Jihad is really a way of life

July 12, 2009 at 8:32 am 12 comments

Jews can learn from it

By Ralph Dobrin

My wife and I recently renovated our bathroom. It’s amazing how much work such a small project involves. It took a lot of hard physical labor, resoluteness and intelligence on the part of the workmen who made it all possible. Three men did most of the work: a pumber called Danny, who brought two other men, both of them Arabs from suburbs in the eastern part of Jerusalem. There was Yusuf, who helped Danny strip away the walls and floor tiles and dismantle the pipes, which were old and corroded; and Hassan laid the floor and wall tiles.

And what a huge effort it was on their part! True, they were paid for their efforts, but nevertheless, I had to appreciate that for a few days of their lives they dedicated their strength, intelligence and and experience to me personally. For a while these three men became a central part in our life. So we cared for them. We cared that they were drinking and eating enough; that they were sufficiently rested from their grueling work from time to time. We weren’t just being nice. After all, if you expect people to do a good job for you, you’ve got to care about their physical well-being.

From time to time we would chat with them. Sometimes we praised their work and occasionally we would ask them to pull out a tile that hadn’t been placed absolutely straight. Each time they obliged very willingly. Yusuf spoke Hebrew fairly well, while Hassan had a little difficulty. My wife and I once had a fairly basic command of Arabic. So we practised our rusty Arabic with them. They seemed very happy that we could converse, albeit very haltingly, in Arabic.

Every day I prepared lunch which we ate together, while chatting about work, family, health and the Israel-Arab conflict. About this latter issue, they said a few things that I didn’t agree with, and I countered calmly, to which they responded calmly.

The fact that they are part of a nation with which my nation is locked in a desperate, mortal struggle, seemed to have no bearing on the degree of amiability in our relationship, even though I made it clear that nationalistically I have views that place me more Right Wing than Avigdor Lieberman.

I had noticed that Hassan took himself to a corner a few times a day and prayed. Sitting down to have dinner with him on the evening that he finished his work, I touched on the subject of religion.

“Religion is an important part of your life?” I asked rhetorically.

He nodded.

I continued: “I saw you praying.”

His expression seemed to say, “So what?”

I proceeded: “A lot of people in Jerusalem are religious. Isn’t that so? There are Muslims, Jews, Christians.”

“We all have the same rab” (master of the universe), he replied.

I reckoned that we were on friendly enough terms for me to be able to say: “You undoubtedly know that many people all over the world are worried about Islamic fanaticism.”

He just stared at me impassively. His docile manner emboldened me and I continued: “A lot of people are acting like crazy madmen in the name of Allah. Hamas, Hizbollah, El Khaida. They kill thousands of innocent people. They kill Jews and Christians. They kill Muslims and they even kill themselves.” I smiled to try and maintain a friendly discourse. After all, the man had helped make a marvelous bathroom for us and he was now sharing a meal with me and my wife at our dinner table. But it is not every day that I can engage a devout Muslim in a conversation on this crucial issue.

He responded: “The people who do all this killing are so badly mistaken. The Koran is against such acts. That is not really religion. The people who do these things are not real Muslims.”

“I had the impression that they are very dedicated Muslims,” said I. “And they call what they do Jihad,”

“That’s not jihad,” he responded.

I replied cheerily: “Oh, I thought that jihad was waging war in the name of Allah.”

He was cautious with his words. Slowly, in his imperfect Hebrew, interspersed with Arabic words that we happened to understand, he explained: “Jihad is not just making war to defend Islam. Jihad is really service to God. I serve God through humility, modesty and the way I support and raise my family. I do this by trying to be honest, hardworking and productive. And the way that I can support my family and be productive is by laying floor tiles and wall tiles in people’s homes. This is my jihad. That’s why I work as cheerfully and as well as I can. That’s why I take care to lay every tile as straight and as perfectly as I can. At the end of the day I want to be able to say that I did a good day’s work. That, for me, is jihad.”

How can anyone not be impressed with this outlook, I concluded. Later I checked the Wikipedia and in different words it more or less confirmed what Hassan had said.

All this leads me to recall conversations that I have had with Haredim. Quoting freely from the Scriptures and Sages, they always give me the impression that they reckon that everyone else is out of step and that only they have the right answers. And I bet that Hassan, like the Haredim or like any other religious group, thinks that his religion is the only right way to commune with God.

But the main difference between Hassan and a very large part of the Haredi men is that for Hassan and his peers, working hard for a living is part of their credo. And they are the ones who build Israel’s cities, grow the produce, fix the cars, repair the plumbing, work in our factories and clean our streets. Without their hard work, Israel couldn’t function as an orderly state. On the other hand, while some of the Haredim do work – like the rest of the Jewish population in Israel, but mainly in jobs that don’t require too much muscle, sweat or soiled hands and clothes – to a large extent many Haredim make a lifestyle out of sponging off the rest of society, using Torah study as a reason.

Now I bet that Hassan is no less devout to the rab (it has the same meaning in Hebrew) as any resident of Meah Shearim, Bnai Brak, Betar Ilit, etc. He prays five times a day. He does so quietly. Some of the content of his prayers is similar to Jewish prayer. But he spends little time on his duvenning. Most of his time is dedicated to being as decent and trustworthy a human being as possible. And as productive!

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to promote Islam. Some of the nastiest, most evil scoundrels in the world are those who intone “Allah hu’akbar!” five times a day.

But as a way of life, Hassan’s personal take on Jihad, which can be summed up briefly as “be a real mensch,” is what the rabbis should be emphasizing to their communities and to the students in the yeshivot. They should be drumming into their heads the importance of productive labor in order to earn their living; not to be too proud to dirty their hands in the course of an honest day’s work; to strive for perfection in whatever they do; to practise humility; and for God’s sake, not to expect hand-outs from the rest of society.

Surely, that’s how they would come closer to tikun olam (repairing the world.) And surely, as Hassan said, that is how one really serves the rab. Indeed, all Israeli Jews should digest that.

See also: http://www.israelandtruth.org


Entry filed under: Inspiration, Religion and belief. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

The ultimate immorality Ensuring a future …

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Asher Eder  |  July 12, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Rafi, thanks for the above.
    Indeed, after taking over Mecca, Rasul Mohammed enjoined that from now on the real Jihad is that against one’s own evil inclinations.
    Peoples who are now-a-days called “fundamentalists”, in fact pick a few verses from their respective scriptures and make them to the fundament of their outlook, leaving out of their scope all other parts of those scriptures.

  • 2. Steven Puzarne  |  July 12, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Thank you for this posting. I have several friends whose names are Jihad, who are very learned in the Koran,. They confirmed the understanding of jihad given by your Palestinian workers, and many of my Muslim friends are amongst the most peace loving individuals I’ve ever met in any community. They are horrified that there religion has been hi-jacked by extremists, much as a Jew, I am horrified by the very same thing in my community.

    We did to resist the temptation to judge the world by the often skewed images we receive on TV or internet. They are interested in sensationalism since that’s what sells.

    There are wonderful people of all faiths, there are awful people of all faiths. And no faith has a monopoly on good or evil.

    Cantor Steve Puzarne
    Los Angeles

  • 3. Moshe Aumann  |  July 12, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Thanks, Rafi, for sharing your encounter with “the other side.” Your account reinforces my long-held belief that, basically, our conflict is not so much with the Arab man-in-the-street as it is with the Arab leadership. The leaders have never got over their resentment – and this is going back 100 years and more – at the Jews’ audacity in upsetting their feudal way of life and creating here a productive, flourishing democratic society that threatened, and continues to threaten, their feudal hegemony in the area.

  • 4. dan Leubitz  |  July 12, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Interesting take.. but i think theres another element, i too have spoken to my shiputniks.. and overall they say..they simply want to put bread on their table,. and when theres problems.. they cant work and thus feed their children.

    Maslows hierarchy has a person seeking for food before a national identity… revolutions are not started by the middle classes, but those who have nothing to lose.

    I once heard a christian say that those who sat by the holocaust were not real christians.. and i ask.. so what percentage at that time were “true” and the answer has to be in the single digits.

    Your account has the same math.. if those that believe jihad arent “real” muslims.. what percentage is “real” i fear it too is in single digits. If that is true.. then we are no better off, as the majority of “false” muslims continue to be the real threat… and the enlightened muslims are some irrelevant sub group.

    I do agree that the Haradim sponge off their host country.. and that only through ceasing social services that promote and encourage this behavior will this stop.

    • 5. Aminah Carroll  |  December 5, 2009 at 1:35 pm

      Salaamu aleikum and Shalom, Dan

      The MAJORITY by far of muslims follow the teaching in our holy Qur’an that the highest form of jihad is to conquer one’s own anger, that we are never to kill in anger or revenge, even when it seems justified, but rather to replace evil with good, tht we are not to harm even a tree, a living grace of God, let alone a civilian.

      there was a time in Palestine, when the Jews (Sephardic) were trusted neighbors of the Arabs, both jew and Christian. Then when the shattered remnant of Ashkenazi came from Europe, they brought centuries of longing and yearning for their homeland, but also cultural chauvinism with them.

      We need to do the hard work of tikkun together and in respectful fashion. It is rspect and the capacity to confront the dignity of the “Other” that heals even the oldest deepest wounds between peoples.

      I would not let a psychological theory get in the way of the truth and social justice, the gifts and fruits of religion which have often elevated people over selfishness into an abundance of compassion even when poor…

      our world is spreading cruelty and exploitation like a hideous nightmare, those who love G-d and respect their neighbor have a change to challenge its spread, perhaps contain it with G-d’s almighty help, and rebuild friendship where there is mutual enmity now.

      this wonderful openness and shared reflections, means there is still real hope.

      G-d’s peace and Blessings be upon you

  • 6. Ian Rogow  |  July 12, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Rafi Hi,
    You and Maurice Ostroff are lone ranger hasbara diseminators for Israel
    Keep up the excellent work
    PS Is Maurice on your mailing list?

  • 7. Scott Seltzer  |  July 12, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    I once also had an amicable relationship with an Arab that my kablan brought in. But his explanation about why the Arabs had such a strong work ethic, particularly when building for Jews, is that they believe that they are building what will eventually be in Arab hands. Since they’re building for themselves, of course they do good work.

  • […] In a previous post, there was much discussion of the elusive (some would say imaginary) phenomenon of Palestinian Muslims who want to live in peace alongside an independent Jewish state. I post here a blogpost by Ralph Dobrin, an Israeli, on a conversation he had with an Arab construction worker at his home. Jihad is really a way of life […]

  • 9. Kai  |  August 9, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    I appreciate your words.

    However, what a shame that you need to qualify your piece by saying you are “not promoting Islam”. Why shouldn’t you promote diversity in our varied world. Surely you don’t just want to promote your faith and your way of thinking.

    Along the same lines, unless I am incorrectly generalizing, isn’t it a shame that while living in the occupied territories, that the first close encounter and opportunity you have to share time, words and a meal with a Muslim is when they fix your bathroom and that, what seems to be, your only motivation to interact with them is ensure they do a good job for YOU.

    You are the beginning of the peace process. Seize this opportunity and this knowledge you have gained and shared to create a snowball effect by embracing more of your neighbors of a different faith and build those much needed bridges.


    • 10. truthandsurvival  |  August 10, 2009 at 5:08 am

      Ralph replies:
      Why should I have refrained from stating that I am not promoting Islam in this positive impression of this religion. After all, Islam has always denigrated my people, the Jews in brazen terms such as “Apes and Pigs.” It has always seen us uncompromisingly in a dhimmi status. Also, let’s not forget that it is the creed, from which the call to destroy my country is so constantly and stridently trumpeted. It is also the creed which calls to curtail personal freedom, as civilized people regard it. Nevertheless, I wrote this blog in order to show a positive aspect of this religion, which has given itself such a bad name through the demonic actions of many of its adherents.
      Also, how do you know that my first close encounter to share time and a meal with Muslim is when they fix my bathroom? I marched with the legendary Abe Nathan in 1966 in the cause of peace. I was one of the members of Meditran just after the Six Day War, which sought to bring the communities of Jerusalem together. And pardon the cliché, but some of my best friends have been Arabs.
      About peace, how can you ignore the rhetoric from much of the Arab side, that keeps calling for Israel’s demise. How can you not perceive that the rhetoric always gets more obdurate whenever Israel makes gestures towards conciliation, or when more international pressure on Israel is made. The present Fatah General Assembly has made this abundently clear. Even though Israel allowed convicted murderers to attend (we must be crazy), as a gesture of good-will, any hoped-for indication for any meaningful dialogue towards peace with Fatah in the near future, is as dim as ever. And Fatah is supposed to be “moderate.”
      Finally, I would love to see a similar article praising some aspect of Judaism, written by a Muslim. I am sure that there are Muslims who have some respect for what Judaism and Israel stand for. But they would put their lives in danger if they did. A fatwa would soon be out. That’s one of the differences between us.

  • 11. Aminah Carroll  |  December 5, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Even if he disagrees with me, i hope Dan will publish the post that i believed i was posting and must have Private Messaged to him in error.
    Salaamu aleikum and Shalom.

    Thank you for your sharing and also please know that the majority of muslims practice and believe as Hassan described: compassion is the heart of Islam.

  • 12. Michael Jacobs  |  February 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    With due respect, but I think that Ralph makes two serious mistakes. First, he jealously compares between Muslims and Jews. The second error is similar but even worse: he uses the opportunity to attack his fellow Jews.

    I consider this preference for misdirecting one’s strife or jihad as the Jewish malady par excellence. Its presentation to the world may go unnoticed, like here where it is neatly wrapped inside an article of so-called ‘human interest’. But look around in media land and you will see it everywhere.

    This carefully hidden, systematically denied – and therefore un-treatable – basic lack of self-esteem, and its continuous projection onto the outer world must be the main cause for Jew-hatred in the world and especially at home. And rightly so, I think.

    Who wants to have neighbors who compare and criticize all the time, and whose very Temple fell for reason of baseless self-hatred? Just like you don’t want a suicidal Muslim living next to you, so you also don’t want Jews who *psychologically* kill themselves… and blame the world for it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


%d bloggers like this: