Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi's Efforts for the Betterment of Jewish-Muslim Relations
המאמצים של ד"ר נברס ג'אאט אאפרדי להטבת יחסי יהודים-מוסלמים

Jewish-Muslim Relations Activist, Indo-Judaic Studies Researcher 

and 

Organiser of THE FIRST EVER HOLOCAUST FILMS RETROSPECTIVE IN SOUTH ASIA


פעיל חברתי להטבת יחסי יהודים-מוסלמים,חוקר מדעי יהדות הודו והמארגן של המצגת הראשונה של סרטי שואה בדרום הודו

Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi grew up in Lucknow, where there are no Jews, a place which is the hotbed of Muslim politics in India, where anti-Israel Muslim processions are common, where the flags of Israel and the USA were drawn at the entrance to the biggest tourist attraction there, the Bara Imambara, so that every visitor trampled on them at the time of the American invasion of Iraq. Lucknow also has the distinction of being a major centre of Muslim scholarship, the third biggest Shia cultural centre outside of Iran and Iraq, the biggest centre of azadari (Shia ritual of mourning for Husain), located right in the centre of the Muslim heartland of South Asia. Lucknow was also home to the ancestors of the leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, Ayatollah Rouhollah Mousavi Khomeini. His ancestors had settled there in the late eighteenth century and continued to live there till the mid-nineteenth century when his grandfather, Seyed Ahmed, migrated to Iran and settled in Khomein, some 160 kilometres to the southwest of Qom. Sayyid Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, the former rector of the famous Islamic seminary there, the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, was the Founding Chairman of the Trustees of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. 

Like most Indians, except those who follow Christianity and Islam, people in Lucknow are largely ignorant of Jews. Dr. Aafreedi was struck by the fact that in spite of the absence of Jews in Lucknow they find frequent mention in the Muslim discourse there, which is invariably always negative in nature. He realised that there was a strong anti-Semitic sentiment among the Muslims in Lucknow, for whom the term "Jew" had a pejorative connotation. Holocaust denial was widespread among them and theories of Jewish conspiracies were common.

Ignorance gives birth to stereotypes, which ultimately leads to feelings of hatred and hostility. The only way to fight this is to spread knowledge through information and create awareness; and this is exactly what he decided to do through various media. He resolved to bring about a change in the Lucknowite Muslim perception of Jews, which led to the following efforts:

Contributions to Jewish Studies in Urdu, the Lingua Franca of South Asian Muslims

Dr. Aafreedi has emerged as the first person to make any worthwhile contributions to Jewish Studies in the Urdu language, which is the lingua franca of almost all South Asian Muslims, who represent the largest Muslim population in the world, with the publication of the following articles in Urdu on  varied Jewish themes:

2004

"India's Esther David: A Sculptor, Painter and Writer", Imkan I, 4: June

"A Travelogue of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) highlighting the metropolitan's Jewish facet", Imkan III, 3: May

"A Muslim Urdu Poet's Search for his Jewish Mother", Imkan III, 2:1 March-April

"Jews in Indian Cinema", Imkan III, 1: January-February

2003

"India's Jewish Literature", Imkan I, 11: November

Translation of Israeli writer Etgar Keret's Hebrew short-story "Breaking the Pig", Imkan II, 10: October

"An Overview of the Modern Hebrew Literature", Imkan II, 9: September

"Nissim Ezekiel: Father of India's Modern English Poetry", Imkan II, 8: August

"First Muslim President of India, Dr. Zakir Husain's Jewish Girlfriend, Imkan II: 4: April

Lectures on Jews before Muslim Audiences

2008

September 30: "Jews and Judaism in Indian Politics and Discourse", Seminar on Multiculturalism and Politics of Representation, jointly organised by the University Grants Commission Academic Staff College and the Department of Philosophy, University of Lucknow, India

June 12: "An Introduction to Indo-Judaica", Academy of Mass Communication, Lucknow, India

2006

October 10: "The Muslim Claimants of Israelite Descent in India", Maulana Azad Memorial Academy, Lucknow, India

Efforts to introduce the Indian Youth, particularly Muslim, to the Jewish literature from India, Israel and the US:

2010

February 3: Reading of Katherine Kressman Taylor's story "Address Unknown" at a session on the growing racial, ethnic and nationalistic intolerance, Academy of Mass Communication 

2009:

December 7 - 12: Reading of Yogendra Krishna's Hindi translations of Tadeusz Borowski's Polish stories from his collection This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, during a "A Week of Stories from Nazi Concentration Camps", Open Space - Lucknow Office

November 1: Reading of excerpts from the Indian Jewish writer Robin David's City of Fear at a session on the anti-Muslim pogrom of Gujarat in 2002, Open Space - Lucknow Office

June 14: Recitation of Indian Jewish Poet Nissim Ezekiel Poetry at a session on the Rural-Urban Divide in India, Open Space - Lucknow premises

April 17: Muslim Poet Soz Malihabadi's Recitation of his Urdu poetry dedicated to Communal Harmony and his narration of his Search for his Jewish mother, Academy of Mass Communication

Reading by American writer Sadia Shepard (Jewish, according to the Jewish Oral Law Halacha, as her maternal grandmother was one) of her memoir The Girl from Foreign (Penguin, 2008), which is an account of her childhood spent with an American White Christian father, Pakistani Muslim mother and Indian Jewish maternal grandmother, and of her quest for her Indian Jewish roots, at sessions devoted to Religious Harmony:

  • March 31: Department of Ancient Indian History & Archaeology, University of Lucknow
  • March 30: Urdu Language Program, American Institute of Indian Studies, Lucknow

2008

October 23: Reading of the Urdu (the lingua franca of South Asian Muslims) translation of the Israeli writer Etgar Keret's Hebrew short-story "Breaking the Pig", at a session on the "Tragic Loss of Life due to Human Misdeeds", Academy of Mass Communication

September 27: Reading of the Hindi translations of Israeli Poet Yehuda Amichai's Hebrew poems, at a session on "Terrorism and Communalism", the premises of the NGO Saajhi Duniya 

July 28: Reading of an excerpt from the Indian Jewish writer Esther David's novel The Walled City (1997) at a discussion on Terrorism, the premises of the NGO Saaajhi Duniya

July 26: Reading of excerpts from the Indian Jewish writer Meera Mahadevan's (nee Miriam Jacob Mendrekar) Hindi novel Apna Ghar, 1961 ("One's Own Home", English translation published in 1975, titled Shulamith, after the protagonist), highlighting the Jewish experience of India's partition, at a session on Displacement, Academy of Mass Communication, Lucknow

Screening of Films on Jewish themes or related to them:

2009

Retrospective of the Israeli Filmmaker Professor Yael Katzir's documentary films and lectures by her

  • November 11: Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Lucknow and City Montessori School, Lucknow
  • November 9: Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow

The First Ever Holocaust Films Retrospective in South Asia:

  • October 22 - 27: Third Phase, Open Space Office and Saajhi Duniya Office
  • October 12, 13 and 15: Second Phase, Department of Public Administration, University of Lucknow
  • October 2: Holocaust Film Night and Fog on Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary, observed as the International Day of Non-Violence as per a UN resolution,  World Convention Centre, City Montessori School and its degree college
  • September 14 - 18: First Phase, Department of Mass Communication & Journalism, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow

August 23: Final Solution, Open Space - Lucknow Office

June 27: A Mighty Heart, based on the American Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl's widow Mariane Pearl's memoir A Mighty Heart - The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl,  An Evening Dedicated to Jewish-Muslim Relations in Memory of Daniel Pearl, Academy of Mass Communication

June 22: New Muslim Cool, based on the true life story of Hamza Perez, a Puerto Rican Hip Hop Singer who coverted to Islam at the age of 21 and his friendship with a Jewish poet, University Grants Commission Academic Staff College, University of Lucknow, 22 June (It was a Preview screening, a day before its premiere in the US on the channel PBS)

April 19: In Dark Times: Using Bertolt Brecht's poetry and footage from Nazi Germany and contemporary India, the film puts together a persuasive argument about the ways in which Fascism grows and takes over society. It shows Hitler's rise to power through electoral process as an example, and subtly draws parallels between the conditions in Germany then and in India currently, Open Space premises, Lucknow

In Search of the Bene Israel (In the presence of its maker Sadia Shepard), an account of the filmmaker of American Christian- Pakistani Muslim parentage Sadia Shepard's effort to study her maternal Jewish grandmother's Jewish community in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India:

  • March 31: Department of Ancient Indian History & Arachaeology, University of Lucknow
  • March 30: Urdu Language Program, American Institute of Indian Studies, Lucknow

Lectures by Jews

2009

December 2: Second Secretary - Political Affairs, Embassy of Israel, New Delhi, Sharon Rappaport, "Indo-Israel Relations", Department of Ancient Indian History & Archaeology, University of Lucknow

Dr. Richard L. Benkin, Chicago-based Human Rights Activist:

  • March 14: "Human Rights in South Asia", University Grants Commission Academic Staff College, University of Lucknow
  • March 13: "The Fight Against Terrorism and Communalism", Ancient Indian History & Archaeology, University of Lucknow

2007

October 8: Dr. Genady Shlomper, Hindi Lecturer, Tel Aviv University, "Hindi in Israel", Department of Hindi, University of Lucknow

Lectures by Muslims against Muslim Anti-Semitism

2009

July 28: Secretary General of the Italian Muslim Assembly, Sheikh Professor Abdul Hadi Palazzi, "The Misinterpretation of Islam by Non-Muslims as well as Muslims", Department of Persian, University of Lucknow 

2008

December 13: Famous Urdu Poet Prof. Malikzada Manzoor Ahmad, "The Misuse of Poetry Recitations for Rhetoric", (with focus on the portrayal of the Judeo-Christian West as the enemy of Islam), Academy of Mass Communication

July 8: Socio-Cultural Anthropologist Prof. Nadeem Hasnain, "Muslims-'Others' Interface", Uttar Pradesh Press Club

Jewish Musical Event

2009

October 10: An Evening of Jewish Music dedicated to World Peace in Memory of Daniel Pearl as part of the Daniel Pearl World Music Days

Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi's work in Greater NOIDA, a satellite town of Delhi

Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi continued with his efforts for Jewish-Muslim reconciliation even after relocating to Greater NOIDA, a satellite town of Delhi, where he now works as an Assistant Professor in the Department of History & Civilization, Gautam Buddha University. In his capacity as a member of the university's four-member cultural council, he introduced a series of weekly film screenings, under the auspices of which he has screened a number of films on the Shoah and other Jewish themes until now, and continues to do so. Details of the films screened can be read on the blog of the university's Audio-Visual Educational Club, Pradarsh.

Conscious of the lack of literature on Jewish History and Culture and on the Shoah in Hindi and other Indian languages, he is making his research students translate the literature into Hindi.

Sensitive to the rising popularity of Hitler in India despite the absence of anti-Semitism, he has inspired the members of the university's dramatics club to write their own play on the Shoah and to enact it. The students also enacted the great Jewish playwright Harold Pinter's The Room. He has also assigned his students to do projects focussed on the Shoah or Israel.

He has regularly organised literary sessions dedicated to Jewish writers and poets, like Yehuda Amichai, Nissim Ezekiel, Tadeusz Borowski, Esther David, etc., with the aim of introducing the students to Jewish literature. He got a number of Jewish personalities to speak at the university, like the eminent Israeli playwright Motti Lerner, renowned Israeli Hebrew poet Tsippy Levine Byron, American Jewish filmmakers Ellen Friedland and Curt Fissel, American Jewish Painter of Indian Origin, Siona Benjamin, American Zionist Activist, Dr. Richard L. Benkin, the only Jewish writer in Hindi, Sheela Rohekar,  and Israeli scholar and artist and Visiting Professor of Hebrew at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Achia Anzi. In addition to the above mentioned personalities, he also organised concerts of Shye Ben-Tzur, world's only Hebrew Qaw'wal (one who sings in the Islamic mystical musical tradition) and the Israeli musician and singer Tal Kravitz. Tal Kravitz's concert was organised as part of Daniel Pearl World Music Days.  One can read about his work at the Gautam Buddha University on the blogs dedicated to its different clubs (Please click on the links below):

Pradarsh, the Audio-Visual Educational Club

Arahant, the Literary Club

Ansharah, the Painting Club

Dishayan, the Dramatics Club