Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dialogue: Jews, Christians & Muslims

The following two pieces are on the same subject. Praise the Lord, good things are happening. I welcome these steps.

Previous articles on the subject:


Mike Ghouse
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Paving The Path To Dialogue
Understanding between Muslims and Jews.
-- Judea Pearl

First came an "Open Letter From Muslims to Jews," signed by dozens of leading Muslim scholars and intellectuals in the West, calling for "Peace, Dialogue and Understanding Between Muslims and Jews."

The letter, which was initiated by American University professor Akbar Ahmed and formally presented by Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadan at Cambridge, England, stresses the Quranic acceptance of Jews and Muslims as one nation (Ummah); elaborates on commonalities of contemporary beliefs, rituals and values; celebrates shared memories of positive historical encounters; and ends with a call for "concrete outcomes in Muslim-Jewish relations in different parts of our shared world."

Second came an impassioned plea from the Saudi King Abdullah, for a dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews, the first such proposal from the custodian of Islam's holiest shrines and a nation that bans non-Muslim religious services and symbols. Abdullah said that Saudi Arabia's top clerics have given him the green light to hold meetings with "our brothers" in Christianity and Judaism, "so we can agree on something that guarantees the preservation of humanity against those who tamper with ethics, family systems and honesty."

Israel's newspaper Yediot Ahronot had subsequently reported on March 30, based on a phone call from the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, that Israeli rabbis will soon be invited to an interfaith conference initiated by the Saudi kingdom.

The official Jewish response to these proposals has been wholeheartedly enthusiastic. Responding to the Muslim letter, the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), an umbrella committee representing major Jewish organizations, has issued a welcoming call for dialogue between Muslims and Jews titled, "Seek Peace and Pursue It," and IJCIC's chair, Rabbi David Rosen, encouraged Muslims to develop the dialogue "in the pursuit of a world made better through our efforts."

As to King Abdullah's proposal, my understanding is that all chief rabbis in Israel, and there are many of them, are currently busy packing for an adventurous trip to the Arabian Peninsula.

Oddly, when I was asked by the initiative organizers to respond to the Muslim letter, I felt somewhat reluctant; it seems that all the media excitement caused me to take a sober look at the enterprise of Jewish-Muslim dialogue, with which I have been involved for almost five years.

My first thought landed of course on the positive symbolic value of having a visible dialogue going, regardless of its content. I therefore commended the authors for opening a new channel of communication between Jews and Muslims, and endorsed the letter as "a welcome first step toward the goals of peace, understanding and mutual respect."

But then I asked myself, how would an average Jewish reader react to the content of the letter? It became clear that the letter would evoke two immediate reservations, if not objections: First, it is totally void of self-criticism and, second, it skirts the thorniest of all issues: Israel's right to exist.

The question then became not whether a dialogue is a good thing to have (this I take as an axiom), but whether unconditional embracing of an invitation based on certain premises constitutes a tacit endorsement of those premises, with which one may disagree: In our case, the two premises in question are, first, that Islam is in no need for reform or introspection because it is already a pluralistic, nonexpansionist, Jew-respecting, violence-minimizing and human-rights-protecting religion and, second, that peace can somehow be achieved without Muslim acceptance of the legitimacy and permanency of Israel.

The concept of reform is a sensitive one in conversations with Muslims. Understandably, no person, let alone a community leader, would engage in an interfaith discussion only to listen to a sermon on how his or her religion should be reformed. Reforms, as Jews would surely recall, emerge from internal debates, not external criticism. Dealing with reform is especially hard for Muslims, since they are instructed to view the Quran as the final, perfect and immutable word of God.

In view of these constraints, what the Muslim letter is presenting to us is, in effect, a progressive reform strategy that we might as well call "stealth reform," namely, reform cast as reinterpretation of the sacred scriptures. The strategy invokes a simple recipe of dealing with contradictory texts in the Quran: texts that conform to accepted norms of modernity are to be considered central, universal and intentional, while those that deviate from modern norms are contextualized to specific events in seventh century Arabia and marginalized from modern discourse.

Before we dismiss this strategy as self-deceptive or disingenuous, we should be reminded that identical strategy has been used to great advantage in the Jewish tradition since the time of the Mishnah. Its most explicit expression is encapsulated in the Talmudic saying: Kol mah Sh'Talmid vatik atid l'horot lifnei rabbo, kevar n'emar L'Moshe B'Sinai (Translated: "Whatever a seasoned scholar is destined to innovate before his master was already revealed to Moses at Sinai") (Yerushalmi, Pe'ah 2.4). In other words, the Talmud bestows divine power unto the capacity of the human mind to reason and innovate.

The secret of this "stealthy" strategy lies in its power to usher in reform without challenging the divine origin of the scriptures; modern interpretations, however creative, are given equal chance to compete against extremist, literalist interpretations that accord universal validity to morally outdated texts. Stealth reform worked marvels in the Jewish tradition (e.g. no child was ever stoned for disobeying his parents, Sanhedrin, 71) and, if it worked in the Muslim world, we would be the last ones to quibble with its logic.

However, the effectiveness of this strategy depends critically on finding authoritative spiritual leaders who are willing to implement it in practice and turn it into the ruling philosophy of religious education. In other words, progressive interpretations of the Quran would become credible if sustained and reinforced by educational and jurisprudence institutions such as, for example, Al Azhar University, in Cairo, the most prestigious center of Muslim learning in Sunni Islam. Unfortunately, the leaders of these institutions, including Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, grand imam of Al-Azhar University, often support literalist interpretations that depict Jews as despicable, eternal enemies of Islam, and these interpretations are the ones that are currently gaining momentum in vast areas of the Muslim world.

It seems reasonable therefore to suggest that the Muslim letter would do more good if sent to Grand Imam Tantawi and other Islamic leaders in the Middle East who, evidently, have compelling reasons to object to the conciliatory interpretation espoused in the letter.

The Israeli-Palestinian issue is more subtle. Though the Muslim letter tries hard to avert controversial topics, it admits nevertheless: "At the core of the Muslim-Jewish tension lies the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and proposes: "A peaceful resolution that will assure mutual respect, prosperity and security to both Palestinians and Israelis, while allowing the Palestinian people their rights to self-determination."

Readers familiar with the history of Israel's plight for a two-state solution would notice immediately the asymmetrical language in which the proposed resolution is cast. Whereas the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination are affirmed explicitly, the rights of Israelis to the same status of self-determination are left undeclared, vulnerable to future assaults by enemies of co-existence.

In my response to the letter, I therefore expressed hope that the next phase of the dialogue "will bring Muslim and Jewish leaders closer toward a position of symmetry and reciprocity, and boldly acknowledge the historical rights of both sides to self-determination in two, equally legitimate, equally indigenous, and equally secured states."

I am thoroughly convinced that such acknowledgment, benign and neutral as it may sound, would do more for world peace than theological accounts of shared prophets and common rituals. And if King Abdullah's conference manages to sprout such acknowledgment we will indeed be facing the dawn of a totally new era in the Middle East.

What I am still unable to determine, though, is whether entering a dialogue in response to an asymmetrical invitation has a better chance of restoring symmetry than insisting on symmetry at the onset. Let us hope that the Jewish delegation to King Abdullah's dialogue will find some of the answer in Riyadh.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He and his wife Ruth are editors of I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl, winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

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Headline News
Tuesday, May 27, 2008 staff writer

Saudi king invites Jews, Christians for interfaith dialogue

Israeli media is reporting that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has invited Jews and Christians to his kingdom for an interfaith dialogue despite the fact that anyone with an Israeli passport or an entry visa into Israel stamped in their passport is not allowed into the country.

Haaretz daily newspaper said the date and location of the meeting has not been announced. Abdullah first announced his plans in March to hold dialogue with Muslims from around the world and Christians and Jews. “We will start to meet with our brothers in every faith I have mentioned - the Bible and the New Testament,” he said.

At the time, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger responded positively.

“Our hands are extended to any peace initiative, or to any dialogue whose goal is to bring an end to terror and violence,” he said. “I have said many times that the true way to reach the long-awaited peace is through interfaith dialogue.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said in a statement that King Abdullah’s initiative “is a laudable step forward. We hope that other religious leaders and political leaders throughout the world will be encouraged to join.”

1 comment:

  1. Dr Taylor teaches us how to attain deep inner peace - easily, simply, without drugs, anytime we want it. Forgive me for doing everything I can to be sure everyone reads this book and sees this video, but I think all of us benefit and in the larger sense, if everyone reads this, our world will benefit in a very large way.



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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.