How religious tolerance can beckon hope for an inclusive future in the Middle East
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How religious tolerance can beckon hope for an inclusive future in the Middle East

How religious tolerance can beckon hope for an inclusive future in the Middle East

All the major Abrahamic faiths will be celebrating festivals of spring at the same time this year, symbolising hope for the year ahead

This year, the Jewish holiday of Passover takes place from March 27-April 4, only one week before the advent of the monthlong Ramadan.

The closeness of these two major Jewish and Muslim holidays, together with the Christian holiday of Easter – which takes place on Sunday, April 4, ensures that all the major Abrahamic faiths will be celebrating festivals of spring at the same time this year. This shared rejoicing in the rebirth of hope, the universal symbol of spring, is an auspicious coincidence for all the children of Abraham after an extremely difficult 12 months in which Covid-19 brought death and suffering to a large number of people across the world.

Today, with vaccines reaching ever-larger numbers of people around the world, we are experiencing the growing hope that the year 2021 will bring all of us much closer to defeating the global epidemic. The similarities between Passover and Ramadan are striking. Both holidays involve prayer, reflection, and communal celebration. In both, adherents of Judaism and Islam observe significant dietary restrictions. During the week of Passover, Jews refrain from eating bread – leavened grains – in line with their tradition. Fasting during Ramadan is more rigorous – Muslims avoid eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sundown every day during the holy month.

However, both holidays are similar in the special attention given to the sharing of communal meals; with the Jews holding the Passover seder, an elaborate meal that unfolds over three or more hours while Muslims come together every evening during Ramadan to hold the Iftar (breaking of the fast), a joyous communal meal. Sadly, given that the coronavirus is still very much with us, both Ramadan and Passover will again be limited in scope this year.

With large communal seders mostly banned abroad, only nuclear families will be able to gather. Online gatherings linking families across distances is an alternative, but because Jewish law prohibits the use of electricity after sunset during holidays, some extended families will gather together via zoom before sundown.

Similarly, in many Muslim communities around the globe, Ramadan Iftars will be largely limited to individuals, couples and nuclear families. However, zoom webinars will be extensively used to connect extended families, so that they can celebrate and give charity together. Despite these limitations, hope is very much with us this holiday season, no better symbolised than by the UAE spacecraft named Hope, which successfully entered Mars orbit on February 9 and will continue to orbit the red planet for two years.

This is a brilliant scientific achievement for the UAE and the entire Muslim world. During the past year, stubborn hope that the future could be better than the past produced a great miracle – the establishment of diplomatic ties between the UAE and Israel.

Let that same sense of hope, buttressed by a pooling of the scientific and technological resources of the UAE, Israel, and other states, lead to the elimination of Covid-19 throughout the Middle East and around the world.

If together we will it, it is truly no dream.

Rabbi Marc Schneier is the president at Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and an author

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