What do four strangers, three faiths and social media have in common?
Mohammed Al Samawi.
Who is he and what is his story? You can find out on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. as the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island hosts Al Samawi at the Dwares Jewish Community Center in Providence.
Come hear Al Samawi talk about his incredible journey from hatred to tolerance at the 2019 Annual Campaign event, co-chaired by Marisa Garber and Dan Gamm. Al Samawi’s book, “The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America” will soon be made into a major motion picture by “La-La Land” producer Marc Platt.
Born in the Old City of Sana’a, Yemen, to a pair of middle-class doctors, Mohammed Al Samawi was a devout Muslim raised to think of Christians and Jews as his enemy. In a recent phone interview, he said that he was taught that Jews cannot be trusted. “If they are smiling in your face, they will kill you in the back. They hate us and want to destroy Muslim and Yemenites.”
But when Al Samawi was 23, he secretly received a copy of the Bible, and what he read cast doubt on everything he’d previously believed.
“I wanted to know why Jews hate us if they have this amazing book,” he said. He “wanted to meet a Jew to ask these questions.”
After connecting with Jews and Christians on social media, and at various international interfaith conferences, Mohammed became an activist, making it his mission to promote dialogue and tolerance in Yemen.
“In school we learned Jews and Christians hate us, but that is really false. You shouldn’t be ashamed that you are different. My experiences shaped who I am. Small things really matter. Time is as important and valuable as money when it comes to help.”
Al Samawi’s interfaith work led him to flee his hometown. He moved to the coastal city of Aden. In 2015, he was targeted with death threats from extremists in Yemen for his collaboration with Jews and Christians. As civil war erupted in the streets, Al Samawi hid in the small bathroom of his apartment in Aden, waiting to die.
According to a 2018 People magazine article, he said, “In that bathroom, as I worshipped Allah, I prayed he would save me.” Mohammed took inventory of his supplies and realized his food and water were dwindling, he had no electricity, a dying cellphone battery, and al-Qaida fighters at his door. Besides prayer, he tried the next best thing – Facebook.
Mohammed reached out to everyone he had ever met through Facebook with a simple message: Can you help me at all? What followed was an incredible story of perseverance, faith and friendship.
In our interview, he said he looks forward to telling his story to the audience at the event. One thing he wants everyone to know is “when I arrived in the U.S., I had $20 in my pocket and no luggage.”
What is one of the most important things he’s learned in the U.S.?
“You can be who you are and say what you want and no one will kill you.”
On Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. in the Baxt Social Hall, Al Samawi will address Rhode Island’s Jewish community about his spiritual journey, as well as his book. Admission is free with a gift of any amount to the Annual Campaign. The keynote presentation will be preceded by a 5 p.m. reception for Pacesetters and Lions of Judah, co-chaired by Carol and David Bazarsky.
For more information or to RSVP, contact Michele Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-421-4111 ext. 165.
SETH FINKLE is development manager at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.