, there is no Islam.”

Adding to that Rev Martin Arun. Pakhare, Presbyter in charge, Church of North India (CNI) Wesleyan Church said, “I believe the need of the hour is not to be tolerant but to understand and accept each other. For tolerance only leads to bottling up of emotions. Also, I would ask each present here to be an agent of change by becoming the change that they want to see.”

Taking the discussion further ahead was Mohammad Zakiuddin, Chief Secretary of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Kolkata. He said, “According to Islam, a human without compassion is not a human. Have love for all and hatred for none – is what the Prophet preached and if we all follow the same, there definitely, will be peace around.”

muslim jews pittsburgh prayer
Ian  Zachariah and Imam Abdul Aziz

The event ended with a small prayer conducted by Ian Zachariah, a 75-year-old, writer and member of Kolkata’s fading Jewish Community. He said, “Let me be very clear, anti-Semitism is a concept borrowed from the West. We despite being a very small community here haven’t experienced any anti-Semitic sentiment in India, especially Kolkata, which is home to several Bagdadi Jews. We (Jews-Muslims) co-exist in Kolkata. The guards of this very synagogue are Muslims.”

The septuagenarian concluded by saying, “A synagogue apart from being a place for worship is also a place of learning. So, let’s learn to live together in peace.”

Abdul Aziz, Imam of Nakhoda Masjid, who stood next to Zachariah as he conducted the special prayer, said, “This is the second Muslim-Jewish meet that I am attending. The first was a meeting to commemorate the Christchurch Mosque shooting. I believe that at present time such meets are the need of the hour, as they not just help us to know our neighbours but also build bridges that lead to peaceful co-existence.” Aziz, who had to leave early for the Ishah prayer (last Muslim prayer for the day), said, “We need to take lessons of peaceful co-existence from the life of the Prophet.”

The event concluded with candles being lit before the pictures of those killed during the Pittsburgh shooting.

Among those who were present, was Gaurav Jain, he told eNewsroom, “We have a 5000 year old tradition of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, and no country in the world is like India with such diversity. Our city, Kolkata too welcomes all kind of people. Unfortunately, hate which has been politicised is impacting people and communities everywhere, so such events are good and it should be organized more.”

The key highlight of the event jointly organised by FFEU, CPS International, American Jewish Committee and Indian Pluralism was – Muslims against anti-Semitism.

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