Muslim leader pays historic visit to
synagogue; new hope for dialog, healing emerges
A new beginning in Jamaica
by Richard MuhammadKINGSTON,
Jamaica (FinalCall.com)—On a sunny Saturday morning, history was made
March 23, as the leader of the Nation of Islam attended Sabbath services
at the country’s only Jewish synagogue, during a six-day trip to this
Afterward he enjoyed a warm welcome and friendly dialog with leaders
of the host United Congregation of Israelites as part of the bold step.
"History is what the vast majority of people have recited to them or
is read by them from texts of historians. To be present when history is
being made is a rare privilege and one that all who are so privileged
should cherish," said Ainsley Henriques, a former synagogue president,
who introduced Min. Farrakhan during a post-worship discussion with
officers of the 300-year-old Shaare Shalom at the congregation’s center
next door to their synagogue.
"Today is one such day and this morning is one such morning. It is a
historical occasional to have you worship in our synagogue with us,"
said Mr. Henriques, who is also honorary Consular General for Israel in
"I offer you my hand in brotherhood. I offer you my hand for
progress. I offer you my hand for the resurrection of humanity," said
Min. Farrakhan, who expressed hope that Jews in the United States would
invite him to a synagogue to visit and speak, to show he harbors no ill
will toward their community.
After almost 20 years of friction with some American Jewish
organizations, private meetings with rabbis and Jewish leaders, and a
ban from visiting the United Kingdom based on media misreporting of his
words about Black-Jewish relations, the Minister’s first synagogue visit
held important value.
The visit could send an important signal to members of the Jewish
community in America about the need, and potential, for dialog and
reconciliation with the Nation of Islam. It could also be a sign that
the children of Abraham—Jews and Muslims—can find a path to dialog as a
step toward resolving painful conflicts.
In a direct exchange unfiltered by media analysts and 30-second sound
bites, the synagogue leaders’ words of welcome mirrored an embrace Min.
Farrakhan was given by activists, political and business leaders, the
media and the public. He was received as a son of Jamaica, which was the
birthplace of his father.
This new chapter in relations was born out of Jamaica’s racial
diversity, religious tolerance, serious discussions with Min.
Farrakhan’s staff prior to his visit and outreach to Shaare Shalom by
Imam Douglas Owens-Ali, on behalf of Min. Farrakhan, according to
According to Leonard F. Muhammad, chief of staff for Min. Farrakhan,
a type of diplomatic process took place the day before the synagogue
visit. The meeting between synagogue leaders and Nation officials
contributed to the comfort level of both groups, he explained. The next
step was to visit the synagogue and there is interest in ongoing dialog
and work toward establishment of a community of interest, without regard
to geographical boundary, Leonard Muhammad said.
Kind words and a spirit of mutual respect complemented the meeting
held this sun-splashed spring day, with discussions untainted by
preconditions from either side. It included questions from Mr. Henriques,
an elder in the congregation. He asked Min. Farrakhan about three issues
and applauded the Muslim leader’s willingness to honestly speak to the
Two questions were about reports that the Minister blamed Jewish
people for the trans-Atlantic slave trade and has made anti-Jewish
comments. The third question was, did Min. Farrakhan have a message of
universal brotherhood to offer following the symbolic morning of
Muslim-Jewish worship. Min. Farrakhan enjoyed his experience in the
historic synagogue, with its sand-covered floors and multi-racial
Wearing a kufi given to him as a gift by Imam Owen-Ali of Jamaica,
Min. Farakhan opened by saying he had sought this type of interaction
for 18 years.
It began when controversy erupted over a spirited defense of Rev.
Jesse Jackson in 1984, Min. Farrakhan said.
While running for the Democratic Party nomination for president, Rev.
Jackson had come under fire for embracing Yasser Arafat and making
critical remarks of Zionism.
Min. Farrakhan recalled how his passionate defense of Rev.
Jackson—sparked by fear of possible death threats against the civil
rights leader—resulted in a rabbi calling him a "new Black Hitler," and
how that characterization hurt him.
Unable to meet with Nathan Perlmutter, then leader of the
Anti-Defamation League, Min. Farrakhan noted that private meetings have
occurred with rabbis and Jewish individuals in New York, Los Angeles and
his home in Chicago over the past 18 years. "Ever since the controversy
began, it was my desire, and our desire, to resolve this conflict," he
As attacks against him continued, Min. Farrakhan explained, some of
his followers probed the history of Jewish involvement in the slave
trade, using research from Jewish scholars. Their research showed 75
percent of Jews in the southern United States owned slaves, he said.
It was never said that Jews were responsible for the slave trade and
the involvement of Europeans, Arabs and Africans was also noted, the
He also shared his personal experience with Jews as a schoolboy and a
belief that his bloodline might include Jews who fled persecution in
Spain for the Caribbean.
In his youth, Min. Farrakhan said, the beauty of a Jewish cantor’s
voice over the radio in Boston fascinated him and how his affinity for
the violin, and respect for Jewish virtuosos and violin teachers may be
a reflection of this possible ancestry.
As a youngster, he recalled defending a Jewish boy picked on by
Whites at his first high school in Boston.
"I never, ever had a problem with the Jewish people," he said.
Min. Farrakhan noted his followers have no history of violence
against Jews, nor others, and no history of boycotting Jewish
"If I am such a hater, why don’t my followers demonstrate that hate?"
the Minister asked.
He shared his belief that the sojourn of Blacks from Africa and
enslavement in the western hemisphere follows in the footsteps of the
As scripture shows Jews suffering 400 years in Egypt and liberation
under Moses, Blacks suffered the worst form of chattel slavery for 310
years, Min. Farrakhan said.
One like unto Moses was prophesized to come to a people in a
condition like the children of Israel, he noted. No one can deny that
Blacks have been in a similar condition and America has been their land
of bondage, Min. Farrakhan said.
Courage to chart a new course
"It took courage to bring me here. It took courage to open your
hearts to receive me and I pray that there will be no backlash to what
you have done. … The leadership of Jamaica should applaud openly for
what you have done," said Min. Farrakhan to the synagogue leaders.
He also observed even well-intended words might be offensive
depending on the historical and cultural experience of the audience. The
Minister said his goal was not to offend anyone and that his desire is
to perfect his language to reach the hearts and minds of all who hear
him. Min. Farrakhan promised to seek truth, justice and righteousness,
which were reflected in the words spoken from the Torah, in dealing with
the Jewish community.
"If we can mend and heal the wounds between our two communities, I
can say that there is a possibility that we will be able to heal the
wounds in Palestine and in Israel today," he said.
God allowed the state of Israel to come into existence and there is a
need for Jews and Arabs to reconcile their divergent views about its
existence, Min. Farrakhan continued.
He urged the Jewish community to help heal Jamaica as part of an
alliance for progress. Islam, Christianity and Judaism must not be mere
rituals but must reform and transform human life all over the planet,
Min. Farrakhan said.
Following services in the 100-year-old spiritual center, Anthony
Lindo, president of the synagogue, welcomed Min. Farrakhan and admitted
that he was surprised when told that the Minister wanted to visit a
"I feel that we will leave here today with a feeling of unity and a
hope for mutual trust between the Jews of Jamaica, the Jews everywhere
in the world and the people of Islam," said Mr. Lindo.
He expressed a desire for a new beginning and efforts to make the
world a more peaceful place. Mr. Lindo presented the Minister with the
prayer book used at the Sabbath service and Min. Farrakhan presented Mr.
Lindo with a Holy Qur’an.
"As a nation we enjoy one of, if not the richest, diversity of
beliefs in God. Each of our various religions believe through a variety
of separate rituals and these all lead us to the same monotheism,"
observed Mr. Henriques, who presented the Minister with a book of Jewish
history and spiritual messages.
There is a remarkable tolerance in Jamaica rooted in a multi-cultural
past, in a nation populated by those of African, Asian and European
origin, he added.
"It is now (up to) people like us to try and go forth to fight the
battle, settle the negative, the hatred—all of the things, the mindset
that has been built up over the years," said Michael Mattalon, a
director of the synagogue.
Min. Farrakhan was accompanied by his security team, Regional
Minister Rasul Muhammad, local Min. Andrew Muhammad of Kingston, Supreme
Capt. Mustapha Farrakhan, son Joshua Farrakhan, Chief of Staff Leonard
Farrakhan Muhammad, Imam Owen-Ali, businessman Ransford White, and
Junior Lincoln, of 21st Century Productions. Mr. Lincoln’s group hosted
the Minister’s return to Jamaica, where he last spoke six-years-ago.
Photos: #1-Anthony Lindo, president of the United Congregation of
Israelites, welcomes Min. Farrakhan to Shaare Shalom synagogue. It
was the Nation of Islam leader's first visit to a Jewish synagogue.