First date

Jews plant palm trees in Medina, Saudi Arabia, in rare interfaith gesture

A local landowner invited a British delegation to add to his grove, in what some view as a sign of growing religious openness

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Rick Sopher and his wife Carol planting a date palm in Medina (Courtesy of the Sophers and the Jewish Chronicle)
Rick Sopher and his wife Carol planting a date palm in Medina (Courtesy of the Sophers and the Jewish Chronicle)

In a rare gesture of interfaith friendship, several British Jews were allowed to plant palm trees in Saudi Arabia’s city of Medina, one of Islam’s two holiest sites.

A local landowner invited the visitors, a group of Christians, Muslims and Jews from the United Kingdom led by Jewish London banker Rick Sopher, to add to his grove of date palms, the Jewish Chronicle of London reported on Monday.

Sopher’s group also visited the United Arab Emirates, and their tour was focused on fostering reconciliation and friendship among the three Abrahamic faiths.

Among the group’s members were prominent businessmen and philanthropists as well as a professor of history and other researchers from Cambridge University, the Chronicle reported.

The visit is a sign of greater openness to other faiths in the Arabian Peninsula. where Saudi Arabia has seen vast reforms under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and the UAE has pushed interfaith projects since the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020.

Members of the British delegation were invited to plant saplings of an ajwa date tree, a type grown in Medina and specifically mentioned in the Hadith, a record of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, according to the report.

“If anyone had told me five or even 10 years ago that I would be able to come to Saudi Arabia, everybody knowing that I am Jewish, also with friends, also Jewish, I would hardly have believed them,” the Chronicle quoted Sopher as saying. “To be received in such a friendly, hospitable way, is really something marvelous,” he added.

Non-Muslims were banned from entering Medina up until five years ago. When Islam took root in Medina in 622, the city had many Jewish residents, including palm grove owners.

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