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Amaar wants to have an "open house" and invite the non-Muslims over to the mosque so that they can see that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Some people (like Baber) are very much against the idea in the beginning, but in the end they all work hard to present different aspects of Islam.

I guess everybody agrees that the best weapon against hatred is education, so any non-insular minority will have its version of "open house" to educate the general public. Show them there’s nothing sinister going on and that we are all just human. The question is, what do you do at the open house and what is (not) helpful to promote undestanding. I want to touch on two points here.

The first point is: what is your goal, what is it you want your visitors to learn? In the series, the Muslims of Mercy want to teach about the religion Islam (the five pillars, the headscarf), but also the cultural and historical background (Muslim influence in Africa). In my personal opinion they are doing a good job with it. Where I live, there’s a regular event called "days of Jewish culture" which the community organizes and is very proud of. The mayor and many important people are involved and there is lots of publicity. So you’d think this would be an opportunity to learn about Judaism. Well… not really. There are concerts, book readings, art exhibitions, talks about the local victims of the Shoah, but besides a half-hour tour through the synagogue and a workshop on kosher cuisine, there nothing that teaches about the religion. Sure, concerts and stuff are nice, but there are so many people who are interested in Judaism as a religion*, why can’t we offer them one day where they can learn? [by the way this would also help counter the impression that Judaism is only Klezmer and the Shoah]

The second point is: what do you do with difficult questions? Not only the crazy accusations like "all Muslims are terrorists" or "the Jews killed our saviour", but also the genuinly difficult questions. In the series the woman visitor asks about headcovering, the oppression of women and Muslim dating. Sometimes there are answers, they are only difficult to relay to a person coming from a totally different background. Like only dating for marriage purposes, the example used in the series. Or, to take some Jewish examples, kashrut, circumcision and discouraging conversions. Sometimes the question is hotly debated inside the community and there just are no easy answers. Like the participation of women religious ceremonies (an issue in both Islam and Judaism I think). It is hard to convey the full scope of the discussion to an outsider. So should we better not address these questions at all in public? I don’t know.

I have more questions than answers about this topic, but there is one initiative I wanted to mention in this context. It is called Rent a Jew and brings together non-Jews who are interested in Judaism with Jews who are willing to answer questions. It is controversal and intentionally provocative (including the choice of the name), but I like the idea that it takes "public relations" out of this stuffy corner with mayors, the central council members and community representatives and puts it into the hands of us, the actual people.


* This is an empirical fact, I’ve met tons of people who come as interested guests to services or lectures – and getting the information about this and then getting through security is a pretty high threshold!

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