ISNA Co-Hosts Mission of Muslim and Jewish Leaders from South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand in Washington, DC

This past week, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) hosted a delegation of Muslim and Jewish leaders from three countries — South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand — for a two-day mission to jump-start dialogue and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities in those countries. Last week’s Mission was the third of its kind; ISNA and FFEU previously hosted a Muslim-Jewish Mission from Europe in 2009 and one from Latin America in 2012.  The ultimate goal of these efforts is to facilitate the creation of a global movement of Muslims and Jews committed to communication, reconciliation and cooperation. Participants in the Mission held meetings with high-level officials at the White House and State Department and met with Muslim and Jewish members of Congress on Capitol Hill. They also visited the Islamic Center of Washington and the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and were hosted by the Ambassadors of South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. A highlight of the Mission was the discussion held over a breakfast hosted by South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool and his wife Rosieda Shabodien, Muslims who helped lead their country in the struggle against apartheid.  Ambassador Rasool’s remarks focused on the importance of continuing dialogue between Muslim and Jewish communities. Our engagement as Muslims and Jews, he said, should be to rediscover the finest values in the Abrahamic tradition as a way to overcome our differences. How do those who value peace, justice, mercy and dialogue carry these values into these conversations?  He emphasized the role that these leaders should play in engaging politicians in order to bring out decisions based on these values.  We must stand up for each other’s communities, he said, to condemn anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. “Our engagement should be the engagement of those who mobilize human agency to solve problems,” said Ambassador Rasool. “Agency can recognize right and wrong because it is values-‐driven. Agency refuses to succumb to base instincts as simply represented by security and interests, nor is it about who perpetrated the first wrong. Agency continues to chip away even at intractable problems, and doesn’t simply give up or abandon its foundational values just because it encounters intractability.” Ms. Shabodien added that when we engage in these conversations, we should not leave 50% of our communities out of the conversation.  We should not underestimate the importance of the role women have to play in this effort. The breakfast was also an opportunity for Jewish and Muslim communities who are involved in the Weekend of Twinning, an annual pairing of Muslim and Jewish community groups around the world, to share their experiences with members of the Mission and one another. ISNA President Imam Mohamed Magid spoke about an American model of standing up for one another.  In 2010, in the face of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in America, Jewish and Christian leaders from national religious organizations gathered together to speak with one voice to condemn this anti-Muslim rhetoric. Together they formed the interfaith campaign, Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values.  ISNA leaders also shared the Muslim-Jewish dialogue handbook Children of Abraham with them, a study guide produced by ISNA and the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) in 2007. Rabbi Marc Schneier, President of the FFEU, praised Ambassador Rasool’s work, saying that of all the ambassadors he has encountered, he can testify that no one has more clarity of vision about the need for interfaith engagement. At the end of the trip, the delegation of leaders from the three countries agreed to and signed the following declaration.

Standing Up for One Another Declaration of Jews and Muslims from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa Taking Part in a Joint Mission to Washington We, the Delegation of Muslims and  Jews from Australia, South Africa and New Zealand who visited Washington, are grateful to our hosts, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and the Islamic Society of North America. We, all inspired by and faithful to our religious traditions, come from countries in which we are religious minorities. We endorse the following principles:
  1. Dialogue and joint projects between Muslims and Jews are necessary to foster positive and productive relationships between our communities. We are convinced that such relationships are vitally important for both the Muslim, and Jewish communities and benefit our societies.
  2. Such dialogue and joint projects must be based on mutual understanding and respect for each other’s religions and the freedom of religious belief and practices.
  3. We should explore together our faiths and traditions. We affirm the sanctity of each other’s houses of worship and will stand together in case of an attack or desecration of a mosque or a synagogue. We also stand in solidarity with each other in affirming that both Islamophobia and Antisemitism are wrong and unacceptable, and that we will fight together against them. Bigotry against any Jew or Muslim is an attack on all Muslims and Jews. We are united in support of human rights for all peoples and freedom of religious practices.
  4. We denounce all forms of violence or oppression in the name of any religion.
  5. We will strengthen our relations by holding meetings at grass roots level. We will also participate in regional, national and international meetings designed to promote inter-religious understanding and enhance relationships.
  6. We commit ourselves to promoting future Annual Weekends of Twinning.
  7. During the Weekends of Twinning and in other meetings between mosques and synagogues we will identify areas in which our communities can work together. Potential areas of cooperation include education within and between our communities and working together to combat injustice, ensuring fair treatment of immigrants and refugees, fostering concern for the environment and fighting Antisemitism and Islamophobia.
  8. We feel sorrow and pain at all manifestations of human suffering.  We pray for a non-violent resolution of all conflicts, including that between Israelis and Palestinians which is so close to all our hearts, so that all humanity can live with dignity, in peace and with security.
  9. We aspire to role-model robust Muslim-Jewish relations in our countries, thus publicly demonstrating that Muslims and Jews can work together fruitfully for the betterment of all, and can build ties of genuine friendship and trust. We are convinced this is the most significant contribution we can make for  a positive future together.