Sunday, 19 May 2013
A talk given by Dr Navras Jaat Aafreedi recently at the Sephardi Synagogue
Dr. Myer Samra, The Sephardi Synagogue Pesach, 2013
Dr Navras Jaat Aafreedi, the only academic in India today with a focus on Jewish studies, visited Sydney recently for the conference organized by the Australian Association for Jewish Studies. While here, Dr Aafreedi addressed a number of Jewish groups, discussing matters as diverse as Jews in Bollywood film industry, Muslim-Jewish relations in India, Muslim involvement in Hebrew teaching and Hebrew calligraphy, and the surprising popularity of Hitler in a country where Jews have not experienced anti-Semitism.
We were fortunate to have Dr Aafreedi talk on the topic of the tradition of Israelite origins among the Pathans who hail from the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, a tradition which goes back many centuries and has been discussed in the writings of Jewish, Muslim and Christian travellers. The Pathans are said to refer to themselves as Bani-Israel though they do not identify as “Jews”.
A number of tribes have names like those of the ancient Israelite tribes; some practice levirate marriage (the brother marrying his deceased brother’s widow), light candles on Friday, and wear a cloth similar to the Jews’ Tallith.
Dr Aafreedi indicated that he himself belongs to the “Afridi” Pathan tribe, which has a tradition of connection to the tribe of Ephraim in the Bible. Growing up in a diasporic Pathan community in Uttar Pradesh in India, he did not hear of this tradition when he was a child but was fascinated when he became aware of it. This is the seed that sparked Dr Aafreedi’s interest in Jewish studies and the Jewish people, and he has worked endlessly on interfaith dialogue to imrove the image of the Jews and Israel among Indians. He was also responsible for organizing a retrospective of films about the Holocaust, of which most Indians have little or no knowledge.
The audience at the Sephardi Synagogue were clearly impressed with Dr Aafreedi’s warmth, his approachability and engaging personality – and questions after the talk continued long into the evening.
The evening was capped by a presentation by Jan Poddebsky, of a copy of the book “The Eye of Paradise” by Moses Aaron, containing stories told to him as a child by his grandmother and his father, the late Aaron Aaron.
Wednesday, 10 April 2013
Saturday, 6 April 2013
El Dr. Aafreedi, un profesor de estudios judíos y activista judío-musulmán en relaciones con la India, ha concluido una gira de conferencias como profesor visitante en Australia recientemente. Esto sigue a una larga gira de un mes en Israel el verano pasado, durante el cual asistió y dictó conferencias en varios temas indio-israelí-judío que ofrece una perspectiva única.
El Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi, de treinta años, es profesor adjunto en el Departamento de Historia y Civilización de la Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales, Universidad de Gautama Buda en Greater Noida, una ciudad satélite de Nueva Delhi.
Se declara religiosamente no observante. Su madre proviene de una familia Hindú-Sikh. Su padre es un musulmán no-conformista. Él cree que su educación en un ambiente de diversidad religiosa, discusión, comprensión y apreciación, reforzado por el estudio y la empatía, proporciona un entorno excepcional para sus actividades académicas.
Si bien el estudio de la historia medieval y moderna de la India, se sintió atraído cada vez más hacia la historia de los Judíos, los avatares de su lucha por la supervivencia, y sus logros singulares a pesar de las dificultades aparentemente insuperables. Se dio cuenta de que la historia de los Judíos en la India debía ser investigada. Su tesis doctoral se titula “La judería indú y las autoproclamadas “tribus perdidas de Israel” en la India”.
Él es la primera persona en hacer cualquier contribución a los estudios judíos en lengua urdu, que es la lengua franca de casi todos los musulmanes del sur de Asia, que representan la mayor población musulmana del mundo. Pasó un año estudiando en la Universidad de Tel Aviv para su investigación post-doctoral en las “tradiciones de ascendencia israelita entre ciertos grupos musulmanes en el sur de Asia”. Hizo un estudio socio-histórico de las tres comunidades judías, los dos movimientos judaizantes, los dos grupos musulmanes que tienen tradiciones de haber descendido de las tribus perdidas de Israel, y los dos grupos no judíos con tradiciones de origen judío en la India. La intención no era establecer la historicidad de los reclamos de origen israelita que estos grupos hacen, sino explorar el por qué dicen lo que hacen y qué es lo que hace que algunos de los Judios religiosos los tomen en serio.
“He seguido con mi investigación en la India, y durante este período se han entrevistado a un número de clérigos musulmanes, periodistas, académicos, literatos y estudiantes para conocer sus actitudes hacia Judios, Israel y el sionismo y para entender lo que da forma a sus percepciones y cómo un positivo cambio puede llevarse a cabo en sus actitudes.” “Me llamó la atención el hecho de que a pesar de la ausencia de los Judios en donde nací, encuentran la frecuente mención en el discurso musulmán allí, que es invariablemente siempre de naturaleza negativa. Teorías de la conspiración mundial judía eran comunes, a pesar de su escaso número. Esto provocó mi interés en ellos.
Cuanto más leía sobre ellos la más mi interés creció. Llegué a admirar a los Judios por su erudición, resistencia y tenacidad y se inspiró para tratar de traer un cambio positivo en la actitud de los musulmanes hacia ellos “, dijo Aaafreedi.
Durante su gira por Israel, el Dr. Aafreedi dio una conferencia en la Escuela Internacional de Yad Vashem para Holocausto, durante la cual se llevó a cabo un taller sobre “La educación de la población de la India sobre Hitler y la Solución Final”.
En cuanto a Israel, Aafreedi dice que siempre ha estado fascinado por el país que produjo dos de las más grandes religiones del mundo, que a su vez condujo al Islam. “Me enamoré de Israel durante el año que pasé allí en 2006-2007 para mi post-doctorado. Lo que me impresiona en particular, es el espíritu indomable de los israelíes, sus logros asombrosos en la cara de las adversidades y obstáculos combinados con su entusiasmo por la vida.”
Sunday, 3 March 2013
Weekly Press Pakistan, March 3, 2013
Renowned Indo-Judaic Studies Scholar and Jewish-Muslim Relations Activist, Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi, Assistant Professor of History & Civilization at Gautam Buddha University, Greater NOIDA, U.P., India, returned to India on February 25 after a fortnight long lecture tour of Australia as a Visiting Scholar of the School of Languages & Cultures, Faculty of Arts, University of Sydney, during which he spoke at four universities, an international conference, two organizations and a synagogue in two states in Australia, viz., New South Wales and Queensland. His tour was sponsored by the Fund for Jewish Higher Education.
Dr. Aafreedi started his tour in Sydney by presenting a paper on the “Indian Muslim Involvement with the Hebrew Language” as part of a panel dedicated to the Asian Sub-Continent: India, at the 25th annual conference of the Australian Association for Jewish Studies on “Jewish Languages, Jewish Cultures: The Shaping of Jewish Civilization” on February 10. He traced the history of Hebrew language teaching in India and highlighted the contributions of some Indian Muslims to the Hebrew language. It was a prestigious conference exploring the profound place and importance of language in shaping Jewish culture in the past, present and future. The next day at the conference, on February 11, Dr. Aafreedi chaired the session focused on the Egyptian Jewish World.
In a lecture he gave at the Shalom College of the University of New South Wales in Sydney under its lecture series Network on February 12, he drew attention to the “Paradox of the Absence of Anti-Semitism and the Popularity of Hitler in India”. He also pointed out the paradox that the biggest advocates in India of India’s closer ties with Israel, the Hindu right wingers, also happen to be admirers of the Nazis. He also asked for support in terms of books and films on the Holocaust in his efforts to create an awareness of the Shoah in India. The same day in the evening, at Mandelbaum House, a residential college of the University of Sydney which hosted Dr. Aafreedi during his entire stay in Sydney, he brought into sharp focus the Jewish contributions to Indian Cinema and Literature and also discussed their portrayal in them. He gave the same talk also under the auspices of the National Council of the Jewish Women of Australia (NCJWA) in Brisbane on February 18.
On February 13, Dr. Aafreedi explored the South Asian Muslim Attitudes towards, Jews, Israel and Zionism for a huge audience at a lecture he gave under the auspices of the lecture series Encounters of the Shalom College of the University of New South Wales in Sydney. He shared his knowledge and insights into the South Asian Muslim Attitudes towards Jews, Israel and Zionism also with Griffith University on February 19 and the University of Queensland on February 21 in Brisbane. In a lecture Dr. Aafreedi gave on February 15 on “India, Islam and Israel in the 21st century”, under the auspices of Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council in Sydney, and in a lecture he gave on February 20 on “Muslim-Jewish Relations in India” at the Institute of Asian Studies in Brisbane, he emphasized that South Asian Muslim perceptions of Jews are based on information gained from secondary sources and not as a result of direct contact with them because of their small numbers. Hence, the Muslims who are neighbours to them in the cities of Mumbai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad have a very cordial relationship with them, but most of the Muslims who know them only through secondary sources have bitter feelings against them. He called for support in his efforts to introduce Jewish Studies in India.
Among the many lectures that Dr. Aafreedi gave in Australia, he also delivered one on the “Tradition of Israelite Origin among the Pathans/Pashtuns”, the people he comes from, at the Sephardi synagogue in Sydney on February 13. He pointed out that unlike the other claimants of Israelite descent across the world the tradition was not a recent development among the Pashtuns/Pathans and that it finds mention in texts written by Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars from the tenth century onwards. He also shared the results of the genetic studies of his own Pathan tribe, the Afridi, conducted in laboratories at University College London, UK and Haifa Technion, Israel, to ascertain its Israelite origin. In his last lecture in Australia, which he gave at the Institute of Asian Studies in Brisbane on February 23, Dr. Aafreedi spoke on the “Contribution of India’s Jews to Indian Arts and Letters”.
Dr. Aafreedi’s lectures were greatly appreciated by scholars as well as interfaith relations activists, both Jewish as well as Muslim, and also attracted diplomats, both Australian as well as from other countries.
Thursday, 28 February 2013
Gareth Narunsky, The Australian Jewish News, Friday, February 22, 2013
Anti-Semitism is on the rise among South Asian Muslims, India’s only Jewish studies scholar warned last week. However, in areas of India where Jews and Muslims have regular contact, they live in harmony, Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi said while speaking at Sydney’s Waverly Library for Encounters@Shalom.
“The tiny minority of Muslims which does have direct interaction with Jews – being neighbours in the cities of Mumbai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad – has an exceptionally pleasant and cordial relationship with them,” Dr. Aafreedi, an assistant professor at Gautam Buddha University, said.
“Personal acquaintance with Jews does not leave any room for negative stereotypes of Jews.” He explained that all Jews in India live within Muslim areas. “India is also the only place in the world where Jews can live in peace and in complete harmony with their non-Jewish neighbours,” he said.
He also noted that all synagogues in India have always been taken care of by Muslims and continue to be, while most of the students in the Jewish-run schools in India are Muslim. But matters were different on a macro scale, he said. “In recent decades there has been a rise in anti-Semitism among South Asian Muslims with the growing influence of Wahhabis in the country,” he explained, adding that all Sunni Islamic seminaries are funded by the Wahhabis. “It emanates from overly literal interpretations of the polemics of the Koran and the Hadiths [alleged sayings of Mohammad].”
Jewish global conspiracy theories were very common, Dr. Aafreedi said, as were anti-Israel protests. He added that fictional characters in English literature, such as Fagin from Oliver Twist, also fuelled antagonism towards Jews.
Dr. Aafreedi said “Yellow Journalism” [sensationalist journalism] in the south Asian Muslim press also went a long way in shaping the Muslim perceptions of Jews, Israel and Zionism. He gave an example of when he organised a Holocaust film retrospective in his home city of Lucknow, a major Muslim centre. “While it was in progress, the two largest-circulated Urdu-language newspapers in the city published front-page lengthy stories denying the Holocaust, with the aim of sabotaging the event.”
He added that the biggest factor in keeping India from establishing relations with Israel until 1991 “was the Muslim factor”.
Dr. Aafreedi, who called Jewish studies “a consuming passion”, also spoke about the work he is personally undertaking to promote Judaism in India. This includes holding poster exhibitions, organising lectures with prominent Muslim intellectuals who speak against Holocaust denial, and adding Jewish-related content to his own teaching. Dr. Aafreedi was in Australia to speak at the Australian Association of Jewish Studies conference.