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The Need for Jewish-Muslim Dialogue

This Friday, Muslims in Israel and around the world will begin celebrating their most important holiday, known as Eid al-Adha, the “festival of the sacrifice.” How many Jews in Israel – or anywhere else in the world – know anything about this? Or about Islam as one of the main monotheistic religions in the world, including in our country? Why is ignorance about Islam so prevalent among Jews, in Israel and the Diaspora? Why are there so few efforts on the part of Jews to learn and understand Islam – in all its complexity and diversity – by Jewish leaders and Jewish institutions? What are we afraid of? Similarly, Jews began to mark the Hebrew month of Elul last week, the month that precedes the “High Holidays” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Traditionally, this is a month of reflection and repentance, during which observant Jews blow the shofar every morning and recite special prayers known as slichot, prayers of forgiveness.

‘FOR ALL Muslims, the celebration of Eid al-Adha is of central importance. Its name aims to remind Muslims of the narrative of Abraham going to sacrifice his son.’. (photo credit:REUTERS)

How many Muslims in Israel, Palestine, or abroad know much about these customs? Or about Judaism – in all of its contemporary diversity? Why is ignorance of Judaism so dominant among Muslims here and elsewhere? Each year Muslims celebrate two feasts, al-Fitr Feast (Breaking the Fast) and al-Adha (Sacrifice) Feast. The al-Fitr Feast follows fasting during the month of Ramadan and al-Adha Feast starts on the tenth day of the Muslim month of Thu al-Hijjeh, after

performance of the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), and lasts until the thirteenth. More than 1.8 million Muslims arrive in Saudi Arabia to perform the pilgrimage rituals.

For all Muslims, the celebration of Eid al-Adha is of central importance. Its name aims to remind Muslims of the narrative of Abraham going to sacrifice his son (Ishmael according to the Muslim tradition and Isaac according to the Jewish tradition) in obedience to God’s instructions, then being ordered by God to sacrifice a lamb in his place. This ritual was adopted by Muslims to please God, be close to Him and seek His approval.

For Jews, the months of Elul and Tishrei represent the season of forgiveness, repentance and even reconciliation. It is fascinating to note that on Rosh Hashanah, we read the story of the binding of Isaac in our synagogues. Moreover, one of the most famous declarations of the Jewish philosopher and rabbi, Maimonides, about Yom Kippur is that one does not receive forgiveness from another fellow human being unless one engages in a process of reconciliation.

We have been engaged in dialogue, education and reconciliation among Jews and Muslims in Israel and Palestine, and internationally – separately and together – for several decades. In so doing, we have appeared together on many interreligious panels, and have engaged in dialogue projects and programs over many years. While these programs have faced many obstacles and challenges, they have also succeeded in changing the hearts and minds of many people, on both sides, toward reconciliation and the possibilities and benefits of peaceful coexistence.

Despite many negative trends – including especially the rise of Muslim and Jewish extremist fundamentalist movements which are very dangerous for our common well-being – we believe that it is still not too late for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims (and Christians) to engage in systematic, serious, sensitive and substantive encounters to overcome stereotypes and mutual misunderstandings of each other’s religion and culture. There is great mutual ignorance and much purposeful disinformation about each other’s traditions, especially on the Internet and social media, where maligning the other and debunking the other’s religion and culture thrives. It is time for this to change, since it is clearly in one’s own interest that this state of mutual misunderstanding and animosity does not continue into the future.

What is needed now and for the future is serious and genuine dialogue among Muslims and Jews here, and abroad. There are some modest beginnings. Some non-governmental organizations have begun to do this, but not yet in a significant way that adds up to a critical mass of impact. Judaism and Islam have a lot in common, most of which is unfortunately unknown.

These two great monotheistic religions have great teachings about ethics and social justice, as part of the core of who they are. But the media prefers to focus on the radical extremist fringes, which continue to purposely mis-educate people about the foundational truths of these religions and cultures.

As Muslims and Jews are engaged in serious introspection and renewal, perhaps this can be a time for a new beginning, one of mutual respect, based on knowledge of each other’s traditions and cultures, and one of constructive cooperation to heal the world, to make it a better place, here and elsewhere, for all children of the same God.

Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, a veteran interreligious peacebuilder in Jerusalem, has just published a new book titled The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, A View from Jerusalem (Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield, 2017).

Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi is founding director of the Wasatia Islamic Movement in Palestine. He became the center of a heated controversy when he took Palestinian students to Auschwitz. The public outcry forced him to resign his post at al-Quds University.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________ (c) 2017 The Jerusalem Post

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