In Sarcelles, Muslim and Jewish dignitaries pray for peace

July 22, 2014

On Sunday, July 20 violence marred a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Sarcelles. In its aftermath leaders from both the Muslim and Jewish communities, including France’s chief rabbi Haim Korsia and the imam of Drancy, Hassen Chalghoumi, gathered to pray together.

The multi-faith prayer took place in the town’s synagogue under the protection of local police and included singer Enrico Macias and writer Marek Halter. Soon after Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Buddhist leaders gathered at the French president’s official residence to denounce anti-Semitism. “The president of the Republic reminded us that the fight against anti-Semitism will be a national cause,” underlined president of the Central Israeli Consistory Joel Mergui.

The violent riots took place in Sarcelles, a city north of Paris, known for its large North African Jewish community and often referred to as “little Jerusalem.” Cars were burned and stores were ransacked, including a kosher grocery store. Eighteen people were arrested and eleven remain in police custody, four of whom are minors.

“I didn’t sleep at night, I was anxious. People from all places live together here, we don’t understand,” said a 67 year-old Jewish resident whose car was destroyed. The city’s mayor Francois Pupponi later stated that “the Jewish community is scared” and no longer feels secure.

Interfaith leaders launch daylong unity fast for Mideast peace

July 14, 2014

While the violence escalates in Israel and Gaza, a movement is taking hold that unites Jews, Muslims and others in a campaign for peace.

On Tuesday (July 15), a daylong fast is planned as part of a public effort to show unity in the fight against war and violence in the region.

Using the Twitter hashtag #HungryforPeace, the cause started in Israel and gained strength in England, promoted by Yachad, a U.K.-based pro-Israel, pro-peace group. Last weekend, it was announced in temples, mosques and churches in the U.S.

Pastor Steve Norman of Kensington Church near Detroit used Twitter to call his 10,000-strong congregation to join him in the fast after reading about the efforts of Muslims and Jews to publicly stand together.

“It just seemed right to follow their lead,” said Norman, whose church sponsors several trips to Israel and the West Bank each year.

The latest series of clashes between Israel and the Palestinians are blamed on the kidnapping of three Israeli young men who were later found dead, as well as the reported revenge killing of a teenage Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem. In the words of Lee Ziv, an Israeli peace activist, “The tears of an Israeli mother over her dead son are identical to those of a Palestinian Mother.”

Ziv started a Facebook page called “The Bus of Peace” and is organizing a bus to drive from Jerusalem to Gaza with flowers and peace slogans to demonstrate the goodwill of many Israelis toward the people of Gaza. In the past, she has gathered blankets and other supplies to donate to those living in Gaza.

Jewish and Muslim communities to break fast for peace

July 15, 2014

NEW HAVEN. The violent actions on display between Israelis and Palestinians is a sight Rabbi Herbert Brockman doesn’t like viewing or listening to.

But instead of hearing about casualties, Brockman, spiritual leader of Congregation Mishkan Israel of Hamden, doesn’t want to stand by.

At sundown Tuesday, Brockman and other members of the Jewish community will head to The Islamic Association of Greater Hartford in Berlin for a date with Muslims, where they will break fast together. Tuesday is Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, a fast day for Jews, while Muslims are fasting during the month of Ramadan, Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Connecticut, praised the event. CAIR’s focus is to empower the Muslim community through activism.

“It was well received from both sides,” Dhaouadi of New London said. “It’s a very small gesture. I don’t think sitting on the sideline doing nothing is acceptable either.”

Former German Federal President promotes dialogue

July 11, 2014

Christian Wulff, former Federal President, encouraged people to enter into a dialogue with each other and particularly with Islam. He emphasized on the central role of world religions in promoting world peace. Rather than stressing differences he suggested to focus on the commonalities and, as a positive example, quoted the national soccer team of Germany. While talking about the ongoing essentialization of Islam and Muslim in Germany, he addressed the issues of tolerance and the readiness to engage in dialogue.

Breaking the Ramadan fast in the company of Jews

July 10, 2014

(RNS) Muslim tradition calls for breaking the Ramadan fast in the evening with a date and a sip of water, and increasingly these days, the company of Jews.

Muslim-Jewish iftars are popping up across the nation, bringing together dozens and sometimes hundreds of people for a celebratory Ramadan meal and a chance to forge interfaith friendships.

This Ramadan, as Jews and Muslims exchange rocket fire in Israel and Gaza, those attending these meals say they are all the more significant, as a way of demonstrating that Jews and Muslims have much in common, and can enjoy each others’ food and company.

In Los Angeles on Thursday (July 10), an iftar that bills itself as the single largest gathering of Muslims and Jews in the city, is sponsored by NewGround, an organization that works year-round on Muslim-Jewish relations. The group exists to build resilient relationships that both groups can draw upon in particularly difficult times, said Rabbi Sarah Bassin, NewGround’s former executive director.

“Yes, we are in another awful flare-up of violence and both of our communities are suffering,” Bassin said. “That will be acknowledged at the iftar.”

At Muslim-Jewish iftars, particular attention is paid to food. In Los Angeles, the meal will be both halal and kosher, in keeping with both Muslim and Jewish dietary laws, which often overlap. Neither faith community eats pork, for example. Out of respect for Muslim tradition, no alcohol will be served.

Some of these interfaith Iftars will be hosted in mosques or other Muslims institutions — on Sunday (July 13), for example, at the Institute of Islamic and Turkish Studies in Cary, N.C. Others will take place in synagogues.

An Interfaith Trojan Horse: Faithwashing Apartheid and Occupation

By Sana Saeed

July 1, 2014

 

Interfaith work has the potential to create and sustain profound relationships across religions. 

But what happens when interfaith work becomes a trojan horse?

In this piece I explore the Muslim Leadership Initiative, a program which sends American Muslims leaders to Israel to study Judaism and Zionism and is funded by the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Zionist and anti-BDS organization.  I’ve broken down the narrative into five parts – the actual critique and deconstruction of the institute and program are towards the later part of the article.

 

The TIME article reduces the occupation to the displacement of “dialogue” and “both sides” (unsure if Chaudry means Palestinians and Israelis or Muslims and Jews) being unwilling to speak outside ”their own bubbles”. Muslims, it essentially argues, misunderstand Zionism and thus misunderstand Jews and Israel. Therefore, to have healthy and holistic interfaith dialogue back in the United States, American Muslims must understand what Zionism means to Jews and what Israel means to Jews. At the  midway point of her piece, Chaudry even explains how  it was only after she finally met Palestinians, during her trip, that she understood that the “fear many Israeli Jews have [of ending the occupation] is not a figment of [their] imagination” as “the pressure cooker cannot hold indefinitely.”

Faithwashing Apartheid and Occupation

It is hard to ignore the obvious; it is hard to ignore that despite whatever good intentions and explanations there were and will be, a group of Muslim American leaders – many in the very public eye and with a great deal of social authority – went to Jerusalem through a program, albeit organized by an Imam, funded and supported by an institution that is unabashedly Zionist. That a group of Muslim American leaders traveled to Israel to learn about what ‘Zionism means to Jews’ to better understand Jewish connection to Israel and thus bridges, interfaith, dialogue and other such nouns.

And yet nothing about this is, unfortunately, surprising.

One of the most common tactics of Zionist lobby groups and organizations has been sanitizing the occupation and apartheid and displacing the actual cause and reason for the conflict. Zionist groups have courted Black college students and Latino leaders (with pushback), for instance, in an attempt to, as independent journalist Rania Khalek describes it, “neutralize the brown electorate.” She explains how in an attempt to thwart identification or solidarity Latino, Asian and Black Americans may have with the Palestinian struggle there is a necessity to, quoting former US Ambassador to the European Union Stuart Eizenstat, show how the conflict ”..“is not a civil rights issue. It’s rather a very different conflict in which violence is being used and Israel’s right to be a state is questioned.”

The Need to Reject The Zionist Narrative

There are more questions than answers.

One of the first things that struck me about the program, after I learned that it was associated and funded by the Shalom Hartman Institute, was that there actually isn’t any reason for Muslim American leaders to travel to Israel to study Judaism for the sake of interfaith. Was there really a dearth of resources in the United States? Or are Rabbinical studies only possible in Israel? Just as Qur’anic studies would only be possible in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, India, Jordan? Morocco has one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in the world; why not go there, where interfaith between Muslims and Jews isn’t obstructed by apartheid walls and laws? Not only would it not cross the BDS line but it would also shift the focus from Ashkenazi-centric Jewish narratives to Sephardic.

Palestine is central to the hearts of Muslims all around the world, but that does not mean we try to re-write the narrative of the occupation on our own terms. There is a real need for interfaith understanding and work between Jews and Muslims and if Israel is a part of that work, then so be it. But we must not, in the process, allow ourselves, our communities and our leaders to be on the wrong sides of history and justice by normalizing and accepting what was and remains unjust.

Right now is a critical moment for our communities to have an actual conversation – not a shouting match. There are concerted efforts to drive wedges between members of communities that may and do stand up against Zionism and the oppression of Palestinians. I earnestly hope we do not allow those efforts to succeed and I encourage others to write responses and engage on this topic. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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Hamburg begins with interreligious education

June 23, 2014

Starting in August 2014 two schools in Hamburg will test religious education in a joint sponsorship involving Jewish, Christian and Islamic communities. With this the federal state of Hamburg implements a treaty closed one year ago. Precondition for Muslim teachers is, however, that they have a regular as well as an Islamic teaching qualification and that the student body contains a high proportion of children with an Islamic background. In re-organizing religious education Hamburg’s school board is expecting positive effects on tolerance and de-radicalization.

Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Coordinating Council of Muslims (KRM) delegation meet in Cologne to convey peace

June 16, 2014

Representatives of the umbrella organization KRM (Coordinating Council of Muslims) have met with delegates of the EKD (Evangelical Church in Germany). The central theme of this year’s meeting was the contribution of religious communities in Germany to promote peace in society and among nations. In the light of the dramatic situation in Iraq, the Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Nikolaus Schneider, as well as the spokesman of the Coordinating Council of Muslims (KRM), Ali Kızılkaya, criticized the abuse of religion for the legitimization of violence and war. Both the EKD and KRM announced to publish a guide for dialogue with basic recommendations and remarks for the encouragement and promotion of a Christian-Muslim encounter. The guide, which will be published in autumn, will be drawn up by a Muslim and a Protestant working group and will specifically focus on the implementation of dialogue as a basic prerequisite for a harmonious coexistence.

Interfaith Panel Denounces a 9/11 Museum Exhibit’s Portrayal of Islam

April 24, 2014

 

Past the towering tridents that survived the World Trade Center collapse, adjacent to a gallery with photographs of the 19 hijackers, a brief film at the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum will seek to explain to visitors the historical roots of the attacks.

The film, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” refers to the terrorists as Islamists who viewed their mission as a jihad. The NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who narrates the film, speaks over images of terrorist training camps and Qaeda attacks spanning decades. Interspersed with his voice are explanations of the ideology of the terrorists, rendered in foreign-accented English translations.

The documentary is not even seven minutes long, the exhibit just a small part of the museum. But it has suddenly become over the last few weeks a flash point in what has long been one of the most highly charged issues at the museum: how it should talk about Islam and Muslims.

With the museum opening on May 21, it has shown the film to several groups, including an interfaith advisory group of clergy members. Those on the panel overwhelmingly took strong exception to the film and requested changes. But the museum has declined. In March, the sole imam in the group resigned to make clear that he could not endorse its contents.

The screening of this film in its present state would greatly offend our local Muslim believers as well as any foreign Muslim visitor to the museum,” Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, the imam of Masjid Manhattan, wrote in a letter to the museum’s director. “Unsophisticated visitors who do not understand the difference between Al Qaeda and Muslims may come away with a prejudiced view of Islam, leading to antagonism and even confrontation toward Muslim believers near the site.”

Museum officials are standing by the film, which they say they vetted past several scholars.

The terms “Islamist” and “jihadist” are frequently used in public discourse to describe extremist Muslim ideologies. But the problem with using such language in a museum designed to instruct people for generations is that most visitors are “simply going to say Islamist means Muslims, jihadist means Muslims,” said Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University.

“The terrorists need to be condemned and remembered for what they did,” Dr. Ahmed said. “But when you associate their religion with what they did, then you are automatically including, by association, one and a half billion people who had nothing to do with these actions and who ultimately the U.S. would not want to unnecessarily alienate.”

For his part, Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, defended the film, whose script he vetted.

“The critics who are going to say, ‘Let’s not talk about it as an Islamic or Islamist movement,’ could end up not telling the story at all, or diluting it so much that you wonder where Al Qaeda comes from,” Dr. Haykel said.

The museum declined to make the film available for viewing by The New York Times.

The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/nyregion/interfaith-panel-denounces-a-9-11-museum-exhibits-portrayal-of-islam.html?_r=0

Seattle Interfaith Leaders to Seek Probe of Imam’s Forced Removal from Delta Flight

March 31, 2014

 

On Tuesday, April 1, the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-WA), along with a group of pastors, rabbis, imams, and labor leaders, will hold a news conference to ask Delta Air Lines and the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate the apparently bias-motivated removal earlier this month of a Seattle-area imam (Muslim religious leader) from a flight by Delta employees.

The imam, who is a Delta Platinum Elite member, was forced to disembark his flight and take another flight. He was reportedly informed by the Delta employee who escorted him off the plane that this was being done because a crew member judged “the way you used the restroom” to be “doubtful.”

“The Department of Transportation must investigate this shocking incident to hold Delta Air Lines accountable for discriminating against a respected religious leader,” said CAIR-WA Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari. “Not all passengers who go to the bathroom get kicked off their flight, so Delta’s discriminatory act was due solely to the imam’s perceived racial, ethnic and religious affiliation.”

Bukhari noted that there have been a number of similar incidents nationwide in which Muslim leaders and community members have been forcibly removed from airplanes after boarding due to their language, religious attire or appearance.

Cair.com: http://cair.com/press-center/press-releases/12431-seattle-interfaith-leaders-to-seek-probe-of-imams-forced-removal-from-delta-flight.html