Thoughts on Jewish-Muslim dialogue

There’s an article on a Jewish blog called Adloyada about dialogue between us and them, and in this particular case it involved our very own Abdul-Hakeem Murad, best known for his translations and articles on traditional Islam but also (and I didn’t know this) imam of Cambridge mosque. The Jewish participant was Rabbi Jeremy Gordon of the Masorti Synagogue in St Albans, on the northern outskirts of London, and the occasion for the dialogue was the near-coincidence of Rosh Hashana (their new year) and the start of Ramadan.

The author of Adloyada is someone who has “done quite a bit of professional work with Muslims around their schools and around potential and actual partnership projects with Jews”, and also advised the governors and head of a Muslim school in northern England about “key matters of policy and decision making in their school”. She describes visiting Regents’ Park Mosque in London along with “the eminent scholar” (it’s not clear which one) thus:

I found my visit great fun. And that was because the experience of meeting the governors and the head was rather like meeting distant members of your family, from a branch that was estranged from yours over a few generations. There was the same delighted surprise in finding, not only that you believed the same sort of things, but also they had kept going some particularly idiosyncratic family traditions that you hadn’t realised went back that far. And you heard the same stories, only told from their family’s point of view and not your own. Only what we were talking about was not family lore, but Islamic and Jewish ideas about education, and how those relate to the legal and other demands of the English National Curriculum. All those discussions have convinced me that Islam and Judaism are and remain close cousins. That the two faiths are much closer to each other than is Judaism to Christianity. I found all those experiences personally enriching and very enjoyable. They don’t seem to me to sit well with the politicised Islamism which is the stuff of headlines.

This is, of course, a sentiment which wouldn’t sit well with a lot Muslims you might tell it to, who tend to perceive Judaism as being an empty, heartless religion practised by empty, heartless people. And yet, when defending from the militant secular lobby our rights to continue practising ritual slaughter, guess who our only allies are? The relationships between us and them (and Christians as well, come to that) are complicated and it’s not as simple as saying “they’re our enemies”. The best example is that we can work together for common moral standpoints and for some common interests (like faith schools, as the author acknowledges) and achieve some mutual understanding, as long as we do not compromise our own integrity.

Also, her post mentions my pet hate of over-accommodation, which is when non-Muslims bend over backwards to accommodate us in ways we don’t even suggest, such as (in this case) a Christian schoolteacher asking a Jewish child to write “peace be upon him” after the name of the Prophet Muhammad (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). I have seen much hypocrisy in this - the “obligatory PBUH” is something you’ll see from time to time in articles advancing clearly anti-Islamic positions, and in any case it’s not sufficient for a Muslim to write just this.

In some cases, Muslims also make unreasonable demands, as in the “Dudley pig ban” which has caused much hilarity and ridicule, although I heard Muslims on a late-night LBC phone-in say it was ridiculous. Pigs are part of the landscape in England, and it’s no great insult to call someone a pig. If the pig figures are displayed in a way calculated to insult, that’s a different story. Although it’s easy to get stress relievers which aren’t pig shaped.

Anyway it’s a long and interesting post, and worth reading.

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