Islam & Judaism
If any other religion has the most common aspects with Islam, it is Judaism. Both, being strictly Monotheist religious traditions; originating in a Semitic Middle Eastern culture. Rabbi David Rosen writes,” As opposed to Christianity which is very much the product of an interaction between Greek and Hebrew culture, Judaism has historically remained overwhelmingly rooted in its Semitic world view and is extremely similar to Islam in its fundamental religious outlook, structure, jurisprudence and practice.” There are many others, common in both religions like Judaism and Islam are unique in having systems of religious law based on oral tradition that can override the written laws and that does not distinguish between holy and secular spheres.
The most obvious common practice is the statement of the absolute unity of God, which Muslims observe in their five times daily prayers (Salah), and Jews state at least twice (Shema Yisrael), along with praying 3 times daily. The two faiths also share the central practices of fasting and almsgiving, as well as dietary laws and other aspects of ritual purity. Under the strict dietary laws, lawful food is called Kosher in Judaism and Halal in Islam. Both religions prohibit the consumption of pork. Halal restrictions are similar to a subset of the Kashrut dietary laws, so many kosher foods are considered Halal.
Both Islam and traditional Judaism ban homosexuality and forbid human sexual relations outside of marriage and necessitate abstinence during the wife’s menstruation. Both practice circumcision for males.
Historically Jews enjoyed best treatment under Islamic rules only. Mitchell Bard wrote, “While Jewish communities in Arab and Islamic countries fared better overall than those in Christian lands in Europe”. There are numerous historically narrated facts which elaborates Muslim rule, always attracts Jews. For example, after 912, during the reign of Abd-ar-Rahman III the Jews migrated from Africa to Spain in the wake of Muslim conquest and prospered, devoting themselves to the services of Caliphate of Cordoba, and to the study of science, and to commerce and industry, especially to trading. Jewish economic expansion was unparalleled. In Toledo, Jews were involved in translating Arabic texts to the romance languages, as well as translating Greek and Hebrew texts into Arabic. Jews also contributed to botany, geography, medicine, mathematics, poetry and philosophy.
Jews in Karachi
The Bene Israel were first reported in the West in a 1768 letter from Yechezkel Rahabi of Cochin to his Dutch business partner, Tobias Boas. Rahabi indicated that there were Jews known as Bene Israel throughout the Maharatta province, which today is the Indian state of Maharashtra. 19th century, Bene Israel migrated from the western part of Maharashtra to nearby cities, chiefly Bombay, but also Poona, Ahmadabad and Karachi, the later in present day Pakistan. At this time the main occupation of the Bene Israel was oil pressing. The Bene Israel were also known as Shaniwar Telis or Saturday Oil Pressers because they did not work on Saturdays 1893, a Bene Israel, Solomon David Umerdekar, inaugurated the Karachi Magen Shalom Synagogue on the corner of Jamila Street and Nishtar Road.
In areas, comprising today’s Pakistan had about 153 Jews, mostly living in Karachi by 1818, the number increased to 650 in 1919. At the time of emergence of Pakistan, there were approximately 2500 Jews living in Karachi only with one Synagogue named Magain Shalome. Another account describes the number of 400 Jewish people living in Karachi in 1959. A member of Jewish Family who migrated to Israel in late 80s, Mr. Emanuel Matat said, “When my father got married in 1957 in Karachi, there were 600 Jewish families living in Karachi. There were 10 – 13 families left by 1972. Actually in 1970 the Jews of Pakistan were offered to leave to America and that’s the main reason that time many of the community left”. The total population of Jewish community in subcontinent was about thirty thousand by that time. Also, two Jewish cemeteries are reported to me during my quest about the Jewish presence in Karachi. Another account, details the activities of Jews in Karachi by Jonathan Marder.
My family has a strong connection with Karachi, and probably accounted for most of the very small community of European Jews there. My great-grandfather, Simon Wyse, ran the Great Western Hotel, and my grandparents ran the Killarney Hotel there. The Killarney was first housed in a building that later served as the Russian Consulate which, I believe, has been restored as part of the Bay View School.
In the early 1930’s the hotel moved to a ‘palace’ built by a Parsi entrepreneur and was renamed the ‘Killarney Hotel, Marder’s Palace’. The building was, unfortunately, demolished in the 1970s. In its place stands the modern Sheraton Hotel.
My father grew up in Karachi before going to school in England, and went back in 1939 to serve in the Indian Army during the War. He now lives in the UK. One of his aunts married Moses Somake, an Iraqi Jew who, I have learnt, was one of Karachi’s leading architects. One of his buildings is the Flagstaff House that later became the home of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.”
Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to visit Karachi, but have heard many of my father’s and grandparents’ stories. I am in touch with many of our relatives, including Somake’s descendents.
Jewish community has been regarded as among the most prominent, respected communities in Pakistan. Records of Jewish presence are found in various historic documents of Colonial rule. For example, J.W. Smyth records in “Gazetteer of the province of Sindh, Karachi district,” about education schools in Karachi,
The number on the rolls in the English branch in March 1916 was 350, nearly all being Mahomedans, though some Hindus and a few Jews are admitted… St Patrick’s school was started in 1861 by the Reverend J. Wily, Roman Catholic chaplain, as a mixed school for boys and girls, and was conducted in his own quarters… A few Hindus, Mussalmans, Parsis and Jews attend…
The origin of the Church Mission High School was a private school started by Major Preedy, collector of Karachi, long before government moved in the matter of education. The number on the roll in March 1916 was 417, of whom 256 were Hindus, 77 Brahmins, 32 Jains, 35 Mussalmans, nine native Christians, two Parsis and six Jews… The number of students in the arts branch [of the Dayaram Jethmal Sind College] in 1915-16 was 268, of whom 181 were Hindus, nine Brahmins, 38 Mahomedans, 19 Parsis, 18 Europeans and Eurasians and two Jews.”
Jewish Migration to Israel
Today, it is being recorded that the Jews of Karachi, left to Israel due to anti-Semitism but the actual picture has much different shape. Historic records are showing that Jewish community in Karachi has been enthusiastic supporters of Israel and Zionism that, in its broadest sense, calls for the self-determination of the Jewish people and a sovereign, Jewish national homeland.
One of the leaders of the Jewish community, “Abraham Reuben, who was elected the first Jewish councillor on the city corporation in 1919, wrote to acting Belgian Consul in Bombay and Head of Zionists in Bombay (Mr. Israel Cohen, the secretary of the World Zionist Organization in 1921,described him as unofficial head of Zionists in Bombay). Mr. Abraham Reuben expressed, on behalf of Bene Israel community of 650 people living in Karachi, entire sympathy with Zionist movement. The community would decide on forming a branch association of Universal Zionist Organization when it had more information, and he therefore requested more details about the movement, suggesting that he might also meet Zionist representatives when he was in London the following May”. Reuben wrote at his letter head, president of the All India Israelite League. Later, Karachi Community of Jews appointed Reuben to proceed to the Holy Land to report on the practical possibilities of Zionism.
“In August 1920, David I. Rogow of New York gave a lecture on Zionism to about one hundred Bene Israel in Bombay, exhorting his audience to form themselves into a Zionist Organization as a practical way to help the movement, which American Jews, he stated, were supporting. This call seemed to be the push they (Indian Jews) needed: less than a month later, Zionist sympathisers held another meeting, resolved unanimously a Bene Israel Zionist association, and appointed a committee to draft a constitution, with Dr. E Moses as president and Jacob Apteker as treasurer. D. M. Samuel, the secretary immediately wrote to the Zionist organization in London requesting a copy of its constitution, a statement of its aims and objectives, and advice on how the Bene Israel branch could affiliate to it. Pleased that the “present great moment in Jewish history was appreciated in Bombay,” the head office expressed the hope that the Indian Jews would “do their utmost in collecting a large fund towards the rebuilding of Palestine and thus assist in redemption of our people. (P150)
“In May 1936 Abraham Reuben, vice president of the Karachi Jewish community, has inquired whether Bene Israel were permitted to settle in Eretz Israel……. Joseph Sargon reassured him that there were no restrictions on Bene Israel immigration” (P194).
(The Jewish communities of India: identity in a colonial era By Dr. Joan G. Roland. She is a chair and professor of history at Pace University in New York City. She received her Ph.D. in Middle Eastern History from Columbia University. )
Israel Goldstein a rabbi, author, Zionist leader and one of the founders of Brandeis University, narrated the enthusiasm of Jewish Community of Karachi towards relocation to Israel in his book “My world as a Jew”(P 20-21) in following words,
“From Burma, we flew on to Karachi (in 1959)…… We received a warm welcome from tiny local Jewish community. On the evening after our arrival in Karachi, some 250 of the 400 souls whom it comprised, including young people and school children, assembled in Magain Shalome Synagogue, which had been erected in 1893. The meeting was followed by a reception in an adjoining hall, where the president of the congregation extended greetings. We were happy to learn that many of the young people of going to Israel, by way of India, in order to train in hakhsharot for agricultural settlement there. A remarkable high spirit was maintained by the community, which had a great asset in the Israeli shaliah, who taught Hebrew to adults and children alike”.
He continued his narration about the religious freedom of Jews,
Their cantor lead the singing of Israeli songs, and the evening concluded with Hatikvah. I was impressed by the fact that Hatikvah, the Zionist and Israeli national anthem was sung with the windows the hall wide open”. Above evidences are enough to understand the fact that Jewish community of Karachi was not forced to leave Karachi because of increasing anti-semitism but it was their own enthusiasm and interest to migrate to Israel. Mr. Israel Goldstein, described the fact that many Jews promptly left for India, whence they proceeded to Israel. For most Jews of Pakistan, this was the standard Aliyah (the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel) route. To help and care for the Olim (Migrant to Israel), the Jewish agency maintained offices in Bombay, India where such immigrants first arrived from Karachi.
Anti – Judaism or hatred towards Jews, being the reason behind Karachite Jewish Community’s Aliyah, in particular is not truth because in general Sub-continent has its historic characteristics of sectarianism, founded back in Hinduism and its religious and social norms. Caste based divisions in India which can be traced back thousands of years has influenced the entire subcontinent’s society and religions significantly. It developed hatred and unrest towards the different groups of every society and religions. Jewish communities of subcontinent were also affected by the caste system. Dr. Joan G. Roland narrated these effects in his books as,
Even if one thinks of Indian Jews as a whole as a castelike group, one can also see the overtones of the caste system in relation within and between the Jewish communities themselves. The Cochin Jews had three endogamous castelike groups – “black” “White” and “Brown” that did not interdine and intermarry. Bene Israel also distinguished between Kala (Black) and Gora (White) Jews. In both cases the questions of ancestry, or descent, were important”. (P4)
As Pakistani society have its historic roots and influences of Hindu extremism towards rival ethnic, religious and linguistic groups everywhere. Islamic Religious groups, ethnic and social groups remain violent to each other often and to other religions some times. Hence after the Israel’s emergence in 1948 and Arab – Israel war lead the Islamic groups of Pakistan agitate resulting “local agitators led a riotous mob into the Synagogue (Magain Shalome), where the Holy Ark and the Torah scrolls were desecrated” [My world as a Jew (P21)]. But it is unfair calling this act the bases of Jewish community’s relocation to Israel. Also the Holy Ark and Torah Scrolls were not desecrated as reported by The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora, (Ed. Avrum Ehrlich), (ABC -CLIO, Santa Barbara, 2008),
“1989, the original Ark and podium were stored by a non-Jew in Karachi; a Torah scroll case was taken by an American Jewess to the US. In 2004 she donated synagogue registers covering the period 1961-1976 to the Ben-Zvi Institute Library in Jerusalem. ”