Charleston's Jewish and Muslim communities will unite once again for good food and conversation.
The groups will host their third annual "Food & Faith: A Dialogue Between Muslims and Jews" at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the College of Charleston's Jewish Studies Center, 96 Wentworth St. It will feature a conversation between Rabbi Michael Davies, who leads Dor Tikvah synagogue, and Imam Shamu Shamudeen of the Central Mosque of Charleston. Elijah Sielger, head of the college's Department of Religious Studies, will moderate. The central topic will be commonalities and differences between Muslim and Jewish blessings.
Guests will learn about Jewish and Muslim dietary practices, pilgrimage, clothing restrictions, holidays, Scripture, charity and more.
The event, presented by the Charleston Interreligious Council, was started years ago to create a dialogue between two faiths that are seemingly different. Decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East are evidence of tense relations between two religions whose heritage is shared. Religious leaders want to show solidarity.
“These are the two minority religions that are less understood," Siegler said. "Sometimes there’s an impression that Muslims and Jews are opposites and enemies."
Synagogue and mosque members will prepare the meal that abides by both kosher (Jewish) and halal (Islamic) standards.
Jewish foods will likely include matzo ball soup shooters and boiled bow-tie noodles for kasha varnishkes, which are common for sabbath meals. Last year's Muslim edibles included falafel, tabbouleh, rice and baklava.
Both faiths conduct blessings before and after eating.
In the Jewish faith, "benching" (the Birkat Hamazon) is a series of blessings recited after Jewish meals where bread has been served. Different prayers are spoken for bread, fruits, vegetables and grape juice. They acknowledge God as the one who sustains life and provides food for all creatures.
"Blessings are really a recognition of the fact that we believe ultimately, everything belongs to God," Davies said. "We are asking permission to partake in God’s bounty."
The tradition is similar in Islam.
Before meals, Muslims say "Bismillah Wa Ala Barakatillah," which translates to “In the name of God, and with the blessings of God.” They end meals with “Praise be to God who gives us to eat and drink and made us to submit to him.”
While some view blessings solely as prayers that invoke God's grace over a meal, Shamudeen said that Muslims find blessings in all aspects of life. The ability to talk, for example, is a blessing from God for which one should express appreciation.
"For us, blessings are abundant in everything," Shamudeen said. “The ability to think and reason is the greatest blessing. Food and drink are very important, but they are mundane. The fact that we have other human beings occupying Earth is a tremendous blessing that we don’t even value."
The two groups have come together before, visiting each other's houses of worship, Davies said.
In October, after 11 members of a Pittsburgh synagogue were gunned down, Jews and Muslims prayed together at a vigil held in downtown Charleston.
The food and faith event is a proactive measure to foster unity outside the context of tragedy, Davies said.
“We’re looking to dispel misconceptions and bring people together," Davies said. “One of the best ways to bring people together is around food."
Shamudeen hopes these efforts will broaden. He wants people of all faiths, backgrounds and cultures to come together in regular conversation, he said.
"I like to be extremely inclusive," Shamudeen said. "I don’t care if they're atheist. What really matters to me is recognizing our humanity and our common interest in justice, kindness and compassion.”