An interfaith gathering of Jews, Christians and Muslims took place at Temple Beth Tikvah Feb. 24 to listen to the story of Mohammed Al Samawi, a peace activist, refugee and author. In attendance were members of Beth Tikvah and Temple Emanu-El, Congregations Beth Shalom and Or VeShalom, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist churches and two mosques.
Al Samawi’s book, “The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America,” was featured at the Atlanta Jewish Book Festival in November. It is billed as the story of “four strangers, three faiths and one extraordinary escape to freedom.” One of the four strangers in the book, who helped Al Samawi escape war-torn Yemen, is an Atlantan and graduate of The Weber School. In 2015, Al Samawi’s life was in danger as rebel forces surrounded his apartment building in the city of Aden and airstrikes occurred overhead. Al-Qaeda checkpoints were established throughout the city. His cry for help on Facebook was answered by four young adults of diverse faiths. His Facebook friends leveraged their networks, and, through a ride on a fishing boat, Al Samawi made his way to Djibouti, Africa, where he applied for a visa. An online friend redeemed his frequent-flyer miles for a one-way business class ticket to the U.S. (although a visa requires a roundtrip ticket).
Al Samawi was detained briefly in Germany, until immigration officials finally agreed to allow him to continue on to the U.S. He arrived in San Francisco, where a young man waited at the airport with a sign bearing his name. The man didn’t know Mohammed’s story, but was trying to impress the woman who posted on her Facebook page that Al Samawi needed a ride. At every turn in his journey, unexpected, sometimes humorous surprises were revealed that could have been obstacles, but actually turned out to be blessings.
When he arrived in America, Al Samawi’s interfaith work became his life’s purpose as he challenged the prejudices he was taught: that Jews and Christians were his adversaries. He said that, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims, we all have stories to share to challenge biases we have formed. Al Samawi implored the audience to consider the question: What if the person you have been taught to believe is your enemy is actually your friend?