The past couple of weeks have weighed heavily on many of us, especially within the Muslim and Jewish communities here in Maine.

For me, as I witness the unfolding events in Israel and Palestine, I can’t help but reflect on a challenging period in my life when I was just 15, growing up in Mogadishu, Somalia. Al-Shabaab, Somalia’s deadliest militant group, issued directives to young men: cut your trousers short, trim your hair and grow a beard. This was to look like an Islamist fighter. Concurrently, the Somali government, which controlled a few neighborhoods in the city, instructed young men not to adopt these appearances, as it might mistakenly associate them with the militants.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth. He can be contacted at

The Israel-Palestine conflict has evoked these memories, reminding me that Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike are caught up in this ongoing crisis. The anguish of war resonates universally, transcending the differences that often divide us. The pain of losing a child or another beloved family member to conflict knows no borders. For those of us who do not reside in Palestine or Israel, it is our responsibility to work toward healing our communities together, rather than deepening divisions.

What Maine requires today is for leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths to unite and demonstrate that despite the ongoing conflict far away from Maine, we can stand together as one community, driven by a shared aspiration for peace, justice and solidarity with the civilians affected in Israel and Palestine. It is not the time for divisive arguments over which group is right or which nation holds rightful claim to the land.

In my early years in Somalia, I recall discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict taking place in mosques and various other forums. With no other faiths involved, it was easy to be filled with emotions as a nation of the Muslim faith. With the advent of social media, information from both sides spreads rapidly, accompanied by imagery that deeply affects viewers. Emotions run high and many of my friends have taken sides. My social media feeds are inundated with new profile pictures displaying the Palestinian or the Israeli flag, with the Palestinian flag predominating because most of my social media friends are Somali Muslims. In the mosques of Portland and Lewiston, Friday prayers often include appeals for Palestinian freedom and peace, occasionally accompanied by strong language directed at Israel. The rhetoric employed in churches, synagogues and mosques can intensify emotions and inadvertently foster animosity towards specific groups, faiths or nations.

Here in Maine, there is often a noticeable lack of connection between communities of different faiths. We rarely come together for prayer or events. Now is the ideal moment to change that. As a Muslim with Muslim friends across the world, along with friends within the Christian and Jewish communities here in Maine, I can attest to the significance of interfaith dialogue. Interfaith engagement has the power to heal divisions and allow us to see each other as humans beyond the faith labels we carry.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is unlikely to conclude in the near future; it may persist for years. With ongoing Israeli strikes in Gaza and Lebanon, rockets impacting Israeli homes and the potential for U.S. involvement, global reactions will continue and information will spread. This underscores the urgency of fostering interfaith unity within our community. We must come together, join hands and show the distressed communities in Maine that we are stronger together.

In our state, we all have a safe refuge, and together we can pray for the peaceful coexistence of Palestine and Israel in our different languages.

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