Local Jewish, Muslim congregations begin collaboration

  Leaders of Neighbors in Faith are, from left,
  Osman Almanza Sr., Brian Zakem, Imam
  Elam J.Muhammad and David Rader.

  (Photo by Sharon L. Filkins/H-F Chronicle)
For many, the assumption is Jews and Muslims don’t get along. Members of two local congregations, however, are defying that stereotype in the interest of social service.
In 2016, the life paths of three men of Jewish and Muslim faiths came together at the annual Muslim Convention held at the Tinley Park Convention Center. Their meeting ultimately resulted in a new initiative, Neighbors in Faith.
The three organizers are Imam W. Deen Mohammed II, president of The Mosque Cares (TMC) in East Hazel Crest; Brian Zakem of B’nai Yahuda Beth Sholom Temple (BYBS) in Homewood; and Zamir Hassan, founder and president of Muslims Against Hunger, a worldwide organization. 
One of Neighbors in Faith’s efforts was a “Day of Service” on Sept. 10, a national observance intended to promote service projects in memory of those who were lost in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The two congregations worked with Chicago Theological Seminary to contribute to a Hunger Van event. 
“Our congregations were part of the planning and the organizing. We had 175 volunteers on the day of the event, working in two shifts. The purpose of the program was to package nutritious bags of food for seniors in need in our communities,” Zakem said.
Packets of lentils, granola, quinoa, rice, cumin and pink Himalayan salt would provide 10 meals. Volunteers packaged enough for 24,000 meals.
Mohammed II is carrying on the legacy of his father, W. Deen Mohammed I, the founder of The Mosque Cares. He relies on “People of the Book,” a term that has various meanings but is often used to describe Jews, Christians and Muslims as monotheistic faiths with connections to common textual sources.  They are obligated to maintain and continue programs such as Neighbors in Faith for the common good of all humanity.
Zakem of B’nai Yahuda Beth Sholom agrees, noting: “One of our Jewish traditions is to follow the commandment from the Hebrew Bible which states we are to repair the world.”
Zakem, an alum of the Chicago Theological Seminary, said he was excited to begin a dialogue with The Mosque Cares leaders. 
“The Mosque Cares facility in East Hazel Crest is only about 10 minutes from the BYBS. How could we not be neighbors to each other?” he said. “It is so important that we learn from each other and understand each other’s history. Our belief systems are very similar; we believe in one God, one Creator and we are all part of humanity. Humanity is fact; it doesn’t matter what the faith is,” he said.
BYBS and TMC are two of 16 congregations that are members of the Southwestern Interfaith Team (SWIFT). 
Imam Elam J. Muhammad, of TMC, attributes the rapid growth of the joint work to the like-minded spirit and intentions that is God-inspired. 
“Our faith in God, and the oneness of humanity under God, guarantees success. It is a reflection of the Declaration of Independence. ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ So, we, the Neighbors in Faith, are steadily moving ahead toward all that is good and that is the reason for the rapid success and growth,” he said.
A second project of the Neighbors in Faith is a series of book studies between the two congregations. 
“It is important that we learn from each other, from our individual histories, as well as our other neighbors in the south suburbs and beyond. As we become more knowledgeable about our communities, we can foster friendships and partnerships and work together on bridge building,” Zakem said.
For further information on the two congregations visit B’nai Yehuda Beth Sholom at www.bybs.org; and The MosqueCares, at www.TheMosqueCares.com.

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