Rabbis, Imams Visiting U.S. for Interfaith Dialogue; Seek to Improve Ties Overseas

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A group of 28 imams and rabbis from 10 European countries arrived in New York and Washington this week for whirlwind visits to interfaith centers to break new ground on Muslim-Jewish relations and combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in each other's communities.

They will receive instructions from teams of American rabbis and imams who will show the Europeans how American-style ecumenism works on the ground. It's the first visit of its kind to involve foreign Muslim and Jewish leaders coming to the U.S., where interreligious ties have a much longer history and track record of success.

Our success in America has given us the faith and confidence to reach out to Europe, said Sayyid Mohammad Syeed, national director of interfaith and community alliances for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), one of three hosts for the visit.

We need them to witness firsthand what we are doing. I have been working toward this all my life.

The impetus for the five-day visit came after exponential growth of anti-Semitism among Muslims in Britain, France and elsewhere in Europe, said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) and chairman of the World Jewish Congress American Section.

We want to help strengthen those in the Islamic world who are projecting this voice of moderation and to help them take their religion back from the cadre of extremists and fanatics in Islam, he said.

The Europeans' first meeting Monday is with Imam Mohammad Shamsi Ali, head of the Islamic Cultural Center, New York's largest mosque, who will talk about his contacts with the FFEU. Then it's on to the United Nations, where the delegation will hear from Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, the continent's highest body of Islamic jurisprudence.

What follows is an afternoon of panels at the Islamic Cultural Center, each with a local rabbi teamed with an imam. The day wraps up at the new Yankee Stadium, where participants will watch the Yankees play the Baltimore Orioles.

On Tuesday, the Europeans will visit Ellis Island and ground zero and hear from Robert Jackson, the lone Muslim member of the New York City Council.

On Wednesday morning, the group takes a bus to Washington to tour the Holocaust museum. Rabbi Jack Moline, leader of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria and vice chairman of the Interfaith Alliance advocacy group, and Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, a mosque in Sterling, will speak on preventing future holocausts. …