Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Jewish/Muslim Dialogue. Yes

By Manya A. Brachear
Chicago Tribune
September 1, 2007

In an unusual goodwill gesture, the top rabbi of the nation's largest Jewish movement pleaded with American Muslims on Friday to transcend the differences that have divided their people for decades and join Jews to confront the extremist factions and prejudice that plague both religious traditions.

"It is ... our collective task to strengthen and inspire one another as we fight the fanatics and work to promote the values of justice and love that are common to both our faiths," Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told members of the Islamic Society of North America at their annual meeting in Rosemont. "We know nothing of Islam -- nothing. The time has come to listen to our Muslim neighbors speak in their own words about the spiritual power of Islam and their love for their religion."

Frequently interrupted by ovations, Yoffie introduced a joint initiative to launch conversations between Muslims and Jews across the country. In a separate interview, Yoffie envisions mosques and synagogues initially forging partnerships in 10 cities.

"There is nothing simple or easy about the project that we are about to undertake," he said. "But interconnected since the time of Abraham, thrust into each other's lives by history and fate and living in a global world, what choice do we really have?"

Sayyid Syeed, who directs the Islamic Society's national interfaith outreach, welcomed Yoffie to the stage, saying the appearance was long overdue.

"Today we are making history," Syeed said. "What you can ask him today is 'What took you so long?'"

For many in the audience, the answer was simple. For decades, most American Jews and Muslims have been unable to forgive or forget the deadly conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. Many attempts to engage in dialogue have reached an impasse.
Others who were not in the audience said the Muslim organization's invitation to Yoffie marks a significant and symbolic shift in approach. In years past, interfaith receptions have been scheduled on Friday nights, when Jews observe the Sabbath, making some Jews feel unwelcome.

"I think it's a healthy step forward," said Rabbi Ira Youdovin, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis. "The important thing is to be able to talk to people."

Yoffie said Jews and Muslims should indeed start talking and stop arguing. They should present a unified front when urging the American government to work toward a peaceful resolution overseas and to stop racial profiling and discrimination on American soil. Yoffie joined Muslim leaders in private meetings with government officials Friday.

Along with other major American Muslim groups, ISNA's tax records and prison ministries have been investigated by the federal government in search of terrorist connections. No wrongdoing has been found. U.S. military and government officials have job booths at the convention to recruit chaplains and others who speak Arabic.

Yoffie acknowledges the trepidation some Jews might feel about the partnership, especially if they equate the Islamic Society with other Muslim organizations that have been targets of government investigations.

"Our view is that it's important to talk to people that you don't agree with and not simply those that you do agree with," he said in an interview. "It would be impossible to enter into this kind of program with a group that is somehow not unequivocally clear in its condemnation of terror. ISNA is not in that category."

To the Muslim audience, Yoffie insisted that Jews and Muslims must overcome the fears and suspicions that stem from clashes overseas.

"Will we, Jews and Muslims, import the conflicts of the Middle East into America, or will we join together and send a message of peace to that troubled land?" Yoffie asked. "If Israel is portrayed as 'a dagger pushed into the heart of Islam,' rather than a nation-state disputing matters of land and water with the Palestinians, we are lost. As religious Jews and religious Muslims, let us do everything in our power to prevent a political battle from being transformed into a holy war."

This is not the first time the Reform movement and national Muslim leaders have attempted to launch a dialogue in Chicago. Rabbi Herbert Bronstein, senior scholar of North Shore Congregation Israel, spearheaded negotiations in the early 1990s that broke down when neither Muslims nor Jews could avoid taking sides in the Middle East conflict. He called efforts to revive the conversations "nothing short of momentous."

He said liberal Jews can help Muslims who are seeking to become more moderate while retaining the authenticity of their beliefs.

"That's the North American experience," Bronstein said. "There's a kind of mutual illumination taking place that we should be proud of as Americans."

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, said that while agreeing to disagree may sound easy to some, "it takes time to build trust and confidence just like any relationship."

"They have to look at us as partners, not a threat," he said.

Niger Rehman of Long Island, N.Y., said she was pleasantly surprised by Yoffie's ability to give a balanced perspective.

"I do hope we can find common ground," she said. "One step at a time. Though the world is moving fast, we don't have too much time."

ISNA, based in Plainfield, Ind., is the largest umbrella group of Muslims in North America, claiming more than 100,000 members and 300 constituent organizations, including mosques, campus groups and professional organizations.

About 30,000 members from the U.S. and Canada are expected to attend the annual meeting, which runs through Monday. Yoffie leads 1.5 million progressive Jews in the U.S.

1 comment:

Muslims Against Sharia said...

What is wrong with today's Jews?
A perspective of a moderate Muslim.

When Muslims criticize Jews chances are it's Islamists. You rarely see moderate (an I do mean real moderate, not Islamists like CAIR who claim to be moderate) Muslims saying unflattering things about the Jews. So, normally, when I see the Jews do dumb things i.e., supporting an Islamist congressional candidate because of partisanship (American Jewish World's support for Keith Ellison) or providing utilities to a terrorist enclave (Gaza), I try to keep my mouth shut. For obvious reasons. But not this time.

I thought I've seen everything: Cuban missile crisis, fall of Berlin wall, 9/11. Until recently, I thought that the father of modern terrorism getting awarded a Nobel Peace Prize was the most peculiar event in my lifetime. But a recent, largely unnoticed event, could take the cake in peculiarity contest.

Read more: http://muslimsagainstsharia.blogspot.com/2008/01/what-is-wrong-with-todays-jews.html