There is no end of those who criticize Islam and its imams for their supposed hatred against Israel and the west. One look at Little Green Footballs or even the comments threads at this site will provide a plethora of such attacks: “Show me an imam who’s ever denounced an Islamic terror attack. And even if you find one, I don’t trust him because they say one thing to a western audience and another to a Muslim one.” That’s the tenor of the attack.
Such attitudes toward Islam are unfair and anti-Muslim. I’ve argued here against such individuals saying that Islam is as varied a religion as Judaism or Christianity. It has its share of hateful extremists zealots as does our own religion. No religion should be entirely judged based on the views or actions of a minority (as the Islamic fundamentalists are).
That is why I was delighted to read at the Common Ground News Service about the 2nd Annual Conference of Rabbis and Imams, sponsored by Hommes de Parole which concluded on March 22nd in Seville, Spain. This is an excerpt from the closing statement and it should be read and pondered by anyone who doubts the sincerity of Muslims in denouncing terror and embracing tolerance:
We…affirm that contrary to widespread misrepresentation, there is no inherent conflict between Islam and Judaism, on the contrary. While modern politics has regrettably impacted negatively upon the relationship, our two religions share the most fundamental values of faith in the One Almighty whose name is Peace, who is merciful, compassionate and just; and who calls on us human beings to manifest these values in our lives and to advance them in relation to all persons whose lives and dignity are sacred. Therefore we…deplore bloodshed or violence in the name of any ideology everywhere. Especially when such is perpetrated in the name of religion it is a desecration of religion, itself and the gravest offense against the Holy Name of the Creator.
Thus, in addition to calling upon all our co-religionists to respect all human life, dignity and rights, to promote peace and justice; we call upon them and the governments of the world and international institutions to show respect for the attachments and symbols of all religions, as well as their holy sites, houses of worship and cemeteries, particularly in the Holy Land, due to its special sensitivity.
Accordingly, we condemn any negative representation of these, let alone any desecration, Heaven forbid. Similarly, we condemn any incitement against a faith or people, let alone any call for their elimination, and we urge authorities to do likewise.
We recognize that there is widespread misrepresentation of our religions, – one in the other’s community as well as in the world at large.
We affirm therefore the urgent need for truthful and respectful education about each other’s faith and tradition in our respective communities and schools; and call upon those responsible to promote such essential education for peaceful co-existence.
Solemnly we pledge ourselves to…continue to seek out one another to build bridges of respect, hope and friendship, to combat incitement and hostility, to overcome all barriers and obstacles, to reinforce mutual trust, serving the noble goal of universal peace especially in the land that is holy to us all.
According to the authors of the Common Ground report, the co-executive directors of Children of Abraham, there was some tension between the Palestinian and Israeli delegations at the urgent request by the former to place the question of Israel and Palestine at the top of the group’s agenda. The “black hats” (their words, not mine) were opposed to this and wished the conference to address solely religious matters. While I wasn’t there, I’d say that a middle ground position is necessary here. To omit the political question is to pretend the 900 lb. gorilla is not sitting in the room right next to you. But to get mired in political debate alone on this question risks forfeiting the great good that could come from such meetings. As the writers state:
…Just as most Muslims have their passion for Palestine and most Jews have their passion for Israel, so we all have a complex religious identity that is severely skewed in the conversations between our two communities that focus solely on the political situation in Israel/Palestine.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.