We all know about the violence of the Middle East, the news gets worse every day. We also know how the Jews in Israel get blamed for some evil conspiracy when anything happens.
This is a story about Jews and Arabs in another part of the world, and a different “Jewish conspiracy.”
My home town of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada has some notable facts attached to it. Early in the previous century Edmonton emerged as the leading center in the world for the fur trade. More furs passed through Edmonton than anywhere else in the world. Around that time a school teacher named J. Percy Page started a girls’ basketball team. The Edmonton Grads went on to become world champions in women’s basketball from 1924, and swept four Olympic Games between 1924 and 1936.
Also at that time, a few Lebanese fur traders moved to the region and built the first mosque in Canada. The Mosque of Al Rashid was once described as the first mosque in North America, but someone has probably discovered an older building in the U.S. The Mosque of Al Rashid was recently moved to a museum.
After the Second World War, oil was found near Edmonton and the city went on to new superlatives. The local football team, the Eskimos dominated the Canadian Football League for many years. Later Peter Pocklington brought professional hockey to Edmonton and recruited a kid from Brantford Ontario named Wayne Gretsky. Do I have to explain that one?
Also at that time, an immigrant family of rug merchants from Iran, living in Montreal, moved west and built the largest shopping mall in the world, the West Edmonton Mall.
City council was so impressed by all this they put up entry signs on major highways claiming we were “the city of champions.”
Before all that, in early history, back when the mosque was built, a tiny Arab community was scattered across the region working in the fur trade. The Muslims were powerless and needed help with lobbying, organizing, and funding if they wanted to build a mosque. And who was the champion who stepped up to make the mosque happen?
The local Rabbi.
The Jewish community strongly supported the Arab Muslims and their mosque and that is one reason why it was built so early in history. In those days, before modern politics, two non-Christian immigrant communities with roots in the Middle East probably felt some affinity. No doubt, the Lebanese fur merchants were familiar with Jewish tailors who worked as furriers, making and selling fur coats.
I don’t know if Percy Page, and Peter Pocklington, and Wayne Gretsky have any Jewish roots, but some of the most dedicated supporters of the mighty Eskimos were Jewish, including some of those furriers. Much of the team’s success came from good administration and business practices off the field.
Those rug merchants from Montreal are the Ghermezians, a Jewish family. I have often seen members of the clan walking between their homes and the Synagogue on the Sabbath. And that huge mall is still there, full of tourists.
So in the language of Jewish conspiracy, the Jews did it. Jews built that Muslim mosque, and that awesome football team, and that unbelievable mall with water slides and roller coasters.
But the truth is, many people contributed, and Jews were prominent in the mix.
As a Christian, I believe we honor God with the truth. If we don’t speak, the story of the mosque will be lost in the fog of propaganda and war. Some day God will sweep away all the violence and nonsense of this world, but until then we have a duty to shine the light where we can.
The first mosque in Canada, built for Arab Muslims, endures as a testimony to the kindness of the Jews.
“I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5 & 6).