Here we reproduce two articles which appeared in consecutive editions in 2010 of Interfaith Matters, published by the Edinburgh Inter-Faith Association. The first is by the Orthodox Rabbi of Edinburgh, David Rose. The second is a response by British Muslim writer and lecturer, Idris Tawfiq.
Deeper dialogue between Jews and Muslims
RABBI DAVID ROSE
One of the greatest tragedies of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is that it has turned into a conflict between Jews and Muslims, both globally and in this country. Despite the fact that the majority of Muslims here come from South Asia, identification with the Palestinian cause seems to have become as much a facet of Muslim identity as identification with Israel is of Jewish identity. This has led to conflict between the communities, both verbal and sometimes physical, and has often caused each community to see the other as an enemy and even inimical to their future wellbeing in this country.
A Jew or a Muslim walking down the street and seeing a hijab or skullcap often feel suspicion or even fear, rather than religious brotherhood. I know that an obviously Muslim looking person would be treated with suspicion by security at the synagogue, while the only place in Edinburgh that I have experienced anti-Semitic comments is, unfortunately, in the mosque.
Worse still, this antagonism has unfortunately been picked up by the wider society. Celtic supporters have in the past waved Palestinian flags and anti-Muslim groups have started using Israeli flags in their demonstrations. Thus rather than the two groups forging a relationship that could work to solve the Middle East conflict, the mutual antagonism created by that situation has served to import the conflict to the streets of Scotland. This is both tragic and unnecessary and serves the interest of neither community.
In fact the two communities should be the closest of friends. Unlike the issues dividing Jews from Christians, there is no weighty theological and scriptural baggage that needs to be worked through. And though Jews were often persecuted, along with Christians, in the Muslim world, there is nothing approaching the tragic history of systematic persecution and delegitimisation that marred Jewish-Christian relations. Instead we have a political issue, important to both communities, but solvable by dialogue and compromise. Unfortunately, though there is ongoing dialogue between the communities, the Middle East conflict is the one issue almost never discussed. It is the elephant in the room that casts a shadow over the whole relationship.
The only way to heal the boil is to lance it. Jews and Muslims must come together in honest dialogue to discuss and confront the Middle East conflict, not ignore it. They should not come, however, with unrealistic expectations of each other. Jews are not going to stop supporting Israel; neither Muslims the Palestinians. Rather, both communities should be willing to listen to other’s narrative, however challenging and unpalatable it might be. They need to slowly come to see the legitimacy of both groups’ point of view, while being able to still hold to their own.
Above all, both communities should see themselves as seeking to promote peace among the conflicting parties. Jews should be willing to confront their own prejudices about Muslims and stand up to Islamaphobia. It is not acceptable for Jews to say that Muslims seek to take over Europe or to talk of ‘Eurabia’. Muslims need to confront the anti-Semitic discourse that seems to permeate much Muslim discussion of the Middle East and anti-Muslim sentiment at home. It is similarly not acceptable to attribute Islamaphobia to ‘Zionist’ control of the media or the banks.
Above all, the two communities need to stop speaking platitudes to each other and begin a real dialogue. To meet and simply discuss how much we have in common is just no longer good enough. None of this is easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Only in this way can the two communities begin to have a more harmonious relationship and maybe eventually contribute to peace in the Middle East. Jews, Muslims and indeed Scotland, deserve no less.
A justice which leads to peace
Dialogue between people must be honest, if it is to be dialogue at all. This is all the more true if there is to be dialogue between people of faith. Without honesty, we are just talking at one another, mouthing our well-rehearsed slogans and not listening to what the other has to say.
I well remember last year my visit to Istanbul. During that visit I not only had discussions with the Muslim writer, Harun Yahya, but was honoured also, as a Muslim, to meet His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch, spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million or so Greek Orthodox Christians, and the Chief Rabbi of Turkey, leader of the Jewish community which has been in Turkey for the last five hundred years. To both religious leaders I passed on the greetings and good wishes of the Muslims. In fact, I began both meetings by saying what an honour it was for me and for all Muslims that such a meeting could take place.
The Patriarch knew that I was once a Roman Catholic priest. This, however, did not stop him from being wholly gracious to me, even inviting me to stay for lunch once our meeting had finished. During our discussion we mentioned areas of divergence between our two faiths, but our conversation was marked by courtesy and respect.
Before talking to the Chief Rabbi I again stressed how honoured I was to meet him, but how I needed first to make clear that this meeting in no way gave my approval to Israel, nor its treatment of my brothers and sisters in Palestine. The Chief Rabbi accepted this honest proviso and we talked frankly, and warmly, as men of faith, for an hour.
As people of faith, then, we should never be afraid of goodness, wherever we find it. Goodness, after all, comes from God. But nor should we be afraid of speaking the truth, even if that truth is sometimes unpalatable.
In the last issue of Interfaith Matters there appeared a lead article entitled, “Rabbi calls for deeper dialogue between Jews and Muslims.” I could not agree more with the sentiment. It is that article, though, which has prompted these words, not by way of a reply, but as a thoughtful reflection on some matters of importance.
Looking for support for the State of Israel, however subtly, under the guise of interfaith dialogue, is being less than honest. In fact, introducing the State of Israel into our discussions at all, especially at this time, is not helpful. As people of faith we have so much in common, so let us not distort that faith by introducing political agendas that would see us ignore the truth.
That previous article claimed that “identification with the Palestinian cause seems to have become as much a facet of Muslim identity as identification with Israel is of Jewish identity.” Clever words, but not quite true. By no means do all Jews identify with what is going on in Palestine. In fact there are many of them who denounce the whole Zionist project as inimical to Judaism itself.
Similarly, calling upon Jews and Muslims to “come together in honest dialogue and confront the Middle East conflict” sounds wholly acceptable, but it is not acceptable to ask them to accept a fait accompli in which injustice becomes perpetuated because of “facts on the ground.”
As a Muslim I travel around the world encouraging tolerance and dialogue between Muslims and those who are not. In the course of my travels I have met many rabbis. Last August, in meeting Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, I presented him with a copy of my latest book, Looking for Peace in the Land of the Prophets. I asked him not necessarily to agree with its contents, but at least to listen to an opinion other than the one which has become the received wisdom in political circles.
The central tenet of that book is that there can never be lasting peace without justice.
Calling for compromise is a noble call. Asking people to compromise on justice, though, is wrong. So, please don’t ask me to compromise and dialogue with those who are occupying my house or besieging my brothers and sisters, forcing them to live in houses made of mud, whilst those who usurped their land lounge on the beaches of Tel Aviv. Don’t reduce our interfaith dialogue to a political game that would see people denied their rights. There can indeed be no peace without justice. And justice will never come to the Land of the Prophets until the whole truth has been told and acknowledged.
Jews and Muslims hold so much in common. As the Chief Rabbi of Turkey told me last year, there is a phrase which Jews and Muslims can say together: La illaha illallah (there is no god but the one true God). Let us not score political points off one another but, instead, let us hold fast to that belief, and let us finish with a quote from the Book of Amos:
The Lord says, “I hate your religious festivals; I cannot stand them! When you bring me burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; I will not accept the animals you have fattened to bring me as offerings. Stop your noisy songs; I do not want to listen to your harps. Instead, let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry.”