Peace activist Al-Samawi to share story of life-saving friendships

Mohammed Al-Samawi has long been involved in interfaith peace work. When, in 2015, that work drew death threats from extremists in Yemen and civil war erupted in the streets, Al-Samawi hid in his small apartment bathroom, thinking he was about to die.

He prayed, but food dwindled and his cell phone battery was dying. He opened Facebook and typed out an appeal for help.

What happened next is a story of strangers who became friends, all with the goal of helping Al-Samawi escape. 

“In that bathroom, as I worshiped Allah, I prayed he would save me,” Al-Samawi told People magazine. 

At 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Al-Samawi will give his presentation in the Week One Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “Holy Friendship: Source of Strength and Challenge,” talking about his ongoing interfaith work, and the friends who saved his life.

Those friends — a bioengineer in New York City, an entrepreneur in San Francisco, and two Israel-based humanitarian activists — each, on their own, replied to Al-Samawi’s Facebook post in 2015, and sprang into action. Daniel Pincus, Justin Hefter, Megan Hallahan and Natasha Westheimer took to their own networks of friends, colleagues and acquaintances in their international peace work, reaching out to friends-of-friends, calling in favors. It worked.

“They are like family,” Al-Samawi told People. “These four people came, like angels — an answer from God.”

They were able to get Al-Samawi on a boat to Djibouti, then to Ethiopia and Germany, and finally to San Francisco. He was granted political asylum in the United States in 2016.

Since then, Al-Samawi has spoken across the country; one of his first audiences was at Moishe House, an international non-profit made up of a collection of homes and programs that serve as hubs for the young adult Jewish community, according to its website. Al-Samawi found it revelatory.

“Why don’t I create something like (Moishe House) but also for Muslims, Christians, Jews and other faiths?” he told Jewish Journal. Abrahamic House was born.

A multifaith co-living and co-creating space, the organization works to challenge assumptions, prejudices and inequities — and then inspire others to do so, as well.

“… Everyone is ‘othering’ and in the Abrahamic House, there’s no ‘others,’” he told Jewish Journal. “It’s ‘we,’ and we need to know more about each other.”

Al-Samawi is the author of The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming To America, which traces his journey out of Yemen, and his journey as an interfaith activist. That part of the journey continues through Abrahamic House, where the focus is on “gathering, not othering.” Communities represented at Abrahamic House include Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Baha’i, working to foster an environment of learning, respect, and social change. 

“Hate isn’t something you’re born with,” he told Jewish Journal. “People educate you to hate.”


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