In his March 4 opinion article, “An Appeal to My Muslim Friends,” Rabbi Eric Yoffie presented his concerns about the possibility of anti-Semitism gaining traction amid the revolutionary tumult now sweeping the Arab world. He pointed, in particular, to the prominence of Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, citing past comments in which the sheik had used very abusive language about Jews.
The concerns expressed by Rabbi Yoffie are genuine, and we take them seriously. We fully understand his fears and doubts, which echo those of many other Jewish leaders.
Addressing such concerns is one reason for the joint venture between the Islamic Society of North America and the Union for Reform Judaism. We began this work in September of 2007, when we invited Rabbi Yoffie to address ISNA’s national convention; a few months later, he invited Ingrid Mattson, then president of ISNA, to address the URJ’s convention. Since then, we have celebrated a new and vibrant relationship between our two communities.
This spirit of cooperation has enabled us to strive shoulder to shoulder against both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, leaving little room for hate mongers among our Jewish and Muslim communities in America. Leaders from all three Abrahamic faiths have visited the holy land together, returning with shared concerns as well as shared solutions.
The work we are doing is reinforced by our scriptures and by our American vision of pluralism and diversity. As Muslims, we must understand that there is absolutely no place for anti-Semitism in Islam, and we must speak out against all instances of anti-Semitism, wherever they may occur.
Our success in creating an atmosphere of cooperation in America enables us to carry this message to other parts of the world. We have already begun this process by inviting rabbis and imams from Europe to visit our Islamic centers and synagogues in America. We took delegations of imams to Holocaust sites in Poland and Germany, in order to educate our community about a colossal tragedy that was inflicted on an entire community.
Today, we celebrate the deliverance of the Egyptian people from decades of repression, and we welcome the great potential they now have for growth and development. More importantly, we hope that the intolerant rhetoric which thrived during the era of repression will soon be replaced by dialogue and understanding at every level.
Fortunately, the rhetoric of the revolution in Tahrir Square is free of extremism, and is reflective of Islamic inclusiveness and youthful fervor for cooperation and partnership. Even when Sheik Qaradawi gave his historic sermon in Tahrir Square, there was something different about his language. He talked briefly about wanting to see the Palestinian people achieve victory and the conquest of Al-Aqsa, but he did so without speaking of inflicting death or destruction. This might be one of the few speeches in his life in which he did not explicitly mention Israel and Jews. One might have hoped for greater moderation in Qaradawi’s speech, but even these subtle changes are noteworthy and stem from the changed environment with which he has been forced to grapple.
We are hopeful that the new generation of Egyptian activists who have been at the forefront of the revolution will provide their country with fresh language and change the discourse. And we hope and pray that Sheik Qaradawi will, in the future, focus on uniting his people for democracy, human dignity, prosperity and cooperation.
Egypt has produced very enlightened scholars in the past, and its people were the forerunners of a reformist movement within Islamic thought advocating freedom and democratic values. There is no reason why the current generation cannot build upon these values.
Egypt’s peaceful revolution is off to a promising start. We Muslims and Jews need to enhance our cooperation here in America and export this atmosphere to the Middle East. It is our joint responsibility, and our success so far suggests that we can lead by our example.
Sayyid M. Syeed is national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances.