An Open Letter: A Call to Peace, Dialogue and Understanding between Muslims and Jews

Article excerpt

In the name of God the Beneficent, the Merciful

   Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the
   Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last
   day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord,
   and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve. (Qur'an 2:62)

Shalom,

Assalam alaykum,

This letter is intended as a gesture of goodwill towards rabbinic leaders and the wider Jewish communities of the world. Our aim is to build upon existing relations in order to improve mutual understanding in places where this is required to further the positive work in building bridges between Muslims and Jews. In the face of the negative and destructive tensions in the Middle East, this letter is a call to positive and constructive action that aims to improve Muslim-Jewish relations.

Many Jews and Muslims today stand apart from each other due to feelings of anger, which in some parts of the world, translates into violence. It is our contention that we are faced today not with 'a clash of civilizations' but with 'a clash of ill-informed misunderstandings'. Deep-seated stereotypes and prejudices have resulted in a distancing of the communities and even a dehumanizing of the 'Other'. We urgently need to address this situation. We must strive towards turning ignorance into knowledge, intolerance into understanding, and pain into courage and sensitivity for the 'Other'.

For many centuries our communities coexisted and worked together fruitfully and peacefully, such as in the Iberian Peninsula. As Muslims and Jews we share core doctrinal beliefs, the most important of which is strict monotheism. We both share a common patriarch, Ibrahim/Abraham, other Biblical prophets, laws and jurisprudence, many significant values and even dietary restrictions. There is more in common between our religions and peoples than is known to each of us. It is precisely due to the urgent need to address such political problems as well as acknowledge our shared values that the establishment of an inter-religious dialogue between Jews and Muslims in our time is extremely important. Failure to do so will be a missed opportunity. Memories of positive historical encounters will dim and the current problems will lead to an increasing rift and more common misunderstandings between us.

This letter is important for non-Muslims and Muslims alike because it illustrates that the Muslim world has diversity of opinion and that Muslims are willing to engage in a conversation with Jews--a conversation that is not wholly dominated by the conflict in Israel-Palestine. Although many Muslims and non-Muslims only know of Muslim-Jewish relations through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there needs to be an awareness of other positive encounters at different stages of our history as well as the pioneering work of inter-religious dialogue being undertaken by contemporary Muslims and Jews outside of the Middle East.

What are the Commonalities and Differences between Us?

Judaism and Islam are both monotheistic religions whose followers believe in the absolute unity of the One and Only God, as emphasized by Muslims in the Shahada, Qur'an 112:1-4, and by Jews in the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4; as well as Ibrahim/Abraham, they share other common patriarchs such as Nuh/Noah; and Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians, are regarded by Muslims as 'People of the Book'. All Muslims, regardless of their theological persuasion (Sunnis and Shi'as) believe, as an article of their faith, in all Biblical Prophets.

   Say [O Muslims!]: 'We believe in God', in that which has been
   revealed to us; in that which was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael,
   Isaac, Jacob, and their descendents; in that which was given to
   Moses and Jesus; and in that which was given to the Prophets from
   their Lord; we do not make any distinction between any of them, and
   to Him we are Muslimun (those who submit to his will). …