Jews, Muslims Pledge Peace; Stand against 'Hate Crimes'

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A group of Muslims and Jews who had been meeting secretly in Montgomery County surfaced late last week with the release of a joint statement promising that the two faiths will work together to find common ground.

"We're deeply committed to the idea of pluralism, tolerance, peace, co-existence and one God - the same God," said Tom Kahn, president of the Washington chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). "A bird needs two wings to fly: a left wing and a right wing."

The statement, which was read aloud during a reception Thursday night at the Potomac home of Muslim couple Aquilur and Rukhsana Rahman, promised to "develop closer ties between our communities" and stand together against "hate crimes and other forms of discrimination against all religious and ethnic communities."

It also supported separate Palestinian and Israeli states and denounced "all forms of terrorism and violence directed at civilians."

"I'm very optimistic," said Islam Siddiqui, an Indian American lobbyist who served as an undersecretary in the Department of Agriculture during the Clinton administration. "With dialogue begins an understanding of our difficult issues."

Representatives of the two faiths have been meeting for about two years, said Roberta Baruch, a member of the AJC board. She had been looking for sympathetic Muslim contacts before then, but groups whose avowed intent was for the destruction of Israel "weren't a place to start," she said.

However, a chance contact between Steven Goodman, a member of the local AJC board, and Tufail Ahmad, a shipping company owner and board member of the Montgomery Muslim Council, led to a breakthrough. A five-point "statement of cooperation" was drawn up during a meeting at Otello, an Italian restaurant near Dupont Circle. …