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Jawaharlal Nehru University’s teacher of Hebrew

The Times of India, Jan 24 2016

Mohammed Wajihuddin

Only Hebrew teacher in Indian univ is a Muslim

He has prayed in synagogues and observed the Sabbath, Judaism's day of rest, and enjoyed crispy falafel on the streets of Jerusalem. A map of Israel hangs in his study where Yasser Arafat shares space with David Ben-Gurion. And he doesn't mind if his 10-year-old daughter greets him with `Shalom' instead of Assalam Alaikum'.` Meet Dr Khurshid Imam, a devout Muslim and the only teacher of Hebrew at a university in India, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The bearded, sku l cap-donning Imam hopes for a new dawn n India-Israel ties, which received a boost with foreign mini ter Sushma Swaraj's West Asia visit last nlike most Muslims week. Unlike most Muslims who look upon Jews with suspicion -just as most Jews don't trust Muslims -this assistant professor of Hebrew at the Centre of Arabic and African Studies doesn't harbour any animosity . And he wants to use Hebrew, the ancient language in which the sacred Torah was revealed, to bring Jews and Muslims closer. The cause of animosities between Muslims and Jews is political. Religion is a pawn in the hands of politicians who don't want adherents of the two Abrahamic religions cementing ties,“ said Khurshid Imam, 46, whose unique distinction “baffles“ many of his co-religionists brought up on a heavy dose of hatred for Jews. “Many call me `Mossad agent' among Indian Muslims, a Zionist promoter and some even jokingly call me `nek Yahudi' (benevolent Jew) because of my passion for Hebrew,“ laughs Imam, third among six siblings who grew up in Gopalganj, Bihar, and went to Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1998. He stayed there till 2000 post-M Phil at JNU.

“Government of Israel scholarship and Golda Meir scholarship funded my cour ses in Hebrew and study of the Modern Middle East,“ he said. “I wanted to learn Hebrew to understand Judaism and find commonalities between Islam and Judaism.“

He also wanted to conform to a hadith (tradition) of Prophet Muhammad, who is believed to have asked some of his companions to learn Hebrew. “If the Prophet encouraged Muslims to learn Hebrew, who are clerics and community leaders to issue fatwa against those who visit Israel?“ he asked.

Despite apprehensions of friends and family , Imam chose to stay amid Jewish students who he discovered were not as “rabidly antiMuslim“ as many paint them to be.

“Many Jews first thought I was a non-Arab Muslim jihadist plotting to bomb their establishments. Similarly , Arab Muslims in Israel and Palestine mistook me for a Zionist disguised as a practising Muslim. Once, some kids even threw stones at me, shouting, “Yahud, Yahud“ (Jew, Jew). I was moved when several Jewish friends wept when I left Jerusalem,“ recalled Imam.

He is, however, disappointed by the “cold“ response from several Indian universities to his proposal for teaching Hebrew. “Khurshid's efforts are laudable and I believe Indian universities should open their doors to Hebrew because languages help build bridges between people,“ said S A Rahman, retired professor of Arabic who mentored Imam at JNU.

See also

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)

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