Meetings of the Students' Environmental Interfaith Encounter:
During the second semester of the academic year we had 5 meetings of the students' environmental interfaith encounter group. As you may recall, the first meeting dealt with "The Tree", the second in "Water" from the Jewish perspective and the third in "Water" from the Muslim perspective.
After a long break, due to holidays, national days and university vacations, we came back to the fourth encounter on May 31st. In this meeting we dealt with the attitude towards animals in the two religions. From Islam we met Hadiths that portray Muhammad's reference to animals. For example: it is told that once he went with his friends and they took a nest with eggs. The mother-bird suffered so much that Muhammad ordered his friends to return the nest. This Hadith is parallel to the commandment in Deuteronomy that forbids taking the nest with the eggs or chicks when the mother is there.
We also discussed the relations between humans and animals according to the creation story. We read the description of the creation of the human in Genesis. Pinchas pointed out that when referring to human there are expressions like master or dominion, while they do not appear referring to other creatures. We asked the (sad) question whether humans are busy dominating the world instead of being part of it? Is human superiority being abused?
Both Koran and Torah are strict in their prohibition to harm animals with no reason. In Leviticus it is commanded for a human who sees a donkey loaded with heavy load, to help the donkey even if the owner of the donkey is hated by him. In a Hadith that Rasha brought we saw that the Prophet said: "ride animals without hurting them … for the animal can be better than the one riding it and to mention God more than him".
During the conversation a wide variety of issues, such as vegetarianism, raising animals at home, and many other issues, that sometimes deviated from the main theme of the conversation. But this, that happens a lot as a result of a free and spontaneous conversation, enables us to get to know more and more about the parallel culture, and sometimes to get to know other views in our own culture.
The last encounter in the semester took place on June the 14th. In this encounter we dealt with the relations between God, human and the world. A Jewish text that condemns loans with interest was brought. It refers to a world where all work in harmony. Every one of the elements of nature lends to the other and they do not take interest from each other. For example: "Day borrows from night and night from day – and they do not discuss this between them as humans do". According to this source the whole of creation gives and receives in a harmonious way, but the humans take interest and thus harm this harmony. According to the continuation of the text, God created the world in an act of generosity, he lends us our life, but does not take interest for that - but with death the soul returns to him. In contrast, human lends and wants to profit on the expense of the other.
In the discussion we learned that the whole of the creation of the world, as an act of giving and generosity of God, obliges the human to behavior that is full of humility and veneration for the world and for the other.
This understanding came also from the Sura of Noah that Rasha brought. In this Sura it is stressed how God created the human one stage after the other and how he created the whole world and that creation itself commits the human to be loyal and devoted to God.
From the Sura of the Night Journey we saw a manifestation to the fact that the human is superior to all creatures.
In fact, our summarizing conversation went around the place of the human in the world. Is he above the rest of creation or equal to it? The creation of the world, the rain (as mentioned in the Sura of Noah and as came up in previous discussions), the plants and the animals are constant reminders for the human to live with humility in front of the creation and in front of the creator. As a result, the human have to act in respect and in charity towards other people, and those who are poor, as all humans are partners to enjoy the creation.
Noa Milikowsky & Rasha Abu Arshid