WHIM (What Inspires Me) is a weekly post by Cathy Gardner, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton. Each week Cathy will discuss current events, important news stories and all things related to Jewish Federations and the Dayton Jewish community.
Last night, Judy Abromowitz and I traveled to Cincinnati for the American Jewish Committee’s Annual Meeting. AJC is the leading global Jewish advocacy organization. They work hard every day to fight anti-Semitism and support Israel as a sovereign nation.
The meeting was wonderful. The highlight of the evening was when the guest speaker, Mohammad Al Samawi, shared his story. Born in Yemen in 1986 to a very successful family of doctors, Mohammed was a devout Muslim raised to think of Christians and Jews as his enemy.
Early on, Mohammed knew he was different. He was born with a birth defect that caused him to partially lose use of his one of his arms and legs. Unfortunately, his disability made him an easy target for teasing. In an effort to help her son, Mohammed’s mom suggested he do something that other children would admire, in an effort to minimize the focus on his disability. So Mohammed set out to learn English.
As a young adult, Mohammed met a man who was visiting from the UK. They became friendly. When the man was preparing to return home, Mohammed wanted to give him a gift as a token of the friendship. The most meaningful gift he could think of was to teach the man about Islam in the hopes that he would become a Muslim, so Mohammed gave the man a Koran. The man told Mohammed, “I will read your Koran if you read my Bible.”
As Mohammed read the Bible, he connected with the first five books ~ the Torah. Everything he had believed about Christians and Jews changed as he read. It was through this process that Mohammed decided to make connections with people of other faiths through Facebook. He became an activist in Yemen, promoting cooperation and peace.
Because of his new position, Mohammed became the target of threats. So he relocated to the south of Yemen. However, he found himself in the middle of a civil war after relocating. As the situation grew more dangerous, Mohammed decided to reach out to his friends on Facebook for help, many of whom were Israelis and Jews from around the world. Several people jumped into action and were able to help extract him from this dire situation. He credits AJC for helping him get out of Yemen.
Mohammed’s story was riveting. He has gone on to share his harrowing tale in the book The Fox Hunt. In addition, one of the producers of La La Land is now producing a movie based upon Mohammed’s experiences. The screenplay is being written by Josh Singer, screenwriter of Spotlight.
I was so inspired by Mohammed. Because of his disability, he set off on an alternative life path. Through that journey he was able to connect with people of different faiths and was able to reassess his beliefs about people who were different from him. And these people, who barely knew Mohammed, helped him in his greatest time of need not because of what he believed, but because he was a human being.
In the midst of conflict, I hope we can all strive to be like Mohammed and his rescuers, and work toward understanding and peace.