One of the constant themes repeated ad nauseum by right-wing Islamophobes like Daniel Pipes, Alan Dershowitz and their supporters is that Muslims are uniformly extremists filled with hate. There are no “Muslim moderates.” No imams denounce terror. They all support Al Qaeda, etc. etc.
Walter Ruby in Jewish Week brings yet further evidence of the utter falsity of such claims. He writes about the new interim imam of New York City’s largest and most influential mosque, the Islamic Cultural Center, the Indonesian-born Mohammed Shamsi Ali. The interview with him is wide-ranging, candid and impressive:
[He] declared in a dialogue with Rabbi Schneier at the New York Synagogue earlier this month that it “cannot be accepted to deny the existence of Israel” or to deny the Holocaust. Appearing last week at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Imam Ali delivered a special sermon during Mincha services in which he urged Jews and Muslims to revisit “problematic” passages in the Koran and Torah. Those passages buttress bellicose stances against other religions by understanding them as having been written in earlier times, and not necessarily relevant to today’s world.
Imam Ali also urged his listeners to “look beyond what is presented in the media” about Jewish-Muslim relations in order to create “real connections” based on trust and affection. “Once you get to know Muslims,” he said, “you will ask them, ‘Are you really the people I see portrayed [negatively] on Fox News?’”
Key Muslim leaders in New York praise the Indonesian-born Ali as a charismatic and compassionate leader whose embrace of interfaith dialogue represents “mainstream” opinion within the Muslim community.
It is sad, but somehow reassuring that those in both the Muslim and Jewish communities who reach out to the other side are rebuffed by their respective extremist right fringes:
A shadowy Queens-based militant group known as the Islamic Thinkers Society has attacked Imam Ali on its Web site as an “FBI mouthpiece” and “moderate Uncle Sam Muslim” who has corrupted young people at his mosque in Jamaica by allowing them to have “access to guitars and drums.”
Imam Ali…makes no apology for his cooperation with the FBI and New York City police. “We understand the job of law enforcement [in the post-9/11 situation),” he said. “I myself have said publicly that if anyone [in the Muslim community] sees something suspicious, he has an obligation to report it to the police. At the same time, law enforcement must be careful not to overreact and create a situation where there is an interruption of basic American values when it applies to Muslims.”
This reminded me of one of my own personal experiences on that score. I was the western director of New Jewish Agenda in the 1980s during a time when Alex Odeh, then director of the Arab American Anti Discrimination Committee, was assassinated by a letter bomb probably orchestrated by members of the Jewish Defense League. I received a voice mail message from the JDL’s Earl Krugel threatening our group and reported this to the FBI and agreed to meet investigators in my office. I was excoriated by some Agenda members for doing so. My view is that when my life is threatened I’m going to have to trust somebody. While I don’t see the FBI as necessarily my friend, they sure know a lot more about the JDL and the threat they pose than I do. It was trust them or trust no one. And when I’m in danger I have to trust someone. That’s why I allowed them into my office.
The Muslim religious leader’s views put him squarely in the mainstream of American religious life. This is a man who Jews should be able to “do business with” to quote Maggie Thatcher’s infamous phrase about Gorbachev:
Imam Ali believes that American Jews and Muslims should build a relationship “that is more influenced by religious commonalities than by political differences. We cannot deny the emotional impact of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, yet we need to ensure that our relationship is not determined only by that.” He added, “We also should remember that there have been bright times in our relationship as well, such as the cooperation between Muslims and Jews in Andalusia during the Middle Ages.”
I’m pleased that Jewish academic institutions like the Jewish Theological Seminary and HUC-JIR have hosted talks with him and are reaching out to him.
Unfortunately, as I’ve documented here the N.Y. Jewish federation has not taken as forward-thinking a role. In fact, it has backslid into fear and mistrust of the local Muslim community. Federation rabbis have been directed to withdraw from interfaith dialogue projects. Rabbi Michael Paley was once a member of Debbie Almontaser’s support committee and listed as a keynote speaker at one of Rabbi Schneier’s conferences. He backed out of both projects mysteriously.
Also, after enthusiastically endorsing the Other Israel Film Festival devoted to Israeli Arab cinema, the Federation executive Jon Ruskay, abruptly told the festival organizers that they must remove the Federation’s logo from publicity brochures. Festival founder Carole Zabar was taken aback by Ruskay’s change of tack. An ill wind apparently blows through the Federation when it comes to Muslim-Jewish relations in New York.
Unfortunately, the Jewish communal group is missing out on an important opportunity to engage local Muslims in dialogue and debate about issues that divide and link us. Events in the Middle East are too bloody and too catastrophic to miss such possibilities when they arise. To the Ruskays of the Jewish world I say (paraphrasing Hillel): if you will not be for peace, who will be for it? If you are only for yourself, what are you? If not now, when?
Call me naive, but I do not see anything bad to occur when a moslem imam and a jewish rabbi talk.
I do not understand all the pushback – there is nothing to lose here for either side?
Leila Abu-Saba says
I blogged this years ago. Just google “muslims denounce terror” and see what you get. Innumerable hits dating back to before 9/11 and of course, after.
After 9/11/01, the American ambassador in Israel received an inch thick stack of faxes from Palestinians offering condolences. There were candlelight vigils in Palestine. And so forth.
But those who live in the madness of complete fear and paranoia don’t want to see or believe any of this, because then they would have to change too much. They fear that such change would annihilate them. This kind of paranoia is universal – I see it on the Arab/Muslim side, too. “They hate us, they want to exterminate us, and any offer they make is just a ruse to subjugate us.” I have heard this from some Arabs. I am sure some Jews feel this way.
Richard, you kindly commented on this post of two years ago on this topic:
Look at the other commenters there – paranoia personified. And you can always find real-world examples to confirm your negative beliefs, too.
Love is the answer.
” Love is the answer.”
I will settle for common sense…
Shah Sufi Saleh Uddin Ahmed Chisty says
ATTN: News Editor
International Religious and Spiritual Leader H.E. Shah Sufi Saleh Uddin Ahmed Chisty Gives A Clarion Call to Establish the Religious Brotherhood on the light of Abrahamic Faith.
“The patriarch of all the believers of Allah (God), i.e. Jews, Christians, and Muslims is Prophet Ibrahim (Peace be upon him, Abraham, PBUH). He built the Kaaba in Makkah with his first-born son Ismael (Peace be upon him, PBUH). This was an order from Allah (SWT) that Ibrahim and Ismael (PBUT) construct this Holy House of Allah (SWT) as a place of worship for all the believers on earth. Ismael (Peace be upon him, PBUH) was 17 at the time he and his father built the Kaaba. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him, PBUH), a descendent of the Prophet Ismael (Peace be upon him, PBUH), would come nearly 2,500 years after Kaaba was built and reunify it as a holy place of worship, according to the teachings of the Prophet Ibrahim (Peace be upon him, PBUH). As stated in the Torah and in the Holy Quran “all the generations will be blessed through Ibrahim (Peace be upon him, PBUH)” (Genesis 12 and 18 Holy Bible, Chp 2 Verses 123-141 Holy Quran).”
Dear Religious and Spiritual Leaders,
I wish to plead and make a fervent call to all my brothers/sisters across the world through the courtesy of this letter in carrying forward, upholding the message of Allah (God), His love for mankind, and ensuring lasting peace in a troubled world. The purpose of portraying my call upon all revered world leaders, politicians, and heads of states, policy makers, academicians, and civil society, spiritual and religious leaders is aimed at removing mistrust, misunderstandings the world is unnecessarily obsessed with, we have to liberate the world of undue tensions and wrangling.
My dear revered brothers and sisters, I have been working tirelessly for establishing peace for nearly twenty-five years. We are definitely running out of time. Everyday a large number of innocent lives are taking their toll for no fault of their own. This has to be arrested. The burning question is how this can be arrested? We can only achieve this by arriving at a common consensus and share our noble vision, thoughts, pooling our energy, resources, dialogs based on religious and spiritual concepts together on one common platform and thus thrust all our force in that direction without further wastage of time. Our Holy Books and Scriptures are the source of eternal light to erase all such misconceptions and misgivings. These sacred books as ordained by Allah (God) are irrevocable. It is enshrined and has come to us as an eternal source of strength, driving force sent through our Holy prophets at different times for the betterment of mankind. Unfortunately, we have not been able to use and exploit this to our advantage, as was the enlightened desire of Allah, through His Divine prophets. We are potentially still a force to reckon with on the driving seat to harness our good virtues for the peace of the world.
It is therefore imperative, I feel, that concerted effort needed to renew our honest will to establish the doctrines of Allah in this world, in thoughts, words and deeds, if not we are bound to perish and vanish from the good book of Allah. Politicians, policy and lawmakers and religious leaders of all faith, belief has to work in close conjunction in order to materialize our dream for a world of progress and prosperity. My thoughts go out for the oppressed and the depressed. It is true, many thought provoking, peace loving individuals, groups are working in reducing tension and conflicts, but unfortunately not much has been achieved. It is only through the doctrine of preaching love and respect for families under Allah (God) and the teachings of His innumerable prophets that were sent for the welfare of mankind at different times can bring about welfare, happiness of mankind.
Followers of the Abrahamic faith having one common ancestral root in fact preach love and peace, religious harmony, having sprung from one land. This indeed is a big boon and blessing that we can be proud of. It is time for reality and not rhetoric. It is through this vehicle that we can effectively mobilize our engine together by bringing the Abrahamic faith of all religious faiths together for establishing lasting peace. I have been running all over the world relentlessly making sincere effort to preach the ideology of Islamic Sufism as enunciated and preached by our Holy prophet Hazrat Mohammad (Peace be upon him, PBUH) who inherits the fundamentals of Hazrat Abraham (Peace be upon him) as are also firmly rooted in the common ideology of our Jews and Christian brothers.
I am convinced that we can march forward in our common goals and gospel without further delay, in fostering synchronization on the principles of our common glorious heritage. I would like to make a call upon all world leaders to form a consensus to ensure that this can be established. Unfortunately in recent years, Islam has been widely misunderstood and there lies one of the saddest tragedies of our contemporary world. We believe that our prophets who had all been sent and ordained by Allah were His peaceful messengers for the spread of fraternal brotherhood and live in peaceful coexistence.
danny flamberg says
This kind of interaction has to be the rule NOT the exception. We need a regular on-going dialog between people of good will on both sides dedicated to reconcilliation and peace.
Here’s another upcoming example of the kind of dialogue and conversatioon that shouyld be routinbe and continuous amnong the children of Abraham.
Developing a Muslim-Jewish Exchange
One of the first face-to-face dialogues between Muslims and Jews since the Gaza War and the Mumbai massacre, this promises to be an educational, insightful and emotional afternoon.
DAISY KHAN, Executive Director of American Society for Muslim Advancement (asmasociety.org) will discuss her efforts to foster American Muslim identity and build bridges between Muslims, Jews and other Americans.
WHAT: Building Bridges Between Muslims and Jews
WHO: Daisy Khan, American Society for Muslim Advancement
City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism
WHERE: The Society for the Advancement of Judaism
15 West 86 Street
WHEN: Sunday, February 8