The Final Call Online Edition



WEB POSTED 03-31-2002




Muslim leader pays historic visit to synagogue; new hope for dialog, healing emerges
A new beginning in Jamaica

by Richard Muhammad

KINGSTON, Jamaica (—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 island nation.

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 Jamaica.

"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 synagogue leaders.

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 concerns.

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 congregation.

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 said.

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 Minister added.

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 establishments.

"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 Jewish tradition.

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 synagogue.

"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.

Recommend this article to a friend.
Your email: Recipient's email:



about FCN Online | contact us / letters | Credits | Final Call Customer Service


Copyright © 2011 FCN Publishing

" Pooling our resources and doing for self "

External web links are not necessarily  the views of
The Nation of Islam, Minister Louis Farrakhan or The Final Call