Members of a Muslim sect that translated parts of the Koran into Yiddish are marking 25 years since that translation was published.
The president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Israel, Muhammad Sharif Odeh, said the group translated select parts of the Koran into Yiddish in order to present a different face of Islam. In addition, said Odeh, "We decided we had to make sure that our neighbors could also read the Koran."
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Islamic community that believes the Messiah has come. Adherents believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, born in 1835, was the "metaphorical second coming of Jesus ... whose advent was foretold by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad," according to the website. "God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace," say believers.
There are some 2,000 Ahmadiyya Muslims in Israel; most of them reside in Haifa's Kababir neighborhood. The sect says it has tens of millions of followers in more than 200 countries.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community translated parts of the Koran into Yiddish in 1987. The sect chose Yiddish, one of 100 languages into which it has translated parts of the sacred book of Islam, so that "Yiddish speakers who wanted to know about us would be able to do so without language being an obstacle," Odeh explained.
The decision to translate the Koran into Yiddish was made by the community's religious leader at the time, the fourth Caliph, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, who was living then in Pakistan. The current Caliph, the fifth, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, resides in the United Kingdom.
Odeh said the particular selections that were translated show that Islam is "not the way it is presented in Afghanistan." He noted, for example, "Before the Koran, women did not have rights. The Koran gives women full protection on the spiritual level and gives her an independent status." Odeh has been head of the local Ahmadiyya community for 13 years.
Most Israelis know little about the sect, which is considered peaceful and non-proselytizing. Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav has gone so far as to call them "Reform Arabs." The community's motto is "Love for all, hatred for none."
"You don't hear about us because we don't throw rocks at buses," Odeh said. "We believe that nothing can be achieved through hatred and hostility." He said he is very worried about the talk of a possible war with Iran, and that the Caliph recently appealed to all world leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to avoid a war. "Netanyahu didn't respond, Queen Elizabeth actually did," Odeh reported.
Odeh said the concept of secularism is foreign to the Ahmadiyya community. "Everyone prays, some come to the mosque and others pray at home." Believers express their faith in concrete ways as well. Wealthier members tithe at least 10 percent of their monthly income to the community; everyone else gives six percent. The sect does not accept government funds, on principle. One quarter of the money collected from local members is passed on to fund the sect's international activities.
Kababir is considered a mixed neighborhood, with a significant minority of Jews in addition to the Ahmadiyya majority, and city officials view it as a model of coexistence.
"Haifa is an example par excellence of living together," Odeh said, adding, "It's not coexistence, it's monoexistence, as it were. What is coexistence? In my view it's when everyone keeps their distinctiveness and does not seek to assimilate. Residents of the neighborhood don't feel different, it's a matter of education, that's the idea of Ahmadiyya." According to Odeh, there is a growing trend of West Bank Palestinians joining the Ahmadiyya community.
"Ideology is not fought with weapons," he said. "Even if you're under occupation Islam does not allow you to hurt others. Nothing can be solved with hatred."