Video: Do You Think Science and Religion Can Coexist?


SoulPancake, a popular YouTube channel, recently asked me to participate in a discussion with other faith leaders about the environment. That was something I could not pass up.

The interviewer is Zach Anner, a self-proclaimed “climate change idiot” who is on a mission to, “find out what the hell climate change is and what people across America are doing (or not doing) about it!”

In this Earth Your While adventure, Zach talks with a Rabbi, an Imam, and a Reverend about their religion’s perspective on caring for the environment.

Photo courtesy of NewGround.

A Jew Walks into a Mosque in the Middle of the Night


As I listened to the speech of Imam Shahin in Davis several weeks ago, my heart sank and my anger burned. Anger for the violence of the words themselves, being addressed to my community and my people, but also because of the violence done to the Islam I have learned from my Muslim friends across many different communities. And my heart sank knowing how much work it was going to take to repair the rifts — both in the Davis community, and down here in Los Angeles.

My mind wandered to sermons I heard in synagogues struggling righteously with the Torah portion which commands us to to wipe out Amalek. There were inflammatory ones, too.  I once had to leave the Bratslav shul in Jerusalem because my Hebrew was good enough to understand the equation being made between the Arabs and Amalek. Another time my husband felt compelled, during synagogue announcements to stand and say, “The sages say there are 70 faces of the Torah. I am sure that was not one of them” in response to a drash arguing the Biblical basis for total war against the Palestinians. I remembered the confusion, shame and anger at seeing the texts I love being used in such hateful ways.

Last week I watched my Facebook feed fill with fear and indignation from Jews, and with clear and unequivocal condemnations from Muslim friends and colleagues, expressing sentiments reflecting a similar combination of shame and anger as I had when my texts were being used to inflame. Behind the scenes I watched the Muslim Jewish network activate to confront the unacceptable rhetoric that had been derived from a tradition that Muslims loved too, challenging in the strongest possible terms and leveraging relationships to create a process of healing.

Our texts can be used to divide or heal.  As the final days of Ramadan approached this year, a 17 year old girl, Nabra Hassanen, was murdered in Virginia. It was a difficult time for my Muslim friends. I found myself pulled toward the Islamic Center of Southern California for Taraweeh prayers — not only to support my friends, but for my own experience and understanding, as well.

Taraweeh is a set of late night prayers recited after breaking fast during Ramadan. I had been at other Muslim prayer services, but never this one. I imagined it might have a similar feel to the slichot prayers Jews recite late a night or early in the morning before the High Holidays.  

I arrived a little late alongside other stragglers.  As Program Co-Director at NewGround: a Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, the ICSC has become a second home to me. I am there for Fellowship sessions and meetings at least twice a month. I knew I would be warmly welcomed as I had been any time I stepped across the threshold of the building on Vermont and 4th.

As I stepped into the women’s section, the evening’s sermon was already in progress. I worked my way to a corner from where I could respectfully witness. As I settled in, I heard the speaker say “Many of these verses talk about women, but this one talks about the Torah.”

What?! I had just stepped into a mosque. Why are we all of a sudden talking about the Torah?

The speaker, Dr. Laila al-Marayti, continued: “‘There is a parable: those who were graced with the burden of the Torah failed to bear this burden; it is like of a donkey that carries a load of books.’ So what good are books to an animal that can’t read them? Often we look at this as an admonition for the Jews, but this is really for all of us, lest we take our Quran for granted and we get used to just using it in a ritualistic fashion without really reading or understanding it.”

She had taken a verse that has been deployed against Jews, and turned it into an opportunity to explore the universal experience of failing to search for deeper understanding. Dr. Al-Marayati’s remarks were framed by the larger question about how we “balance mercy and justice” in our daily relationships, a question so familiar to me from repeated Jewish sources advocating that God and humans balance “rachamim” with “din” (compassion with judgement).

Perhaps, as according to both our traditions, herein lies the key.  We certainly need justice. We need to hold one another accountable — and hold our own communities accountable — for the ways in which we speak about one another. But that accountability must be balanced with compassion. Compassion comes through relationship. In building empathetic and vulnerable relationships we begin looking not only for one another’s culpability, but beyond it, as well. These relationships may offer us the gift of catching one another off guard — in acts of compassion. And it is in the context of these relationships that we, like those who delve meaningfully into the Quran and into the Torah, can learn to read and understand one another on a deeper level.

Andrea Hodos is Program Co-Director at NewGround: a Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change and along with Tasneem Noor facilitates the Professional Fellowship. They are accepting applications for the 2017-18 cohort through August 18th.

The Temple Mount, California edition: Anti-Semitic sermons test Muslim-Jewish bonds


Sermons infused with anti-Semitic language delivered by imams in two California mosques on the same day have reignited tensions in Jewish-Muslim relations after leaders of the two religious groups around the state have worked aggressively to ease lingering conflicts.

The July 21 remarks by Imam Mahmoud Harmoush of the Islamic Center of Riverside and Imam Ammar Shahin of the Islamic Center of Davis drew strong condemnation from Muslim and Jewish leaders, fearful that such incendiary language could erode relations.

The effect was like picking at a scab on a slow-healing wound. Since the terror attacks of 9/11, American Jewish and Muslim groups have made a concerted effort to forge bonds of understanding and cooperation. Those have been nursed along despite the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, not to mention the enduring friction between Israelis and Palestinians. More recently, efforts to stigmatize Muslims generally have encouraged Jews and Muslims to push for closer relations.

The angry sermons from the pulpits in Davis and Riverside tested the strength of those developing bonds.

“It is critical to understand the mosque, a sanctuary for worship and spiritual growth, has no place for divisiveness or hate. Paranoia as a result of political unrest does not justify making these allegations against an entire religious group,” the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing understanding of Muslims, said in condemning the two sermons.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) and the American Jewish Committee, among others, expressed outrage over the sermons, with the ADL calling them “anti-Semitic and dangerous.” The Zionist Organization of America called for Shahin’s firing, and the Wiesenthal Center has urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate the Davis Muslim leader.

In an Aug. 1 statement, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) said Harmoush’s sermon was “dangerous, offensive, and entirely inconsistent with the tolerant and respectful views routinely expressed by local Muslim leaders.” That same day, Rep. Brad Sherman, a Jewish Democrat who serves the San Fernando Valley, said Harmoush’s words were “nothing short of hate speech.”

Both sermons referred to last month’s conflict at the Temple Mount, where a shooting of two Druze Israeli police officers led the Israeli government to install metal detectors for entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is part of the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. After two weeks of internal and international outrage from Muslims, the metal detectors were removed.

In his sermon, Shahin said, “Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews.”

Quoting a hadith, a saying of the Prophet Muhammad that is distinct from the text of the Quran, he said, “Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last.”

Harmoush used similar language when he said in his sermon, “Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque and all the Muslim lands from the unjust tyrants and occupiers. Oh Allah, destroy them, they are no match for you.” 

Further, he condemned “the occupying forces of the Israeli army [that] have intervened and indeed took over the holy place and shut it down.”

“These statements are anti-Semitic and dangerous,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, said referring to the two sermons. “We reject attempts to cast the conflict in Jerusalem as a religious war between Jews and Muslims. At this time of heightened tension, it is more important than ever for the Jewish and Muslim communities to come together to condemn the use of stereotypes and conspiracy theories, and to rebuild trust so that people of all faiths can coexist with mutual respect in the Holy Land and around the world.”

Imam Ammar Shahin

 

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the SWC, called on Muslim leaders to denounce the two sermons as a more effective way to blunt anti-Semitic speech than criticism from the outside.

“Whatever changes need to take place, they cannot be forced from Christian leaders or Jewish leaders,” he said. “That change has to come from within and it has to be brought about by leaders within the Muslim community.”

If the language of the Riverside and Davis imams stood out as particularly inflammatory, the sentiments were not unique.

While his July 28 sermon at the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City in English and Arabic did not explicitly promote violence, Sheikh Ahson Syed retained a distinct negative bias toward non-Muslims and repeatedly referred to Israeli soldiers, in English, as “Zionist terrorist soldiers.”

The sermon was recorded and posted to YouTube by the mosque, and the Journal commissioned a translation of the Arabic portion.

In Arabic, he said, “O God help our brothers in Palestine to get victory and get rid of the enemies who occupy their land. O God reinforce Islam and the Muslims, take down the shirk and the mushriks and kill enemies; enemies of Islam.”

In Islamic religious thought, a shirk is an idolator and mushrik refers to Christians and Jews, those who worship someone other than Allah.

Unlike leaders of some other religions, imams are appointed to lead prayers and are not required to have had formal seminary or theological training. Nor does Islam have any central authority that specifies what imams can say or not say in their sermons.

As a consequence, it is difficult to quantify how often fiery rhetoric is part of sermons delivered in mosques in California or elsewhere. Mahomed Akbar Khan, director of interfaith and outreach for King Fahad Mosque, said mosques entrust their imams and speakers to deliver sermons however they want.

“It’s generally free rein,” he said. “The questions we ask [when choosing speakers] is, ‘Is this person qualified and is this person respected in the community?’ If there are any inappropriate comments, we make it clear that it is not the stance of the mosque. But every mosque is different.”

Despite the language of the Riverside and Davis sermons and in mosques elsewhere, hate speeches in American mosques are “few and far between” and for the most part, haven’t been proven to lead to violence, said Kenneth Lasson, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, who wrote a 2005 paper on hate speech and incitements in mosques.

“It’s rare a congregation would go out to commit violence after hearing a sermon,” he said, adding that while he would prefer civility in places of worship, hate speech is protected as free speech if no violence happens as a result of it.

“That connection must be proven,” Lasson said. “In the cases in California, there appears that there have been no consequences other than hard feelings.”

Nonetheless, Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround, an organization that works to improve Muslim-Jewish relations, said the sermons reveal deep-seated differences between the communities.

“I think it blows the lid off that this is real,” Hasan told the Journal. “There are feelings between these two communities and this is how it has manifested.”

One member of NewGround, Jewish activist Tuli Skaist, reached out to Shahin to challenge his use of “such hateful rhetoric,” as he said in an op-ed posted at jewishjournal.com.

“In these turbulent times, with so much hate in the world, it seems to me that faith leaders ought to be in the firefighting business,” Skaist wrote. “We must fight the inflammatory flames of hate with the sweet waters of love. We must fight intolerance in the world by urging our people to be more kind and more tolerant.”

In his response to Skaist, Shahin accused the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an organization that translates speeches in Arabic into English, bringing them to a wider audience, of taking his remarks out of context.

But he apologized for his sermon, writing, “Thank you for your comments and concerns, I will keep them in mind. As you know, when we speak with emotion, words might not be put in the right places or understood correctly.

“My apology to all your community for any harm that my misinterpreted words might have caused.”

In a subsequent press conference, Shahin appeared with Davis Mayor Robb Davis and Rabbi Seth Castleman, chairman of the Sacramento Area Council of Rabbis, and apologized, acknowledging that he allowed his emotions to get the better of him.

“I understand that speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts, for this I truly apologize,” Shahin said. “Words matter and have consequences.”

In his online op-ed for the Journal, Skaist wrote, “Let me be clear: The imam was wrong; his words were dangerous and inexcusable. Such words should not be tolerated by his community or any other. At the same time, here is a man that is not full of hate, but who simply got carried away with passion, used words that he shouldn’t have, and had them distributed to the world in a two-minute ‘got you’ sound bite.”

MEMRI denied that Shahin’s remarks were edited or mistranslated and called him “one of a group of extremist preachers who have been exposed by MEMRI to be delivering incitement to hatred and violence.” The organization said accusations of misrepresenting Shahin reflects an effort by the Islamic Center of Davis “to deflect responsibility from themselves by issuing all kinds of mendacious and libelous statements against the entity that exposed them.”

In addition to his position at the Davis mosque, Shahin is an instructor at the Zidni Islamic Institute in Brentwood. Egyptian-born, he graduated from the Institute for Preparation of Preachers with a bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies and earned an associate degree from Al-Forqan Institute, according to the Zidni Institute.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Center of Riverside (ICR) said it conducted an internal inquiry, reviewing Harmoush’s remarks and finding that his critics had misinterpreted his words.

Imam Harmoush was careful to focus his remarks on the actions of the Israeli government in and around Jerusalem,” the center said in a statement. “In fact, those parts of the sermon which have been cited as objectionable were routinely mistranslated and/or taken out of context. Nonetheless, Imam Harmoush unequivocally stated in the sermon that Islam does not call for aggression against any peaceful people.

“ICR believes that the Imam’s remarks were neither anti-Semitic nor discriminatory, but rather intended to address the unfortunate closure of the Mosque in Jerusalem to Muslim worshippers,” the statement said.

In a brief interview with the Journal, Harmoush did not disavow any part of his sermon but conceded that his words might have an unsettling effect on others.

“Oh, I learned that sometimes you have to not only have a sixth sense, but maybe a seventh sense,” he said. “Some people are very sensitive but maybe they cannot handle the truth or information, and unfortunately, we are living in a very sensitive society. Sensitive in a way we have to be careful, so we don’t need to hurt anybody’s feelings. Sometimes I talk to adults, children, male or female, and we have to be careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Imam Mahmoud Harmoush

 

According to MEMRI, Harmoush was born in Syria and has been living in the United States since the 1980s.

According to the ICR statement, Harmoush regards himself as an interfaith leader, and on July 31, 10 days after delivering his sermon, he met with Rabbi Suzanne Singer of the Riverside congregation Temple Beth El to discuss the controversy over his sermon.

Having organized an interfaith event at her synagogue this spring in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from certain countries from entering the United States, Singer said she was eager to talk to Harmoush, despite her discomfort over his sermon. Ibrahim Massoud, chairman of the mosque, also participated in the meeting.

In an interview, Singer said the meeting confirmed what she had suspected after watching Harmoush’s sermon online, that she and Harmoush have strongly different ideas about the founding of the State of Israel and Jewish intentions in the Middle East. Although they did not agree on many things, she said, they agreed to meet again to try to bridge this divide.

“I said it may be a good idea for us to talk about our different narratives around Israel,” Singer said.

As to what the future holds, Singer said she would not allow the two sermons to stop her from building interfaith relationships with willing Muslim partners.

“Obviously, I’m quite distressed about this,” Singer said. “I don’t think it represents the Muslim community [in Riverside].”

Reuven Firestone, a professor of medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said the views expressed by Harmoush, Shahin and others are popular in the Muslim world, no matter how they are interpreted by others.

“These kinds of views have been encouraged by governments for decades in attempts to deflect criticism away from them,” Firestone said. “And there are plenty of harsh statements about Jews in Muslim religious sources that can be harvested when there is an interest in finding scapegoats.”

The challenge now for those who have worked hard to repair and improve relationships, said NewGround’s Hasan, is for religious leaders to hold one another accountable for hateful comments made by their communities but not to let them derail interfaith work.

“This is a huge opportunity for us to have those hard conversations and not sweep things under the rug,” she said.

Imam Immar Shahin

Kill the Jews! Oops, I didn’t mean it


Was it a Jew-hating one-off or a Jew-hating pattern?

That was the question on my mind when I heard the imam at the Davis Islamic Center, Ammar Shahin, apologize a week after his Jew-hating sermon in which he preached, “Oh Allah, count them [Jews] one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one.”

During a press conference held by religious leaders, a contrite Shahin said: “I understand that speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts. For this I truly apologize.”

What spurred his apology?

According to the Los Angeles Times, “In the days following his sermon, Shahin said he discussed his statements with a number of people within and outside the Muslim community. That’s when he realized ‘the level of harm it has caused.’”

In other words, until he talked to other people, it didn’t occur to him that calling for the annihilation of every Jew might cause “harm.”

So, was the Jew-hating sermon a one-off or a pattern?

It’s clear the Islamic Center would like us to believe it was an exception. After all, it’s a lot easier to excuse an exception than a habit.

But more than that, the Center wants to do what all smart lawyers tell you to do when your back is against the wall—change the target. Here, it is trying to do that by going after the messenger.

According to the Times, the Center’s initial reaction was that the imam’s comments had been taken out of context by “Islamophobic news organizations.” How many times have we heard that? This is a well-known reaction to criticism of Islam— attack the critic as “Islamophobic.”

The problem with that strategy, in this case, is that we’re dealing with hard facts. These are real words of hate spoken in real time by a real preacher.

The group that translated and disseminated the sermon, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), is a resource that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has described as “absolutely invaluable.” It’s hard to undermine a group whose sole focus is to translate.

But that doesn’t stop people from trying. Even a group that criticized Shahin’s sermon, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), couldn’t resist trying to take down the messenger.

“Groups like MEMRI exacerbate political divisions on the Middle East conflict rather than aim to reconcile differences,” MPAC said in a statement.

According to a report in JTA, MPAC “expressed frustration with MEMRI, an organization that has drawn fire from Islamic groups for what they say is its tendency to cut and paste Muslim pronouncements to cast them in the worst possible light.”

How’s that for a contradiction: Yes, we admit the sermon was vile and we apologize but please don’t trust the messenger who translated the sermon.

“We hear this all the time,” MEMRI founder Yigal Carmon told me on the phone. “Whenever we expose another Muslim preacher, they accuse us of cutting and pasting, of taking things out of context. They never mention that we show the whole context, the full sermon, everything, and allow viewers to make up their mind.”

According to Carmon, it is the Islamic Center that is doing the cutting and pasting. He claims the Center took down another embarrassing sermon from its website dated July 14, because “they want us to believe the July 21 sermon was a one-time thing.”

In the July 14 sermon, according to a MEMRI translation, Shahin prayed to Allah to “liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews” and to “destroy them and do not spare their young and their elderly.”

Carmon also says the Center took down a sermon in which Shahin called the November 2016 forest fires near Haifa “good news from Palestine” and another in which he characterized democracy and the U.S. Constitution as a form of “idolatry.”

A few hours after Carmon and I spoke, he called to let me know that the Center had taken down its Youtube account as well as all sermons from its website. When I went to check, I randomly clicked on about twenty sermons over several years and, indeed, they all said “this video is unavailable.”

So, was the Jew-hating July 21 sermon a one-off or a pattern?

You tell me.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Italy expelling Moroccan imam who called for killing of Jews


Italy is expelling a Moroccan imam who called for Jews to be killed.
Raoudi Aldelbar, the imam of a mosque in the town of San Dona di Piave, near Venice, was filmed during a sermon there last month saying, among other things, “Oh Allah, bring upon [Jews] that which will make us happy. Count them one by one, and kill them one by one.”
The video clip of the sermon was posted on the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute and later shared on social media.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said he had ordered the “immediate expulsion” of Aldelbar “for seriously disturbing public order, being a danger to national security and for religious discrimination.”
The decision was made after counterterrorism, police and other security experts had examined the video and investigated.
Alfano said it was “unacceptable to pronounce a speech of clear anti-Semitic tone, containing explicit incitements to violence and religious hatred.” He said his decision to expel the imam would serve “as a warning to anyone who thinks that in Italy one can preach hate.”

Ten car bombs kill 39 in Iraqi capital


Ten car bombs exploded across the Iraqi capital on Monday, killing nearly 40 people in markets and garages on the evening of a Shi'ite Muslim celebration, police and medical sources said.

Some of the attacks targeted districts where Shi'ites were commemorating the anniversary of the birth of a revered Imam, but there also were explosions in mixed neighborhoods and districts with a high population of Sunnis.

The violence reinforced a growing trend since the start of the year, with more than 1,000 people killed in militant attacks in May alone, making it the deadliest month since the sectarian bloodletting of 2006-07.

Waleed, who witnessed one of Monday's explosions in which five people were killed in the Shi'ite stronghold of Sadr City, described a scene of chaos: “When the explosion happened, people ran in all directions.”

“Many cars were burned, pools of blood covered the ground, and glass from car windows and vegetables were scattered everywhere.”

Eight people were killed in two car bomb explosions in the central district of Karada, one of them in a car garage. Two car bombs exploded simultaneously near a market in the western district of Jihad, killing eight.

Separately, a bomb placed in a cafe in the northern city of Mosul killed five people, pushing Monday's death toll over 40.

Insurgents, including al Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate, have been recruiting from the country's Sunni minority, which feels sidelined following the U.S.-led invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein and empowered majority Shi'ites.

Since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 2011, critics say Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has consolidated his power over the security forces and judiciary, and has targeted several high-level Sunni leaders for arrest.

Sunnis took to the streets last December in protest against Maliki, but the demonstrations have thinned and are now being eclipsed by intensifying militant activity.

Sectarian tensions have been inflamed by the civil war in Syria, which is fast spreading into a region-wide proxy war, drawing in Shi'ite and Sunni fighters from Iraq and beyond to fight on opposite sides of the conflict.

Political deadlock in Baghdad has strained relations with Iraq's ethnic Kurds who run their own administration in the north of the country, and are at odds with the central government over land and oil.

Reporting Kareem Raheem; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Michael Roddy

100 imams to commemorate Holocaust near Paris memorial site


Some 100 imams will commemorate the Holocaust at a memorial monument near Paris.

Monday's event is planned for Drancy, a suburb of the French capital where tens of thousands of Jews were confined in 1942 before being transported to extermination camps during the German Nazi occupation, according to a report in the French daily Le Figaro. The paper called the event unprecedented.

Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Drancy and a veteran activist for dialogue between Muslims and Jews in France and against anti-Semitism, will host the imams.

Manuel Valls, France’s interior minister, also is scheduled to attend the event, which Le Figaro reported is the initiative of Chalghoumi and the French Jewish novelist Marek Halter.

In explaining the goal of the event, Halter recalled a landmark visit by 19 French Muslim leaders, many of them imams, to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial museum.

“This had a huge impact in Israel and the Arab World,” Halter told Le Figaro. “The objective is to re-create this at Drancy.”

Since the second intifada of 2000, France’s Jewish population of approximately 550,000 has experienced an increase in anti-Semitic violence, mostly by Muslim extremists. Last March, Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old French-Algerian Islamist terrorist, killed four Jews at a Jewish day school in Toulouse.

“We are in a period of crisis, and tensions take the form of violence,” Halter said. “We need to soothe the tensions. It’s a time bomb.”

French Muslim leaders in Israel hope to mend fences with Jews


Standing in long, colorful robes and wearing traditional rounded hats, a group of men stood in reverent silence as one of their leaders placed a memorial wreath at Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum.

The group was a delegation of 19 Muslim leaders from France, in Israel to learn more about the Jews and their state. After a series of attacks against French Jews this year, many perpetrated by Muslims, the imams hope to improve the French Muslim community’s relationship with its Jewish neighbors.

Delegation leader Hassen Chalgoumi, imam of the Drancy Mosque near Paris, said the trip reinforced the importance of combatting Islamic fundamentalism and Holocaust denial.

“Life is more important than holy books,” Chalghoumi said in a speech outside of Yad Vashem. “We say in the name of love, of life, not to hide what happened” in the Holocaust.

Relations between the Jewish community in France, Europe's largest, and France's more than 4 million Muslims have long been fraught. The regular occurrence of anti-Semitic acts in France, including the horrific slaying in March of a rabbi and three children outside a Jewish day school in Toulouse, have significantly heightened the tension and mutual suspicion. Other incidents of anti-Semitic violence have followed, including a bomb exploding in a Jewish grocery store.

Chalgoumi conceived of the trip after coming to Israel in June for the French Embassy’s Religion and Democracy Forum. Inspired by that visit, he wanted his colleagues to see the country, even as it generated controversy in his own community.

“They are very criticized by Muslims in France because they decided to come to Israel,” said Olivier Rubenstein, who organized the trip for the French Embassy. “To France, it’s very important to have mutual respect between the communities. French Islam is not the terrorist way.”

The trip, from Sunday to Friday, had one of its most significant moments on Tuesday morning when the delegates visited the graves of the four victims of the Toulouse shooting.

“The majority of Muslims want peace,” said Nourdine Mlanao, president of France’s National Council of Republican Diversity. He said the gunman, Mohammed Merah, is “not a Muslim.”

In the coming days, the trip will take the delegates to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, the Jerusalem Municipality, and to meetings with Israeli businesspeople and religious leaders. The group also went to Ramallah on Tuesday and met with France’s consul in Jerusalem. Chalghoumi and Mlanao both said they hope to see Israeli-Palestinian peace.

While it was unclear what impact the leaders would have on France’s nearly 5 million Muslims, Mlanao plans to speak in public forums about the trip, and wants to arrange dialogue groups between French Muslims and Jews. He added, however, that “the government must take responsibility” for preventing anti-Semitic attacks.

Olivier also commended government efforts and said that in order to address the root of Muslim-Jewish tensions, leaders should organize “more of this kind of event for understanding the other.”

“It’s very important to know the other, not to be stuck in our ideological positions,” he said. “These imams are the leaders of a lot of Muslims in France. They’ll deliver in France a message of peace and understanding.”

Morsi answers amen to imam’s prayers for destruction of Jews


A video shows Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi saying amen to the prayers by an imam calling on Allah to “destroy the Jews and their supporters.”

Morsi in last weekend's service is seen praying with great concentration at a mosque in the Matrouh governorate. The service was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

“Oh Allah, absolve us of our sins, strengthen us, and grant us victory over the infidels,” prayed Futouh Abd Al-Nabi Mansour, the local head of the religious council. “O Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters. O Allah, disperse them, rend them asunder. O Allah, demonstrate Your might and greatness upon them. Show us Your omnipotence, O Lord.”

The Anti-Defamation League expressed concern about the anti-Semitic rhetoric coming out of Egypt.

“The drumbeat of anti-Semitism in the 'new' Egypt is growing louder and reverberating further under President Morsi, and we are increasingly concerned about the continuing expressions of hatred for Jews and Israel in Egyptian society and President Morsi's silence in the face of most of these public expressions of hate,” Abraham Foxman, ADL's national director, said in a statement.

The prayer service came just days after Morsi sent a letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres calling him a “great and good friend,” and requesting that the two countries continue “maintaining and strengthening the cordial relations which so happily exist between our two countries,” according to the Times of Israel, which published a photo of the letter. The letter was presented to Peres by Egypt's new ambassador to Israel.

A founder of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, Ahmad Hamrawi, over the weekend left the Muslim Brotherhood over the letter, calling it “national and religious treason to millions of Egyptians” and alleging secret ties between Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The ADL wrote to Morsi last week urging him to reject statements made by the supreme authority of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, who called for violence against Jews and Israel.

Dennis Prager interviews New York’s ‘Ground Zero’ imam


On July 20, Jewish Journal columnist Dennis Prager conducted a lengthy interview on his radio show with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, author of “What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America,” who is best known for his plans to build an Islamic community center, including a mosque, near the World Trade Center in New York. What follows is the transcribed text of that interview.

Dennis Prager: Imam Rauf, welcome to the Dennis Prager show.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: Thank you very much, Dennis. It’s my pleasure to be with you.

DP: Nothing interests me more than the question of what will be Islam’s future. Anybody, whatever their position, has to be almost preoccupied with the question. . . .

Let me begin by asking you for a governing definition of an “Islamist.” Mine is: A Muslim who wishes Sharia to be the law of a land. What is yours?

IR: The Sharia is nothing more than the principles of the ten commandments, the principles that Jesus said, the two major commandments: To love the Lord, thy God, with all of your heart, your mind, your soul, and your strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself. . . . Sharia law, in terms of its positive law, Dennis, is the protection and furtherance of six basic human rights: The right to life, the right to honor and dignity, the right to freedom of religion, the right to pursue your intellectual pursuits, to have a family, and to practice the faith of your choice, and to pursue property.

DP: Let me give you an example of Sharia law, and tell me where this falls under one of those six headings. During the month of Ramadan, on a street in Morocco, I was smoking my pipe and a man came over and said, “This is Ramadan. You can’t smoke.” Another example is the Somali cab drivers in Minneapolis who refuse to take passengers who have a bottle of beer in their car because of the ban on alcohol.

IR: This is a misapplication of Sharia. God’s law involves giving human beings the freedom to sin, the freedom to make mistakes, and part of the law of the land has to be to give people these freedoms. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misapplication of Islamic law in many countries.

DP: But is it not a basic yearning of, as you call yourself, orthodox Muslims, to want to see an Islamic state?

IR: Well, you see, there is a lot of basic misunderstanding around that. The action of the cab driver is no different than the action of a devout, fundamentalist Christian who kills a doctor who provides abortion services because he believes it is wrong. Taking the law into your own hands is wrong. Even under Islamic law, no human being is allowed to take the law into their own hands.

DP: But is it not the dream of every faithful Muslim to have an Islamic society, meaning that the state is Muslim and enforces Muslim law?

IR: That is not really completely true. In fact, in many countries, like in Pakistan, the Islamic political parties have never gained more than 25% of the vote. This is the problem: what has happened in the Muslim world in the last fifty, sixty years is that we have adopted the bad systems of what happened in Europe centuries ago when the state established a particular religion. This is the scourge which has become quite prominent in many Muslim countries, or sectors of Muslim-majority countries, and this is the battle that we have to wage today internally within Islam.

DP: So you think that all of these bad things that we see today in the Islamic world are all aberrations. Let me cite Ibn Khaldun, considered by both non-Muslims and Muslims be the greatest Muslim thinker ever, outside of Muhammad. He wrote that Jihad, for example, means waging war to convert people to Islam; and that Islam is a greater religion than Judaism or Christianity, because those two religions do not believe in Jihad, whereas Muslims do. Now, is he an aberration?

IR: Look, he is a sociologist. That statement is disproven by the vast majority of Islamic history from the very earliest times, when the followers of the prophets conquered other countries. Their system of rule until the ottomans a century ago, developed systems where people of every religion other than Islam were protected. And that is the system that we need to reintroduce to the Muslim world today. The aberrations we have today are just like the aberrations in Christianity centuries ago, when you had the inquisition.

DP: My study of Islamic history does not have such a rosy picture. The most dramatic example is Hindus in India, where Hindu historians estimate that many tens of millions of Hindus, because they were not monotheists—Jews and Christians were generally treated differently—were just slaughtered by the Islamic invasions of India. So yours is not my understanding of the Muslim past.

IR: I beg to differ with you, Dennis. In fact, almost 80% of India was ruled by Muslims, and they ruled over Muslims and non-Muslims. If that were true, in the lands where Muslims ruled, there would be nothing but Muslims like you see traditionally in Europe where any religion other, or any interpretation other than that particular opinion of Christianity—you don’t find other churches existing in those countries until right recently in European history.

You find under Ottoman rule and Muslim rule, all kinds of other religions. It’s only in the last century or even half a century that this triumphalist Islam has become dominant. This is the problem that exists in the Muslim world today. It only began about a century ago when the nation-state concept began and we created a religious nationalism. When India was split into Pakistan and India back in 1947-48, that’s when these problems really began and have become increasingly strong over the last fifty years and this is what we need to push against. This is why I say that the battlefront is not between Islam and the West, or Islam or Muslims and Hindus, or Muslims and Jews, although that is certainly a factor. The real battlefront is between all good, peace-loving, moderate people of all faith, traditions, against extremists of all faith, traditions, and that’s the battlefront we need to wage and to wage it together if we are going to win this battle for peace.

DP: Tell me what group represents extremist Christians today. There are one to two billion Christians. Who are the extremists that we have to battle against?

IR: Well, I mean, it is less of a problem in Christianity than it is among Muslims but those who have said negative things about Islam who, you know, the attitude of the doctors who kill abortion doctors for example.

DP: But they represent nobody. Let’s be honest, nobody fears being blown up by Christians. People don’t fear being blown up by Hindus or Jews or Buddhists. You could say the Tamils, but that was restricted to Sri Lanka. The reason that I take my shoes off at the airport is fear of Muslim extremists, not Jewish or Christian or Buddhist.

IR: And we accept that. We acknowledge that fact that the Muslim extremists today are the problem. We acknowledge that. I acknowledge that and Muslims acknowledge that.

DP: Well CAIR doesn’t. I’ve debated CAIR on national television and they say that there is more terror in the world by non-Muslims than by Muslims. That’s their basic line. You’re not a representative of CAIR, but please don’t say this is what all Muslims acknowledge.

IR: I’m not saying all Muslims acknowledge but the vast majority of Muslims acknowledge that.

Latin American rabbis, imams visit D.C.


A group of Latin American rabbis and imams met with U.S. government officials.

The group of seven rabbis and seven imams from seven nations met March 27 with officials in the White House and the State Department under the auspices of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which has organized similar encounters for rabbis and imams from the United States and Europe.

The group is also meeting with Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Andre Carson (D-Ind.), who are Muslim, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish.

“We can’t arrive at peace when Muslims and Jews do not trust the other,” Rabbi Marc Schneier, a co-founder of the foundation, said.

New York Imam talks peace in L.A.


Speaking at UCLA’s Royce Hall on May 4, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, whose planned Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan — the so-called Ground Zero mosque — ignited a firestorm of protest last summer, said that the killing of Osama bin Laden gave him hope.

“This signifies the end of an era of terrorism,” Rauf told the largely supportive and diverse audience of about 600 students, activists and community members.

The imam has traveled around the world as a special envoy of the U.S. State Department to talk to Muslims about America and Americans; the evening event was just one of many that have taken Rauf to cities around the United States to talk to Americans about Muslims and Islam.

“You have to go out and speak with people, and they will support you,” Rauf told The Jewish Journal before the event. Rauf has been seeking support for his organization, the Cordoba Initiative, a multifaith effort aimed at improving relations between Islam and the West. Rauf is no longer formally associated with the project in Lower Manhattan, which is known as Park51, but is working to establish Islamic cultural centers, or Cordoba Houses, in New York City and elsewhere.

Rauf regularly speaks to members of the Jewish community, many of whom were in attendance at Royce Hall. “The major challenge with the Jewish community is the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has cast a major pall on Jewish-Muslim relations for the last half-century or more,” Rauf said.

About a dozen people, many of them Jewish, stood outside the hall before and after the event circulating fliers that accused Rauf of misrepresenting himself as a moderate and holding large placards that read “The Ground Zero Mosque: Second Wave of the 911 Attacks.” Among them were representatives of the Calabasas Chapter of ACT for America. The group was behind an unsuccessful petition submitted to UCLA’s chancellor earlier this year accusing the Muslim Student Association of sedition and asking the chancellor to shut the group down.

Rauf frequently finds himself speaking with “fair-minded, moderate” Americans who are “intellectually OK” with the idea of building an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan but are nonetheless emotionally resistant to it.

“Americans are basically just, and the majority of people, once they have the opportunity to truly engage with you and ask the probing questions, and feel satisfied, they will do the right thing,” Rauf said in an interview. “The only ones who are still opposed to you are the ones who are rabidly — whether they are anti-Semitic, or anti-Islamic, or racist — are those people who have those prejudices, and will always have those prejudices.”

The psychology behind the Ground Zero mosque


I have been trying hard to find an explanation for the intense controversy surrounding the Cordoba Initiative, whereby 71 percent of Americans oppose the construction of an Islamic Center and a Mosque next to Ground Zero. I cannot agree with the theory that such broad resistance represents Islamophobic sentiments, nor that it is a product of a recent “right wing” blitz against one Imam or another.

Americans are neither bigots, nor gullible.

Deep sensitivity to the families of 9/11 victims was cited as yet another explanation, but, this, too, does not answer the core question. If one accepts that the 19 fanatics who flew planes into the Twin Towers were merely fake Muslims who, by their very act, proved themselves acting against the tenets of “true Islam,” then building a Mosque at Ground Zero should evoke no emotion whatsoever; it should not be viewed differently than, say, building a church, a community center or a druid shrine.

A more realistic explanation is that most Americans do not buy the 19-fanatics story, but view the 9/11 assault as a product of an anti-American ideology that, for good and bad reasons, has found a fertile breeding ground in the hearts and minds of many Muslim youngsters who see their Muslim identity inextricably tied with anti-Americanism.

The Ground Zero Mosque is being equated with that ideology, not with the faith or religious practices it aims to house. Public objection to the mosque thus represents a vote of no confidence in mainstream American Muslim leadership which, on the one hand, refuses to acknowledge the alarming dimension that anti-Americanism has taken in their community and, paradoxically, blames America for creating it.

In public, Muslim spokespersons praise America as the best country for Muslims to live in and practice their faith. But in sermons, speeches, rallies, classrooms, prisons, conferences and books sold at those conferences, the narrative is often different. There, Noam Chomsky’s conspiracy theory is the dominant paradigm, and America’s foreign policy is one long chain of “crimes” against humanity, especially against Muslims. Affirmation of these conspiratorial theories sends mixed messages to young Muslims, engendering anger and helplessness: America and Israel are the first to be blamed for Muslim failings, sufferings and violence. Terrorist acts, whenever condemned, are immediately “contextually explicated” (to quote Tariq Ramadan), Spiritual legitimizers of suicide bombings (e.g, Shaikh Yusuf Qaradawi of Qatar) are revered beyond criticism, Hamas and Hezbollah are permanently shielded from the label of “terrorist,” Overall, the message that emerges from this discourse is implicit, but can hardly be missed: When Muslim grievance is at question, America is the culprit and violence is justified, if not obligatory.American Muslim leadership has had nine years to build up trust by taking proactive steps against the spread of anti-American terror-breeding ideologies, here and abroad. Evidently, however, a sizable segment of the American public is not convinced that this leadership is doing an effective job of confidence building.

True, we have not helped Muslims in the confidence-building process. Treating home-grown terror acts as isolated incidents of psychological disturbances while denying their ideological roots has given American Muslim leaders the illusion that they can achieve unreserved public acceptance without engaging in serious introspection and responsibility sharing for allowing victimhood, anger and entitlement to spawn such acts. Opponents fear the construction of the Ground-Zero Mosque would further prolong this illusion and thus impede, rather than promote healing and reconciliation.

If I were New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg I would reassert Muslims’ right to build the Islamic Center and the Mosque, but I would expend the same energy, not one iota less, trying to convince them to consider an alternative project: a community-run multi-faith center in honor of the 9/11 victims. Given the current intensity of emotions, fellow Muslim Americans will benefit more from co-ownership of consensual projects than sole ownership of confrontational projects.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He is a co-editor of “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Light, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award. A preliminary version of this text was previously published in the Jerusalem Post.

 

American Muslim leaders visit concentration camps


Eight Muslim American leaders who visited concentration camps and met with Holocaust survivors signed a statement condemning Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.

The trip earlier this month, intended to teach the participants about the Holocaust, featured visits to Dachau and Auschwitz.

“We stand united as Muslim American faith and community leaders and recognize that we have a shared responsibility to continue to work together with leaders of all faiths and their communities to fight the dehumanization of all peoples based on their religion, race or ethnicity,” the statement read. “With the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hatred, rhetoric and bigotry, now more than ever, people of faith must stand together for truth.”

Marshall Breger, an Orthodox Jew who served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, launched the trip to educate those who may not have had the opportunity to learn the history of the Holocaust. Breger said this would help combat Holocaust denial among Muslims.

The leaders on the trip were Imams Muzammil Siddiqi of Orange County, Calif.; Muhamad Maged of Virginia; Suhaib Webb of Santa Clara, Calif.; Abdullah Antepli of Duke University in North Carolina; and Syed Naqvi of Washington, D.C., along with Dr. Sayyid Syeed of Washington; Sheik Yasir Qadhi of New Haven, Conn.; and Laila Muhammad of Chicago. U.S. government officials, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, and an official from the Organization of the Islamic Conference also participated.

According to the Jewish Daily Forward, several of the leaders, all with large spheres of influence, had a history of anti-Semitic comments. Laila Muhammad is the daughter of American Muslim leader W.D. Muhammad and granddaughter of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam.

The Aug. 7-11 trip was co-sponsored by a German think tank and a New Jersey-based interfaith group called Interreligious Understanding.

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