Home » Israel » Virginia Muslims prefer coziness of synagogue, “shalom” greeting

Virginia Muslims prefer coziness of synagogue, “shalom” greeting

Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation facilities.

Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation facilities.

Lest Haaretz readers be concerned by headlines such as “Israel, Palestinian Authority summit still a long way off,” the Israeli daily recently ran an AP article entitled “Virginia synagogue doubles as mosque for Ramadan,” which begins:

On Friday afternoons, the people coming to pray at this building take off their shoes, unfurl rugs to kneel on and pray in Arabic. The ones that come Friday evenings put on yarmulkes, light candles and pray in Hebrew.

The building is a synagogue on a tree-lined street in suburban Virginia, but for the past few weeks – during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – it has also been doubling daily as a mosque. Synagogue members suggested their building after hearing the Muslim congregation was looking to rent a place for overflow crowds.”

When we learn that synagogue members additionally sometimes park in the lot of the church next door and vice-versa, it appears that Virginia is currently playing host to the arrangement of peaceful coexistence that might have persevered in the Holy Land had Palestinian Muslims and Christians expressed sufficient enthusiasm for Jewish statehood. The existence of Muslim “overflow crowds” meanwhile underlines the ever-present demographic threat, which is nonetheless temporarily beneficial to the synagogue given the $300 daily fee incurred by Muslim use of Jewish property during Ramadan.

According to All Dulles Area Muslim Society Imam Mohamed Magid and Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk, who are considering a joint trip to the Middle East, the sharing of religious spaces has provided each community with a new perspective on the other. Evidence of this is that “[n]ow, mosque members sometimes greet the rabbi with the Hebrew greeting ‘Shalom’; he’ll answer back with the Arabic equivalent, ‘Salaam.’”

The demographic threat resurfaces, however, when a Muslim congregant explains to Imam Magid his reasons for preferring prayer at the synagogue to prayer at the mosque: “It’s cozy, it’s nice. Your parking lot is overcrowded … and I like to be there.”

The imam concludes that “that shows you how comfortable they have become” but does not explain whether Muslim overflow crowds will eventually have to be funneled into the church parking lot next door. The idea that comfort is a function of the availability of parking spaces meanwhile suggests that Israeli construction practices in occupied Palestinian territories constitute opportunities for conflict resolution in the Middle East.

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3 Comments

  1. Zarik says:

    I am part of a Muslim Community in Glen Ellyn, IL that used to pray in a church when our community could not find a suitable location to hold Friday Prayers and our mosque (now built) was under construction (across the street from the church).

    The church members also allow us to use their parking lot without charge or question when we have Eid on a weekday. We similarly have allowed church members (a different congregation) to hold their Sunday School classes (free of charge) in our mosque. Also, a jewish student group from a synagogue had to observe other religious practices as part of some project, so we offered to let them come to our friday prayers for as long as they wanted. We’ve also allowed the church the parking lot option they give us as well. Recently we had a potluck with their congregation.

    Unlike this situation, however, the church let us use their facility for free – there was no “rental charge.” We paid them money out of goodwill anyway though when our mosque finally opened and we didn’t need to pray there anymore. We have also never charged anyone for usage of our mosque as a facility to conduct other religious programs, nor our parking lot. The fact that Haaretz printed it makes me suspect the motives of the reprint, as the original poster pointed out. As some commenters there pointed out, this is nothing that people should be surprised at. Muslims and Jews have lived in harmony for years in the past and could do so in the present. The problem is that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not a religious one, but indeed that’s what the media likes to portray it as (because that’s what sells) and the uneducated religious masses get swept up in it.

  2. qunfuz says:

    Because that’s what sells, and because it diverts attention from the injustice.

  3. Nadine says:

    “…playing host to the arrangement of peaceful coexistence that might have persevered in the Holy Land had Palestinian Muslims and Christians expressed sufficient enthusiasm for Jewish statehood.”

    How DARE the Palestinians not be enthusiastic about losing half of their country and being herded into refugee camps!

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