Dear colleagues in Jewish-Palestinian dialogue,

     In the San Francisco Chronicle this morning,  Wednesday, June 13, 2001,  we were touched by two hopeful, related articles.
     (1)  "Palestinians, Israelis agree to cease-fire" was the headline in the World section.  In our family, this means that we are given some time, some grace, to keep helping Palestinians and Jews come together to listen to one another and change the nature of their relationships.
     (2)  "The need for Jewish-Islamic dialogue" was the featured Opinion editorial, written by Muslim Mohamed El-Bendary.  He defined the condition -- the human function -- to be fulfilled by us citizens in our home towns, here and in the Middle East. 
     We cannot just "want" peace.  We really do have to come together, human to human. 
     As Mohamed said on the telephone, "writing treaties alone cannot bring peace and coexistence."  It's about people.


The need for greater Jewish-Islamic dialogue

by Mohamed El-Bendary

     AS VIOLENCE continues in the Middle East, an increasing number of Muslims and Jews are starting to come together in the United States to call for peace.
     In its annual meeting last month, the American Jewish Committee released companion books on Judaism and Islam.  The book on Islam, "Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews," is written by Khalid Duran, a Muslim.  The book on Judaism, 'Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims, ' is written by Rabbi Reuven Firestone.
     While some Muslim scholars question Duran's authorship because of his relationship with Muslim bashers and previous conviction of defaming an Islamic center in Germany, the idea of publishing companion books from each religion is indeed a genuine one.  Genuine, for the ways in which Jews and Muslims relate to each other in the future could have great significance for relations between Arabs and Israelis in the Middle East.
     The two groups are Semites who have lived together for centuries -from the Byzantine Empire across the Euphrates River in the great empire of Sasanians to Moorish Spain.  Or as Krister Stendahl, the former dean of the Harvard Divinity School, said in a recent AJC article: "Here two of Abraham's 'children' speak the mature language of 'grown ups' who are secure in their convictions."
     In a similar endeavor, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held a luncheon at the Egyptian embassy in Washington attended by 200 Arab and Jewish Americans.
     Calling Jews and Arabs "the great-grandchildren of Abraham," Mubarak said: "Let us work for peace, not criticism."
     He later invited an American Jewish-Arab delegation to visit Egypt and help restart the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.
     As incidents of racial disturbances in England and Palestinian-Israeli violence mounts, teaching tolerance in the 21st century will be one of our greatest challenges.
     That's why it is incumbent up on the world's Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to call for more interfaith dialogue, and make positive contributions to the cause of ethnic and religious tolerance.
     Muslims and Jews can make genuine contributions to America's diverse society by working together in areas such as social and racial justice, defense of human rights, safeguarding religious freedom and resolving Middle East conflict.
     Conflicts are resolved more quickly where there is grass-roots participation.  A better Jewish-Islamic dialogue will depend on whether Jews and Muslims can prevent the ups and downs of Middle East politics from dividing them.
     It is important for Jews to remember that when Palestinians hurl stones at Israelis, they are not aiming them at the Jewish faith.  Muslims, too, should not view Israeli attacks on Palestinians as anti-Islamic.  It is politics, not religion, which is behind Palestinian-Israeli hostility.
     Perhaps Muslims and Jews should ponder the story of the father of a Palestinian man killed early this month.  The father donated his son's organs to save four Israelis, including a critically wounded man who would have died without a heart transplant.
     "Islam does not forbid donating organs to save another's life," said 71year-old Lofti Joulani in a recent interview.  "So, I donated organs to save the lives of others, no matter if they were Jews, Christians or Muslims, even though my son was killed by a Jewish settler's bullet."
     This symbolic act should help in the process of bringing Palestinians and Israelis back to the peace talks.  It should help raise the spirit of dialogue between American Jews and Muslims.
     The media is wrong to portray the three monolithic religions -Christianity, Judaism and Islam -as different from one another.  The three religions are so intertwined to be almost one.  What Muhammad was after is a passion to bring people back to the Abrahamic faith.  The word "Islam," which means peace and submission to God, carries the same meaning for the word "salam" in the Bible and "shalom" in the Torah.
     The Koran says: "Among his other signs are the creation of the heavens and the Earth and the diversity of your tongues and colors.  Surely there are signs in this for all mankind."
     There are two ways today to counter religious hatred in any culture.
     First, we must raise the awareness of our children that the greatness of any nation lies in its people.  We ought to teach them more to love and reach for one another without regard to race, color or religious orientation.
     Finally, we must wipe out negative stereotypes of the "other" from our human hearts and minds, for harmful images lead to harassment, discrimination, intimation and hate crimes.

Mohamed El-Bendary writes on Middle Eastern affairs from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

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