Today was a very special day. I traveled to Abu Ghosh to witness the dedication, inauguration of the “Chechen” Mosque. President Ramzan Kadyrov came to open the event as Chechnya had contributed the majority of the funds to build the mosque. The atmosphere was most festive with the streets lined with Chechen and Russian flags and two young men dressed traditionally on horse-back.
A most curious welcoming sign greeted one, which hung outside the walls of the mosque:
“We are against Terror. We are for Peace”
The sign was strikingly strange to see in an Israeli Arab village. This sign carried the colors of the Chechen flag. It was in three languages: Chechen, Arabic and Hebrew. It was as if, to teach us that Chechnya’s President Ramzan Kadyrov was more interested in improving his image by delinking the Boston Marathon Attack carried out by two ethnic Chechen/Avar brothers, the Tsarnaevs, and his country. The Chechen jihadi has become a “brand” unto its own in terrorism.
However, given the local context, the sign carried significance and importance when one thinks about the Islamic movement and the Salafis, who are active throughout Israel. While a few of them were visible at the inauguration ceremony, they may have gotten Kadyrov’s message that they must stay away from incitement and violence against Israel. None were given a “front row seat” in the men’s section of the mosque to pray with Kadyrov.
Yet it is rather doubtful if Kadyrov, himself, was aware of the fact that the Palestinian Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Hussein was called to speak first after the Mayor of Abu Ghosh, Issa Jaber. Moreover, there was the troubling presence of two Palestinian delegates from the PA and the Jerusalem Waqf, which aimed to send the political message that — Abu Ghosh is part of Filastin.
Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Hussein spoke about the link between Jerusalem and the Jerusalem “wings” using the Arabic phrase aknaf Al Quds for the Chechen mosque. The Abu Ghosh mosque is now allegedly its wings. He also referred to Abu Ghosh and Palestine as Islamic land. He further reinforced this idea by resorting to the traditional Islamic expression of Abu Ghosh mosque being a fortress, in Arabic ribat. After the Sheikh, the Al Aksa preacher Abu Sneineh spoke about the link between the new mosque and Al Aksa as if it were his big brother.
Nevertheless and at the same time in order to appease his moderate hosts, Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Hussein managed to speak about co-existence by using its Arabic term — tasamuh. Yet this is tolerance between the religions rather than tolerance between the peoples. I saw only one Christian clergy and nun, who I surmised may have been from the Abu Ghosh monastery. There was no rabbi nor any other known non-Muslim Jew or Christian who spoke and of course, no women.
Kadyrov spoke in Chechen with a translator who translated into Arabic. And the only few words Kadyrov spoke in Arabic were: “Al-salam alaykum and Allahu Akbar.”
The atmosphere in Abu Ghosh was different from any other Arab town or village in the central and northern part of Israel. The inauguration was very festive with prayer following the ceremony, the presence of men without beards was noticeable. Unfortunately no high ranking official Israeli was present nor was Israel’s flag present. In fact the only time Israel was mentioned during the speeches was when the Mayor thanked “all those who came from Israel and outside Israel.”
The shape of the mosque combined modern decoration and architecture with Chechen and oriental motifs. Very interestingly there is a women’s section, with the sign in Hebrew Ulam Nashim, which is something relatively new in Israel. In order to get to the women’s section one had to walk along the external wall of the mosque following up a steep incline. The women’s section overlooking the central prayer hall similar to azarat nashim in non-Haredi synagogues. You could see the men. It seemed to me, too, that the women followed the prayer of the men by looking on from this balcony rather than having their own leader in prayer, though I may be wrong. The women were very kind and curious. They kept on asking me repeatedly if I were Chechen. In my youth I easily passed for being Latina and then when I finally studied Hebrew and Ladino, I learned the word “morenica” and today I was “Chechenit” – go figure.