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  • Writer's pictureIbrahim Insights

There Are More Similarities Than Differences Between Arab and Jewish Peoples


Tel Aviv’s coast ran along my beloved Mediterranean Sea. Tel Aviv was filled with Jewish and Arab people, along with the few Europeans vacationing there. It was very developed and westernized. In fact, it reminded me of Toronto, with its narrow streets, becoming high rises, and quaint bakeries. However, like in many European countries, most people couldn’t speak that much English.

I expected for Tel Aviv to be more segregated from the Arabs. However, when I went running along the boardwalk, I could see the transition from the Jewish side of Tel Aviv to the Arab side of Jaffa. On the Jewish side, it went from the men and women in European dress, sunbathing along the coast, to the Arabs grilling on the grass and smoking Hooka.

During Shabat, I went to visit a service with one of my fellow group members. Growing up as a Muslim, I was accustomed to attending Friday prayer. However, I was curious to see what it was like to attend a Jewish service.

During Friday prayers, we start normally around 1 pm. There is a brief service regarding an anecdote from the Prophet Muhammad’s time or an important social commentary, and then a quick payer. During the service, everyone is sitting on the ground, listening silently to the sermon being given.

During the Jewish service, we entered around the evening. Everyone was dressed in their best clothing. Sophia and I grabbed a prayer book and went to sit on a wooden bench. The set up reminded me somewhat of a church. I didn’t understand the Hebrew, but the service was longer than my usual Friday prayer. The Rabbi provided a blend of sermons and prayers that alternated throughout. At one point there was singing and dancing, but only by the men. I noted the similarities between us Muslims and Jewish folk. For one, the men and women were segregated into different sections. Another was that a sermon was provided; one that was helpful for the betterment for oneself and reflection. I was fascinated by the service, and hope to attend another one in the future.

What stood out to me most about Tel Aviv was how, despite it being a centralized location in Israel, there wasn’t a strong emphasis of the Jewish faith. Instead, it was more focused around the culture of being Jewish. For example, during Shabbat, many places did close, but some remained open, which apparently defied Kosher law. Additionally, many men were not wearing yamakas. Most Jewish people looked and acted European.

Another part that was curious about Israel was how the land was divided. I presumed that the Palestinian-Israeli border would be a straight line down the middle. Instead, it curved and twisted in along roads in the country. It was fenced, with security more so on the Israeli side. It was hard to distinguish between the Israeli side and the Palestinian side. I think it was very revealing at that moment as to why the conflict was complicated. It was hard to distinguish alone what defined whose land.

Being in Israel made me realize many of the more so similarities than differences between the Arabs and Jewish people. It almost hurt to know that years ago, the Jewish and Arabs lived side by side. Today, there is such enmity between the two groups. Although it appeared peaceful, deep down, it seemed both sides were afraid and felt a sense of resentment towards each other. Israel was beautiful. But I hope that its people, along with the Palestinians, can learn to find a way to share the beauty of the land (someday).


I left my heart in Jerusalem. I was enamored by its beauty, elegance, and unique Urban set up. Jerusalem is a city that shares the rich history and holiness of the three Abrahamic faiths. I remember going to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and feeling like I was thrown into a Dan Brown novel. There were people from every corner of the Earth congregating in this Church, making their Christian Pilgrimage. A peaceful sensation overcame me when I stared in wonderment at the beautiful ceiling art, and the people making heartfelt prayers at the specified areas.

What I was most excited to see was Masjid Al-Aqsa. Masjid Al-Aqsa existed on my bedroom windowsill- that is, it was a little bank structured as the dome of the rock. Growing up, my mother would always tell me the significance of the little mosque. She would tell the story of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) traveled there in a single night. I never thought I would have the opportunity to visit Masjid Al-Aqsa until the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue program.

It was the holy month of Ramadan, and I, had the opportunity to not only visit, but also pray at the holy mosque. The mosque itself was beautiful. It was a large walled off area at the top of a hill, with the main mosque on one side, the Dome of the Rock on the other, and then throughout the areaswas a garden of trees and stoney steps. Because it was Ramadan, I went to go pray the nightly prayer, Taraweeh. It was a spiritual moment for myself, being able to pray in the holy mosque during Ramadan outside with the crisp breeze blowing through.

Besides that peaceful moment, I was in awe of the bazaar that looped around the holy site. Split into the Jewish, Arab, and Christain quarters, the Bazar was a picturesque marketplace, where the vendors called out to potential customers and bargain with them. Many holy trinkets and books were sold at these markets, along with beautiful silver and gold jewelry, handmade leather goods, and fresh street food.

What was interesting was the living dynamic of Jerusalem. The palestinians kept to one part of Jerusalem. There, it was very much Arab, with the street markets and the conglomeration of men reminding me of an Arab city. However, on the Jewish side, it was westernized. I was surprised to find that the Palestinians even worked on the Jewish side.

I was also amused to see the traditional Jewish dress. In the Arab cities, it was common to see women wearing abayas and hijabs, and men clothed in dishdashas. In Israel, especially in Jerusalem, there were many Orthodox Jews following the traditional Jewish dress in varying degrees. Some women were evidently wearing wigs with long dress. Others covered their hair with a piece of cloth. Some of the men would wear long Bekishe and a top hat, others plain button ups with suspenders. Some would have long bears with payots, and others would just have yamaka.

The other memorable part of Palestine was visiting Rawabi city. Rawabi city signified the future Arab countries could have. With its impressive architecture and city layout- it showed what future peaceful Arab living could be like. It was modest- nothing glitzy like Dubai- but with its large colosseum, eco-friendly establishments, modern shopping area and new schools, Rawabi signified the hope that not only Palestinians could have for their future, but the rest of the Arab world as well.

The Palestinian land was sacred. Its mountainous beauty and ranging nature, along with its historical significance made it an interesting country. It was amazing to think a land the size of New Jersey was the source of such tension. However, after visiting it is understandable. It is a beautiful country that has some sort of significance to each person. I hope that it can be restored to a sacred, peaceful country it once was.

Malak Elshafei is a member of the 2016 Ibrahim cohort.

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