On Friday, Feb. 19, Hillel, the Jewish organization on college campuses, and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) hosted an Interfaith Shabbat Dinner.
On the flyer promoting the event, it read, “A promotion of peace and friendship. Come join for prayers of each faith followed by dinner and discussion.”
Cori Hampton, the staff member in charge of Hillel at UNCG lost her voice, so she passed the role of leadership over to four students: from Hillel there was Liat Lebovich, a junior and Shira Lebovich, a freshman. And from MSA there was Ayah Khalifa, a senior and Faris Almubaslat, a junior.
To begin, Khalifa and Almubaslat greeted the group by saying, “As-Salaam-Alaikum,” Which, in Arabic, translates to, “peace be upon you.” To respond, we were told to say, “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam,” which means, “and upon you be peace.”
Since there are certain times when one is required to pray in Islam, they began with their call to prayer before the fifth and final prayer of the day, Isha. Between the call to prayer and the actual prayer, there were about ten minutes for those who wished to perform ablution, the purification before prayer, would be able to.
After their prayer, Liat Lebovich led the group in an abridged portion of the prayer service welcoming in the Sabbath called Kabbalat Shabbat, which translates to, “receiving the Shabbat.”
Drilon Bala, a junior, asked about the translation of a song this reporter was singing before the beginning of the service. Bala and his family were originally from Kosovo, a Balkan country near Albania. As the service used prayer books, this reporter pointed to the translations of the prayer she had been previously singing, a poem to welcome in the “Sabbath Queen,” as it is called.
After the service, there are a few rituals in which Jews partake. One is a blessing over wine, which was substituted by grape juice. When the question was asked if anyone knew why Jews used grape juice or wine, Justin Stewart, a junior, said, “The word for the prayer is called Kidush, which means ‘to make holy,’ and we use the wine or grape juice to do so.”
Bala, jokingly, asked his friends if grape juice was haram, which is an Arabic word meaning “forbidden.”
After the prayers, the group ate around tables, talking. Many discussed the differences and similarities the two religions share.
Bala mentioned that he did not speak Arabic but rather, Albanian. With him, were Amer Mohamed, a junior and Zain Alsafi, who is in his first year at UNCG. Mohamed and Alsafi were both from Sudan. “North Sudan,” Mohamed clarified, since, unknown to many, there are two.
All three were very interested to hear this reporter and Chris Batts, a junior, speak in Hebrew.
Going into the event, Bala didn’t have any expectations. “Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said, “Amer [a friend of Bala’s] told me that we were going to hang out with some Jewish people so I just tagged along.”
UNCG junior, Justin Stewart, spoke about his expectations regarding the event between the two organizations. “[My] expectations beforehand, were that we would all show up and have a good time. I enjoyed it.”
While he thought the event was ultimately a success, he did have a few issues. “I do dislike that the prayer service was so short. It didn’t do our customs justice and I don’t think it showed them [the students of MSA] what a Friday night service is really like. That is about my biggest issue. Other than that, I think it was a really great way to get Jews and Muslims together and show how similar we all are. A lot of our conversations were based on our similarities.” And as far as issues go, to him, that was fairly low on the list of importance.
The event was supposed to foster peace and friendship, but in reality, what it did was just spread knowledge.