What first started out as a photojournalism project by two high school students documenting the stark similarities between Judaism and Islam has now evolved into a successful global non-profit that fosters important dialogues between Muslim and Jewish youth via the Internet. Mostafa Aghrib, 32, Director of Children of Abraham in Morocco, tells us that 160 students from 43 countries have graduated from its online program and have gone on to provide important interfaith awareness and connections. Learn more about Children of Abraham, its online program and how to get involved as we feature it in this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight.
Children of Abraham
Director of Children of Abraham-Morocco
El Jadida, Morocco
Computer Sciences and Management
Children of Abraham Morocco
Initiative of Change
Facilitator for a Muslim-Jewish youth dialogue group
The Second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace
Hommes de Parole
French Cultural Institute, Embassy of France in Morocco
Librarian in charge of religions books
Alliance Franco-Marocaine El Jadida Morocco
Moroccan / Muslim / Arab
How did Children of Abraham get started?
In the summer of 2003, two Orthodox Jewish high school students in New York, Sima Greenbaum and Eitan Hochster, set out to capture in photographs the most visually compelling similarities between Islam and Judaism. The idea for their project was conceived by Mr. Eli Epstein, an Orthodox Jew with many years of business experience in the Middle East, who had been struck by the profound similarities between the two faiths over the course of his many trips to predominantly Muslim countries.
Sima and Eitan’s work was made into a booklet that Mr. Epstein began to take with him on his travels, routinely receiving the same reaction from his Muslim colleagues of shock and bewilderment. Time and again, the reaction from Muslims abroad and Jews in his own community was the same. Seeing how Sima and Eitan had been transformed by participating in such a photographic exploration, Mr. Epstein imagined twenty students – ten Jewish and ten Muslim spread out all over the world engaging in a similar journey. He hired Ari Alexander, an American Jew, and Maria Ali-Adib a Syrian Muslim, to manage the international Internet-based summer project, which was called Children of Abraham.
Interest in the project from teenagers on six continents exceeded expectations and from July to August 2004, 61 students from 23 countries were selected to participate in what was designed as a one-time project, with the twin goals of providing a transformative experience for young Muslims and Jews to discover one another, and of publicizing the photographs taken of the two religions all over the world so that more adherents of each faith might view the other with more respect and less suspicion.
Based on the success of the summer project, Alexander and Ali-Adib decided to co-found Children of Abraham, Inc. in November 2004 and broadened the mission beyond the photo project. Children of Abraham was created to foster dialogue between Muslim and Jewish youth via the Internet. Matching gifts were solicited from Epstein and his long-time colleague, Mr. Mohamed Ali Alabbar of Dubai in order to establish an essential organizational precedent whereby funds supporting Children of Abraham would come from a balanced combination of Jewish sources and Muslim sources. Ali-Adib left the organization in September 2005 and was replaced by Gul Rukh Rahman from Pakistan, as Co-Executive Director.
The organization has graduated over 160 students from 43 countries from its online program. Alumni have gone on to host local photo exhibitions, write editorials in their local newspapers and recruit peers for subsequent groups.
Children of Abraham has been featured in media sources in Tunisia, Morocco, Iran, the Netherlands, France, Cyprus, Indonesia and the USA.
In 2007, the organization focused on the development of a pilot project in Morocco and the fourth version of our online Global Discovery Program, linking teenagers from Dubai, Damascus, Jakarta, Tehran, Marrakech, Riyadh, Moscow, Paris, New York, London and Montreal.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Since we are in the first phase of the project, our work day-to-day consists of gathering the efforts of all the dynamic actors &ndash government and civil society – for a neutral and effective implication in a project which will bring young Jews and Muslims together so that they reconnect with their common history and learn from each other; of the similarities and differences of Islam and Judaism; and developing greater respect for each other.
The common history of the two communities in Morocco constitutes not only a continuity of a common destiny since Andalusia but also a source of learning and inexhaustible lessons. The project of children of Abraham in Morocco is the first of its kind in the area of the Maghreb. It is the fruit of the efforts of Children of Abraham team and the encouragement from communities in over 40 countries.
Most notable milestones
Children of Abraham has graduated over 160 students from 43 countries from its interfaith dialogue online program. And the fourth version of our online Global Discovery Program is linking teenagers from Dubai, Damascus, Jakarta, Tehran, Marrakech, Riyadh, Moscow, Paris, New York, London and Montreal. I let you imagine how much the debate is rich and fruitful.
Concerning the pilot project face to face interfaith dialogue, we have the support of the Moroccan Government, and the very motivated and experienced local partners. It is true that we need and we will need financial assistance. We only wait to finish our administrative and legal steps in Morocco to solidify our project.
What makes this organization unique?
In addition to our approaches based on education – dialogue, discovery and respect for each other’s differences and our intensive programs. We apply our principles to ourselves. Our team is composed from Jews and Muslims and each decision-making job is occupied by two people, Jewish and Muslim in order to ensure neutrality but also integrations of the two ways of thinking in the decision-making and each step of the process of our activities. That brings us much more close to reality and allows us to apply and test our approaches on ourselves first.
Far from any claim, I think that for those who think that the Jews and the Muslims can never work and think the world together; our team is an example to be meditated.
We don’t adhere to the philosophy of those who believe they are illuminated, want to export their vision of the world and to impose it on others at all costs. In order for a work or a project is producer of sense and rewarded by a positive returns, it must take root in its background. It is absolutely necessary and wise that it takes into consideration the mechanisms, specificity and the socio-cultural heritage background.
For example, if we take the Children of Abraham pilot project in Morocco, The project is 100% Moroccan. The directors are Moroccans, the funds are Moroccans (50% Jews and 50% Moslems), the partners are Moroccans, the participants are Moroccans, and the history which we use as source of education aids is Moroccan.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Help emerging a courageous, bold and humanist generation released from its fears and able to solve the conflicts by the dialogue and not by violence and developing greater respect for human being.
What’s in store for the future?
We are faithful to our approach and we are preparing other projects which have the same objectives but for different contexts. We speak to you about them when these projects are ripe.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
The competitive edge is not our approach, but rather of alliances and partnerships. For us it is initially sharing the experiences creating an active network which has only to fight ignorance and fear, to educate the young generations to dialogue, discovery and the respect of the differences.
Guiding principle in life
Contrary to those who believe in “the other is the hell” the other is an important part of me . What would mean “Moroccan” if there were no another countries. What would mean “Muslim” if there were neither Jewish neither Christians nor other confessions. I think that it is the difference and not the indifference which allowed the richness of the human history. It is important to learn how to live with this difference and to assume it. We should not make a principle of it nor a philosophy or an ideal but a fact.
Yardstick of success
I do not have any receipt, it is simply necessary to listen his heart as much as one listens to his reason.
Goal yet to be achieved
to be with the height of my hopes concerning the education of my children
Best practical advice
An opening on the world and a permanent calling into question. The life itself of a man is an unaccomplished project, how can one believe that his works are?
What motivated you to get started?
The fact of seeing the public scene filled much more by the preachers of violence than humanists pushed me to pass from a passive vision to action.
It is a manner for me of thanking those whom were sacrificed for our good but also to take part even in a very symbolic way to bequeath something good to the next generations
Like best about what you do?
The nap of knowledge that I learn from those whom are different from me and the feeling to do a useful work which can serve the whole humanity.
Like least about what you do?
Spending a lot of energy asking for support. It is so sad to see that a lot of countries spend a lot of money without counting it for armament and wars, and that much NGO suffers from financial insufficiencies and moral supports to achieve their credible actions.
How do your past educational experiences tie in with your inter-faith outlook?
I’m self-educated in the fields of culture, religion and inter-religious dialogue. I regard that as the chance of my life because I was not drowned in ideological illusions, fatal concepts or fatalistic convictions that many school systems convey. I could myself choose my knowledge, thus I had a free access to the thesis and the antithesis.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What was your first job?
Selling cigarettes (at the age of 11 years old).
Biggest pastime outside of work
Learning, listing music and spending time with my family.
Person most interested in meeting and why?
Ban Ki-moon to ask him to reform the UN and give chance to other countries from Africa and Latin America to express their vision of the world.
Palestinian and Israeli leaders to remove the string courses which cover their eyes
Leader in business most interested in meeting and why?
The seven richest people of the world to ask them to invest themselves in the resolution of the conflicts, the dialogue between civilizations, the democratization of education and medical care.
After all, I do not require meeting them; if they adopt this message the whole humanity will be grateful to them.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I keep my word and honor my promises.
- I am an ex-musician but I’m always an amateur of Jazz and Blues.
- I was born in a country located at the intersection of the Orient and the Occident, the North and the South.
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
“Hayy ibn Yaqzân” by Mohammed ben Abd-el-Malik ben Tufayl el-Qaïci (Ibn Tufail 1110-1185) It’s a book commented by Moïse de Narbonne in 1349, translated into Latin by Edward Pococke (Oxford, 1671) under the title “Philosophus Autodidacticus.”
That the excluded civilizations have a place in the universal culture.
The resolution of the conflicts by the dialogue and the implication of the two parts in conflict in the process.
The democratization of the access to the knowledge.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Any person who believes that violence and ignorance are not things inherent in mankind, who believes that the sterility of the relation between the Jews and the Muslims is only the unhappy result of an ideological conditioning and the fruit of an ignorance occulted by each part from the other.
Any person who believes in the work of Children of Abraham and who wants to support and adopt its projects morally or financially. We need the help of all the active persons who can weigh on the balance of the change towards a fertile and assumed Jew-Muslim future.