Imam Hesham Hussein, who died Jan. 26, was a man with a quick wit, a delightful laugh, boundless energy and profound dedication to the needs of the Muslim community in the Twin Cities. He was the founder of several significant local Muslim institutions, a respected spokesperson for the Muslim community in the larger society and a pioneering advocate of interfaith dialogue.
I will most treasure two encounters with Hesham. One was a conversation we had about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a meeting of local leaders of interfaith dialogue programs. Hesham, originally from Egypt, and I — a rabbi with profound connections to Israel — disagreed rather strongly. But we stayed at the table, exploring our differences with respect, knowing that our relationship would be strengthened by our ability to dialogue about this most difficult issue.
The other encounter was a lunch meeting, at which Hesham and I — the Egyptian imam and the woman rabbi — talked about creating a Jewish-Muslim dialogue group in the Twin Cities. There were many questions to explore: about our communities’ readiness for the conversation, about the process of breaking down walls of fear, anger and distrust. We agreed to talk more and to develop our relationship with one another before launching the program. I grieve the lost opportunity to continue this work with him. I hope that his memory will inspire many others to dare to enter into such conversations with “the other,” building a more peaceful world one relationship at a time.
Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Mendota Heights
Consultant to the Jay Phillips Center for Jewish-Christian Learning