Rosh Hashanah and Muharram, the Jewish and Muslim new year celebrations, fall out on the same dates this year (Sept. 21-22, 2017).
The two holidays are celebrated very differently. Rosh Hashanah is considered one of the holiest days of the year in Judaism, with days spent in prayer, self-introspection and pledges to do better next year. Muharram marks the start of the Islamic calendar and the beginning of hijra, Prophet Muhammad’s journey from the city of Mecca to the city of Medina. Although it’s not considered a “high holy day” in the same way as Rosh Hashanah, Muharram also has elements of self-reflection and prayer.
Such alignments aren’t just coincidences in the calendar – they are important reminders of the shared heritage between the Abrahamic faiths. While such an alignment gets its fair share of attention in media and among coexistence and interfaith activists, for us at the Menorah Islands, it just reaffirms what we already know and live every day: that our brothers and sisters in faith need to be treated with respect and dignity, as true family members.
We take our inspiration from King David of Bethlehem and his loving mother, Nitzevet. From birth, King David’s family berated him and isolated him – even hoped that he would be killed while performing his duties a shepherd. They felt he was a stranger, born of Boaz and his wife, Ruth, a Moabite convert.
Throughout this hardship, Nitzevet was King David’s only comfort, teaching him that treating others with respect and dignity is a guiding life principle. She kept faith in her son even when his own father and brothers turned against him. She didn’t do this because she knew that David was the future king of the Israelites – in fact, she had no idea until Samuel arrived to share God’s news. She had no ulterior motive – just love in her heart for her family.
This is an important lesson for us today. No matter how bad the political situation becomes or how strained relations are between Jewish people and Muslim people, it is extremely important that we remember that every person on Earth has dignity. Not because that person may make us rich or famous, but because that person deserves the right to a good and happy life. That poignant point gets lost when governments can’t agree or extremists try to dismiss the millions who want peace in the Middle East.
So this joint Rosh Hashanah and Muharram season, I wish to remind everyone of the Abrahamic faith of Nitzevet’s chosen path of seeking dignity and humanity over anger and hatred. There is so much potential to work together simply by seeing the dignity in another human being. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful way to enter the new year and a wonderful foundation for peace?
May this new year be a happy, prosperous and peaceful one for you and your loved ones!