“Our time on earth is temporary. If I won’t try to find out who you are, how will I know who I am?”
That’s a translation of the song that stayed in my head long after I heard it. But I didn’t remember it for the lyrics. I learned those afterwards.
I remember the song because of the twenty teenagers who sang it that night in Jerusalem. “Not Everything is from Allah” is a pop song by Israel’s popular rapper, Erez “E-Z” Sharon. The kids’ matching jeans and white shirts made it clear they were a choir. They moved and sang as a well-rehearsed group.
But they were clearly having fun. They clearly liked the song they were singing. They took turns stepping up into the spotlight in pairs, singing and rapping at the mic, then stepping back into the group so the next pair could step forward.
They may have been dressed alike as a choir, but their white tennis shoes, neon trainers and kitten heels, their long hair, short spiky dyed hair, and hijab, were all expressions of their natural teenage individuality, which gave the performance its personality.
You would never have guessed that these were teenagers from two separate choirs who were performing together as one group for the very first time that night. These Jewish and Arab teenagers had not known each other before rehearsing together. They each had their own choir, with their own directors, who decided to have them sing together. And now they looked like one experienced choir.
The lyrics of the chorus made it plain: “Not everything is from Allah. If we don’t accept each other, even the One Above won’t save us from ourselves. Not everything is from Allah.” You could translate that message into the language of any faith.
I had been doing at lot of translating on that trip. I was in Jerusalem with a group of Christian leaders from the US, studying the scripture with rabbis in Jerusalem at the Shalom Hartman Institute. We were a mixed bag of Christians ourselves - Catholic scholars, Baptist ethicist, Latina chaplain, Orthodox priest - and now we were in another country together meeting Muslim leaders, Israeli politicians, Jewish feminists, secular artists, a Palestinian jurist and Torah scholars who spoke more languages than I had heard of. At the end of the day, my brain was hurting and my head was too full of words to find meaning in anything. What was I meant to learn here.
Somehow that choir’s song came through with just what I needed to hear. “Not everything is from Allah.”
Is God responsible for everything? No, not hate. We do that ourselves.
Does Jesus cause wars? No, we Christians came up with the Crusades all on our own, after which the church had the nerve to give the Prince of Peace all the credit.
Does Allah create terrorism? No, human beings invent torture all by ourselves, in sad soulless moments in every time and culture.
So does religion itself cause war? No. We do that too, religious and non religious alike. It’s just that religious people have been known to make God look particularly repulsive to non religious people by saying that our religion put us up to the war in the first place.
But sometimes we human beings get it right when it comes to religion. For religion, at its best, calls us to take responsibility, for those things we have done which we ought not to have done, and for leaving undone those things which we ought to have done. Sometimes in worship that is a moment of confession. Sometimes, outside of the halls of worship, it comes to us in a moment of art, beauty or music.
Like that moment in Jerusalem when I heard those teenagers from two different choirs sing as one. From two different religions, they didn’t try to all be alike, but here’s what they could confidently sing together, ”Not everything is from Allah.”
They didn’t share a religion, but they shared a core truth. Those kids knew more about a life of faith than many adults do. And now they were teaching us. Whatever you call God, don’t ever ascribe hate to God’s holy name.