Tunisian Jews and Muslims Host a Celebration of Coexistence

Sophia Lauer, Contributor

Ghriba, the oldest synagogue in Africa, was the site of united celebrations of love and peace between Tunisia’s Jews and Muslims during the week of May 7th.

Ghriba, located on the Tunisian island of Djerba, was hit by an al Qaeda truck bomb in 2002, killing 21 people. Since that tragic event, the residents of Djerba have made it their mission to support religious tolerance, reports Reuters.

“This is a peaceful island that embraces its Jews and Muslims in harmony, giving a message to the world that we must abandon hatred and hostility,” said Tunisian Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, shaking hands with a rabbi.

The Jewish community of Tunisia has existed since Roman times and once numbered over 100,000, and remains one of the largest Jewish populations of Africa with about 2,000 people. 1,200 of those Jews live on Djerba, and intermingle peacefully with Tunisian Muslims, exchanging visits and gifts at religious events and weddings.

At the entrance to the synagogue, Makrem Gaagaa, a young muslim, was responsible for handing out headscarves to those who need one. “It’s my job and my livelihood,” he said. “My relationship with everyone who visits this place is good, they have their religion and I have my religion.”

Among the frequent religious conflicts of Africa, the Djerba community is a rare example of prosperous intermingling of religions and cultures. “All my customers are Muslims and they love my work,” said Mgissis Chabeh, a Jewish tailor who has worked for decades primarily sewing traditional Muslim garments.

In the same neighborhood, a popular Jewish restaurant offers menus in Hebrew and Arabic. “In the old city there are many Jews,” said chef Gabriel Yahich. “We cook meals for them that are compatible with the Jewish religion, but we also offer traditional meals accepted by the Muslims.”

After the synagogue was hit with gas bombings during government protests in January, the Jewish and Muslim communities working in harmony are an encouraging sign of moving onward and upward as a united society.