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Jews, centuries-old enemies of Muslims, still draw the disparaging term fox, with its connotations of evil: stealth, thievery, cunning, and wanton killing. However, twenty-six year old Mohammed al Samawi from Yemen has published The Fox Hunt – A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America (2018), and through this experience, tweaked this pejorative.

Raised in Sanna, Yemen, by strict Shiite parents, Mohammed excelled in his studies, a compensation for his stroke-damaged limbs, caused when an infant. Computer skills enhanced his academic pursuits that were colored by the imams’ interpretation of the Koran; their authority was never questioned.

However in 2012, Mohammed’s beliefs were shaken when one of his professors at the Canadian Institute offered him an English bible. Shocked by its revelation of God’s compassion that also filled the pages of the Koran, he shunted his career toward international business and set out to locate a Jew while working for the NGO, Partner Aid. A year-long hunt, in secret, ensued, until he bonded with Daniel Pincus, also attending the Muslim Jewish Conference in Bosnia. There, he also met like-minded peers, intent upon creating dialogues with warring factions in their Middle Eastern countries.

However by 2015, Mohammed’s passion for peacemaking precipitated death threats on his personal cell.

It was Daniel Pincus and others on social media who helped Mohammed escape from the flames of the Shia-Sunni civil war raging near his fourth floor apartment. For thirteen harrowing days, holed up in his bathroom, he prayed and responded to emails of his own Justice Corps.

Thus Daniel became the fox as depicted in the parable ascribed to the Jewish scholar Rabbi Akiva in second-century Caesarea, with which the author concludes this riveting memoir of transformation.

 

 

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He was a simple man: He loved his family, was fiercely loyal to his clan, and prospered in trading. Like new city dwellers living in seventh-century Mecca, he, too, sensed the restlessness, the discontent, brought about by too much change, too fast. With dull hearts, everyone amassed fortunes, grew fat. The centuries-old Bedouin ethos of providing for the marginalized, the destitute no longer seized imaginations.

Known as al-Amin, the Reliable One, he was also given to solitary prayer and retreats. Like those around him, he listened to stories shared by Jews and Christians with whom he traded: how their eyes glowed describing the revelations of Moses, of Jesus. And how he yearned for such a prophet from among his own people to confront their malaise and rejuvenate their spirits. But the shock of becoming such a spokesperson for Allah, the Arabic word for God, almost killed him.

We are talking about the prophet Muhammed (c.570-632 CE.), found within the pages of Karen Armstrong’s biography, Muhammad – A Prophet For Our Time (2006).

Her meticulous research, drawn from the four extant biographies composed after the prophet’s death, reveals a man of hilm: patience, forbearance, compassion and mercy; not a man of the sword. For twenty-three years, under duress, the angel Gabriel/ Spirit seized his spiritual faculties and provoked him to recite revelations streaming from the heart of Allah. Inherent within these recitations, later compiled into the Koran, was a rigorous discipline few had the inclination to practice: it was too costly.

As Karen Armstrong points out, Muhammad’s modernity lies precisely in this discipline. Therein, still lies the way to Life’s fruitfulness.

 

How formulate words around the life of Elie Wiesel (1928 – 2016) who, in dialog with his God, fully individuated himself within the warp and woof of his global community? Left a legacy of printed words that still fire imaginations and challenge the moral fiber of his readers?

Such is the task I set myself after completing Elie Wiesel’s second memoir,And The Sea is Never Full, 1969 -1999.

His lifelong study of the Torah and the Talmud imbued his witness, his writing, and his teaching in lecture halls and international venues. Like Jeremiah of the Old Testament, he was passionate, fully sensitive to the worlds within and around him. Words, written and later spoken, became his métier. Yet silence obliterated any foray into his death camp experiences: they remained inexpressible: referred to as “it.” Yet, paradoxically, “it” fueled his rich imagination with stories and assuaged his psychic wound. Those privy to his spiritual depths relished his unique vision: living with unanswered questions before the silence of God.

In his memoir, Wiesel also reproduced parts of significant dialogs and lectures that reveal the breath of his wisdom and his attunement to his listeners. Dreams of his deceased family, in italics, also showed his respect for his unconscious, ever guiding him toward wholeness. He was also not without wry humor in his admission of foibles. So beneath this world citizen lived a simple man of passion who loved being husband to Marion and father to Elisha.

Yet Elie Wiesel’s witness to hatred, under the guise of anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and fanaticism, still flourishes—but not to worry. He has passed the baton on to us, with its imperative to root out such vestiges within our psyches. There is hope.

 

 

 

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