A common heritage

We are all aware that this area of the globe, more precisely this small yet large plot of land (small in size, large in importance) needs a new beginning.

A new beginning that will project it and make it shine anew for those who believe less and less in religions and the attendant system, despite believing in a higher force that they might even call God, and in the supreme transformational force of humanity viewed as a whole. A new beginning to purge the atrocious image that almost by osmosis our religions absorb and are contaminated by, largely the fault of the malign manipulation of information on all sides, and the difficulty in understanding the premises of that bloody and unnecessary conflict.

It is easy enough to point one’s finger at our Jewish brothers and place them all in the same bag, mixing those who fervently defend the State of Israel with those who feel that the Arabs are their brothers, who condemn any kind of violent action, for their religion, which has a common basis with our own, is of exactly the same mind in that regard.

On the other hand, in the case of the Jews – the crux of the matter is that the line separating a sensitive and a geopolitical religious subject is very fine and not always simple or easy to resolve.

I will therefore abstain from that temptation and that cliché and think of the things that unite us, in order to propose a much healthier exercise: to identify our common traces, in the strong conviction that “what binds us together is greater than what separates us”, and to portray the Portuguese communities as an example to the world.

Let us start with the beginnings. Both communities are considered elites, although the Jewish community is much older, both in time and in its presence here. Although of reduced size, statistically speaking, these communities represent the best that is done here. They are filled with influential personalities in the world of business and in all areas, with particular emphasis on science, in the case of the Jews: here, we see that Moisés Amzalak, a prominent member of the Jewish community of Lisbon, was president of the prestigious Lisbon Academy of Sciences.

It is hardly surprising, then, that if we wish to buy a watch or perfume or sleep in one of the most famous hotels in Lisbon, we should do so without being aware that we are in the house of Jews or Muslims, a house that rightly bears no markings of that quality.

Some say that minorities tend to stand out, either because they are more “visible”, or given their audacity and determination as a consequence of that almost zero visibility. As far as these communities are concerned, I believe this is not the case and that both have been visionaries from the very beginning, greatly contributing to the enrichment of Portugal’s entrepreneurial, cultural and social fabric.

The curious fact is that they even have the same initials! CIL means Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa (Lisbon Jewish Community) and Comunidade Islâmica de Lisboa (Lisbon Islamic Community). While, in principle, the name determines that it is restricted to the Lisbon area, without prejudice to the vibrant communities of Oporto, the jurisdiction of these communities covers practically the entire country, given their influence, in particular in view of their seniority and the relationships of power in the capital.

I could even say, although recent history tries to contradict that trend, that ever since I was a child we have always been close to our brothers at CIL in Rato, for a number of reasons. These include the exotic way we were often viewed by the dominant majority, our unusual names of Arab and Hebrew origin, our powerful mercantilist vein and, more visible in the eyes of others than in our own, because we were always characterised by a low profile, in addition to our strong attachment to cultural and religious traditions, and because we absolutely do not eat pork, and any other meat must be “halal” or “kosher”.

How can we explain the auspicious fact that the slaughter on the occasion of the marriage of the man who would become President of the Islamic Community of Lisbon was conducted by Rabbi Abraham Assor, the eminent father of my friend and radio colleague, Isaac, an official at the Shaare Tikvah Synagogue?

The only explanation is the genuine, uncomplicated friendship that crosses boundaries of many kinds, between good people who continue to give their time to noble causes.

Additionally, from a theological point of view, Islamism and Judaism have truly remarkable similarities. For instance:

  1. The Semitic origin (languages being a common legacy and trunk);
  2. Our common father Abraham;
  3. The lack of saints or the Trinity;
  4. A direct link to the creator, without intermediaries;
  5. A belief in Judgement Day and in angels;
  6. A fixed number of prayers per day (5 in Islam, 3 in Judaism);
  7. A strong tradition grounded in popular and ancient wisdom;
  8. The sacrality of the Holy Land of Jerusalem;
  9. The importance of peace, as proven by the greeting (Salam, Shalom).

In addition to these innumerable affinities, we are united here in Portugal by the fact that we represent a minority, and abroad by the solidarity we have with our Jewish brothers, who are systematically victims of antisemitism. Let us not forget that over the ages and for many years they suffered; tomorrow it could be us, hence the importance of fighting this battle.

Popular wisdom says that we are encouraged to eat at the house of a Jew instead of a Christian, particularly in view of the comfort offered in the former. What we might not know, basically because we are ignorant, is that many of the traditions we fulfil today stem from these extremely ancestral and vastly inspiring cultures.

May Elohim or God sow the seeds of union and concord among peoples in our hearts.