The following is adapted from an address delivered by Her Excellency Shamma Sohail AlMazrui to the Jewish Community of the Emirates at a Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat, Friday September 25, 2020:
Good evening and good Shabbos to you all. My heart is truly full, yet I’ll insufficiently express what an honor it is to be here with you. With Chief Rabbi Lau, Rabbi Genack, Chief Rabbi Sarna and all the Jewish community from far and wide and all those who call the UAE their home as well. And thank you to the Jewish Community of the Emirates for welcoming me.
This is a humbling occasion for me, warming and weighted, in light of this special Abraham Accord between our people and the redemptive start of the Jewish New Year. And I enter it with a prayer, a prayer that our nations continue to embrace the world as it is but move forward together.
I’ve experienced Shabbos or Shabbat from afar. While in New York, seeing my Jewish friends practice their rituals as pathways to peace, completeness and wholeness, they made resting on the seventh day seem as logical as it is spiritual. It modeled the basic human quest for peace and how we are more alike than different. It reminded me personally of the saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who said faith wears out in the heart just as our clothes wear out, therefore ask Allah to renew faith in our hearts.
There is a powerful similarity to Islam when my friends performed Shabbat because it was a constant reminder for them to go back to God for peace, for provision, for a lot of thanksgiving. And you are all teaching me and us in the UAE a new way for Allah to renew our faith and peace in our hearts and if anything I truly admire learning from many who are close to God or Hashem or Allah, because we get our strength and peace from God, and we can share that strength with one another.
We need one another because we can’t simply think our way to peace, we must practice peace as an active practice and trust in its receiving. And we all have an opportunity now to be steady while the world is spinning around us. While I’m young and restless myself, I’m coming to see that stillness and peace is the key to, well, about just everything in our lives: To be a better parent, to be a better artist, to be a better spouse, to be a better investor, to be a better athlete, to be a better scientist, to be a better neighbor, to be a better even human being and to unlock all that we’re capable of in this life. And this, I see, is the wisdom of Shabbos. This is the power of the pause, which makes the invisible visible.
To make something visible, we first have to go inside to understand what is in us, what’s invisible: our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our pain, our judgments, our love. And then we put those into action.
This is a special Shabbat. This is Shabbat after Rosh Hashanah, and after the peace accord, and also it’s a Shabbat before Yom Kippur. And the significance of this alignment must propel us forward to take new steps. To first look inward and begin again.
I was blown away in learning about teshuva, about returning to oneself in the core values and practice of peace as an individual and as a community. And now with the start of the year, we have a perfect call to shake out old fixed ways, to review who we want to be as individuals and as nations. A time of truth telling, a time to do the work within ourselves. A time to shake it up. It’s also a time to look at parts of ourselves that we don’t like, that we’re not proud of. It can be a time of forgiveness of self and others, a time of compassion to others and ourselves.
I’m grateful for this holy holiday’s call for us to be present, to let the muddy waters of our daily lives be cleared. I find being present is one of the hardest things in the world. It requires stillness and reflection and it invites us to return to ourselves, at one, with God as our compass. The simple beauty of this season, inviting us to be present. And from this presence, we can meet the world to bring these values to life, to try again to renew our commitment to them and to hopefully join with others to achieve more than we could together in these values than we can apart.
Making the invisible visible
You all have my commitment to bring my utmost to the work of building bridges. And with your help we can inspire, equip and empower young people in our nations to work together, to build new channels of communication and pathways to partnership and prosperity, to make the invisible visible. The United Arab Emirates is committed to making the invisible visible through our deep commitment to inclusion, diversity, hope, love, tolerance, peaceful coexistence. And we see values — our values and our commitment to them — as our core strength. We’re a nation aspiring to make inclusion, love and peace verbs.
Maybe some of you have heard only recently about the UAE’s pathway to peace, but it’s been underway for years with many nations, with sons and brothers of Abraham in the region and around the world, whether it’s the Abrahamic Family House and the synagogue in Dubai, the first Special Olympics for including people with disabilities, the Louvre in Abu Dhabi and so many more, establishing a Ministry of Tolerance and Peaceful Coexistence that laid the groundwork for these paths forward. If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that the United Arab Emirates doesn’t stick to the status quo. We take radical risks that give us high returns on investment, like investing in young people, like investing in peace, and this requires costly maverick paths that were not traveled before.
This is the holiday of transformation or the holiday of awe, and what I found so powerful about the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the culmination of this reflective period and a time of very deep forgiveness, really starting fresh with oneself and with others, a time for our region, and its relationships to transform; a time of commitment to making the elements of transformation, to making the peace agreements come to life.
Expanding our circle of love
When I think of what I want to learn about and what we could do together, they are one and the same. How can we first set best practices and models of inclusion for peace, for love, for harmony? How can we ensure that we expand our circle of love and understanding to its fullest circumference? And how can our work between Islam, between Judaism, between the Abraham Accord, be a true pathway from being egocentric to other-centered to cosmo-centric?
One way we can do this is with and through and for young people. I work with a generation of youth that has the power to transform our values into verbs. Love is the basis of our faith relationships to Allah, to Hashem, to God. If He is large enough to contain our world, He is certainly large enough to contain our differences. And in this day and age, I personally believe that love is what the family of Abraham needs the most.
Not only could this peace accord be a model for active peaceful coexistence and a place to challenge assumptions, but it’s going to be a model of brotherly and sisterly love. A chance for us to become a family bonded simply by being part of the human race. And I’m so excited to join in this human race with my Jewish neighbors who want to do the same.
My dream is that peaceful coexistence will become a conversation across faith denominations, disciplines and generations. We don’t know what bonds will be broken or what barriers will be broken, but I have faith that they will be beyond our imagination, that there’s going to be more bonds that will be born. I have hope that the movement stirred by the Abraham Accord will not only be the beginning of radical tolerance and radical love in our region and the world, but that it will change it.
We can build better bridges with different ideals and values that we also share. May our common humanity unite us and may our common faith in a brighter future heal this wounded world.
And perhaps in our return as brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of Abraham, we just might have the prime window right now to make the invisible visible. And deep in my heart. I know it to be so. As we all break bread today, or challah tonight, in celebration of God’s peace and provision, can we commit to exploring how we may do this together, how we may return again to a beginner’s mind in childlike innocence with our hearts, with our doors, with our minds wide open? I know I’m ready.
Please consider me a new student of the Jewish tradition and wisdom, your values, your ethics that guide you through a full year of weekly Torah portions. I want to learn from you today. Our youth want to learn from you. Our nation wants to learn from different nations. And likewise, we invite you to come sit with us at the table.
And by the ending of the Shabbat, and also for the exciting experiences coming up, I know I for one will leave with impressions that will shape my life, my children’s lives, and will also share my future towards intentionality and significance.
Shabbat shalom and salam alaikum and may God bless us all.