Turkish Muslims Rebuild Synagogue, Embrace Jews

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SHAFAQNA - Abdullah Demirbas (pictured), former Mayor of the Old City of Diyarbakir, a large and important city on the banks of the Tigris river, is restoring a local synagogue that served the Jewish population before they were expelled by the Turks.

“This area in Turkey belongs to the Jews,” said Demirbas at a recent meeting in Jerusalem. “It is their land and our responsibility to make sure that they are recognized and honored here in our city.”

Demirbas is a Muslim. He believes that by restoring their synagogue he can heal some of the wounds caused when Jews fled his country. He came to Jerusalem to discuss with Kurdish Jews his plans to restore their ancient house of worship. There are over 100,000 Turkish Jews living in Israel. Most of them settled in Jerusalem.

“It has always been my dream to come to Israel,” Demirbas told the group of Messianic Jews and Christian who had gathered in Jerusalem to listen to his plans to build the synagogue. Clearly moved by the unity he saw between Arab and Jewish believers in Israel he said that this was the kind of “Shalom” he wanted to see in his own country and throughout the Middle East.

In addition to building the synagogue, Demirbas is also reaching out to Christians.

The mayor was the first Turkish official to obtain a permit from the Muslim government to build a church in his town. He has been personally instrumental in the reconstruction of six Armenian and Assyrian churches in Diyarbakir.

Demirbas then inspired the local Muslims to rebuild the churches and support the same Christian groups they had formerly persecuted. “These are not only buildings I want to build. This is about learning to respect one another and learning to live together. God created us to live together,” he said.

Demirabas may dream of peace in the Middle East, but because of his bold stand he has received numerous death threats and assassination attempts on his life. He is not afraid to publicly challenge Muslim hatred and aggression towards Jews and Christians. But most Muslims are angered by efforts to live in peace with Jews and Christians, particularly since the Koran teaches that “if a Jew or Christian do not agree that Muhammad is the only prophet of God they should be treated as infidels and you should declare war on them.”

To make matters worse, Demirbas has also been a staunch defender of women’s rights in a country where women are regularly mistreated, demeaned and publicly humiliated. His activities supporting women have stirred anger among Muslims who believe that Allah wants them to “beat your wives.”

Demirbas, who is considered among Turkey’s “most undesirable persons,” was imprisoned for showing respect to Jews, Christians and other religious groups. But the people love him and elected Demirbas mayor of his city from his jail cell!

Before getting involved in politics, Demirbas rose to prominence as a philosophy teacher and educational leader in the region for 29 years. He now serves as a leading member of the People’s Democratic Party that recently won 80 seats in Turkish parliamentary elections.

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