Carving the Path for Muslim-Jewish Dialogue
Our modest attempt at bridging the misunderstanding between Jews and Muslims starts with each truly listening to the other.
BY: Akbar Ahmed and Judea Pearl
, Jews must be given clear understanding where Muslims stand with regard to the State of Israel. Reaction to Israel is complicated by the strong feeling Muslims have for Palestinians, whom they see as a people oppressed. Simultaneously, Muslims need to also understand and appreciate Jewish history and the national aspirations of the Jewish people. In essence, a double narrative, of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, needs to be heard in both the Muslim and the Jewish media. Framing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a clash between two legitimate national movements is a crucial first step for constructive discussion of this crucial issue.
, Muslims point out that there is a growing sense of Islamophobia in the West which allows the prophet of Islam and the religion itself to be attacked with impunity. This Islamophobia encourages the perception that the loss of Muslim lives is of little concern to the rest of the world, and further feeds into the sense of anger, desperation and injustice--which then strengthens violent people.
Unfortunately, many Muslims perceive the Islamophobia as a creation of Jews, and there is a conspiracy-theory mindset in the Muslim world which tends to blame Jews for the ills of the Muslim world. Jewish leaders must be more active and visible in the fight against Islamophobia. Muslim leaders, in turn, must help dispel unfounded conspiracy theories.
, on the issue of terrorism, Jews would like to hear Muslim leaders take an unequivocal moral stance, not merely against the perpetrators of terrorist acts, but also against the ideologues and legitimizers of such acts - in particular, suicide bombings against Israelis. The red line against the targeting of innocent lives cannot be crossed for any grievance.
, in order to overcome the chasm of misunderstanding and bad history that exists between the two communities, an official long-term, public dialogue of the Abrahamic faiths must be supported throughout the Muslim world. Such on-going dialogue needs a role model; we were inspired by the legacy of Daniel Pearl, an American journalist who earned respect in Muslim society and who came to symbolize the very ideas of religious tolerance and East-West dialogue.
With the help of this symbol, we were able to carve a path of legitimacy in our respective communities and to witness our dialogues playing a positive role in the warming of relations between Israel and the Muslim world.
At one of these dialogues in Ottawa, for example, the Pakistani and Israeli ambassador were publicly seen sitting side by side. Israeli and Pakistani Counsel Generals participated in two other interfaith dialogues, long before Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shook hands at the United Nations Summit and King Abdulla of Jordan addressed a large gathering of rabbis in Washington.
This means that individuals--Muslims and Jews, students and adults, public officials and religious leaders--should not be discouraged by incendiary calls for destruction of Israel. Each of us, all of us, should advance our own human interactions and diplomacy efforts to carve the path of dialogue itself. And it is a dialogue not only of civilizations, but for the future of mankind.