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August 11, 09

NEWS / European Muslim and Jewish Leaders Visit America

Interfaith dialogue seeks to foster understanding

By Ahmed Mohamed
Staff Writer

Washington — A delegation of European imams and rabbis spent five days in Washington and New York in July to promote interfaith understanding.

The group included some of the most influential Jewish and Muslim spiritual leaders from Britain, Belgium, France, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, Norway and Russia. The trip was cosponsored by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU).

It is believed to be the first visit of its kind to involve foreign Muslim and Jewish leaders coming to America, where interreligious ties have a much longer history and record of success.

ISNA and FFEU sought to facilitate a dialogue between the visiting European imams and rabbis and their counterparts in the United States, who have been active in the field of Muslim-Jewish relations.

“Our strength as Muslim Americans [is that] we are able to build relations with other faiths, Christian, Jewish and the others,” said Sayyid Mohammad Syeed, national director of interfaith and community alliances for ISNA. “America has been able to build a society built on diversity. It did not happen all of a sudden; it took America years and years to do it. … Our success in America has given us the faith and confidence to reach out to Europe.”

Rizwan Jaka, one of the event’s organizers and a board member of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) and ISNA, said, “The goal was to bring imams and rabbis together for interfaith understanding to stand against anti-Semitism and against Islamophobia.”

Jaka added, “The interfaith dialogue helps all of us to understand one another. We all have to live in this world together; we have to live together in peace and harmony, as our faiths ask us to do. … By knowing one another, [we] will stop fearing one another, will stop the ignorance that creates a gap. By knowing one another, by eating together, by talking together, there can be respect and understanding that can help truly create peace around the world.”

The visiting rabbis and imams viewed a short film at the ADAMS Center in Sterling, Virginia. The film showed the cooperation and peaceful co-existence between Muslim Americans and Jewish Americans in nearby Ashburn, Virginia.

Sayyed Alam, chairperson of ADAMS’ Ashburn Committee, told America.gov that “five years ago we were looking for a place to rent for the al-Jumaa prayer and we got a place that is next to the synagogue, where they agreed to rent us the place for the prayer.”

Members of the local Muslim-American community gathered with the delegation of imams and rabbis for a dinner, catered halal and kosher, hosted by the ADAMS Center. “It is a good opportunity for our generation to engage in such events,” said Ibrahim Moiz, a Muslim-American attorney who represented the youth of the ADAMS Center in the event.

ISNA also mounted an outreach to American Christians and Jews in July at its annual conference in Washington, sponsoring an interfaith reception for 400 leaders from various religions.

“The great challenge of the 21st century in interreligious dialogue is to find the path to narrow the gap between Muslims and Jews worldwide,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

The conference fostered mutual respect among participants and underscored shared goals, including fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, said Geneva Chief Rabbi Izhak Dayan. “Together with the Muslim community, we can preserve our religious rights.”

On November 13–15, FFEU will sponsor its second “Weekend of Twinning,” where 40 communities throughout the United States will pair — or “twin” — a local mosque and synagogue to host a joint program on the subject of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The goal of this national project is to combat ethnic tension between Muslims and Jews. The event will also seek common ground between the two religious traditions so that members of the two faiths can study their shared sacred texts and discover their common humanity.

The Weekend of Twinning has the endorsement of the Islamic Society of North America, as well as other organizations including the World Jewish Congress, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims.




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