A concert by the Arab Israeli band Siraj, a group whose members include both men and women, was targeted with a drive-by firebomb attack in the northern Israeli-Arab town of Umm al-Fahm on Saturday. No injuries were reported.
Tension was running high ahead of the show as conservative groups in the city denounced the lack of gender segregation in the band as well as in the audience. According to a source familiar with the probe, men riding motorcycles hurled firebombs at the hall where the concert was taking place and then drove away.
The band Siraj is known for its performances of classic Arabic favorites from musical greats such as Farid al-Atrash and Umm Kulthum. Their show was planned as part of a community center’s cultural programming, which has the financial support of the Israeli Culture Ministry.
The local association of imams took a stance against the event shortly after it was announced, not only because of men and women were performing together, but because men and women concertgoers would not be seated separately.
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Sheikh Mashour Fuaz, who has a doctorate in sharia — Islamic religious law — and serves as chairman of an association of mosque prayer leaders — imams — issued a statement on behalf of his fellow imans saying that they were not imposing their position on anyone but had the right to express their opinion about the event.
“We do not support events with mixed singing by male and female singers because it contravenes sharia rules and Islamic culture and the customs on which society is built in a city like Umm al-Fahm,” he stated.
The statement became the subject of vehement debate in social media and led to threats of violence. Religious residents have threatened in anonymous statements to prevent the concert from taking place, while other residents support it going ahead as scheduled.
Several leading academics who are residents of the city issued a statement condemning the imam association’s stance and wrote letters of support for the community center staff, urging them to proceed with the event.
Last May, a marathon race planned for Umm al-Fahm was cancelled under pressure from religious figures who objected to the lack of gender separation at the event. Arguments about mixed-gender musical and cultural events are fairly common in Arab communities in Israel.