A Muslim friend who leads a Chicago-based civic organization is heading to Israel next month to participate in a leadership program at the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Jerusalem education and thought center that serves as a beacon in many facets of Jewish life.
The goal of Hartman’s Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI) “is to empower an elite group of emerging and religious and intellectual leaders—including university chaplains, journalists, academics, and cultural figures—to influence the North American Muslim community in reassessing its preconceived notions of Judaism and Israel.”
God bless Imam Abdullah Antepli, Muslim chaplain at Duke University, and Yossi Klein Halevi, Israeli journalist, author and educator, who co-lead the Institute, which enables Muslims to learn how Jews understand Judaism, Israel, and themselves. Having participated in a trip to Turkey organized by my Muslim friend, I know the value of such interfaith experiences.
In Turkey I witnessed how our hosts—leading business people, journalists, academics, and others—perceive their Muslim faith and its role in their public and personal lives. My preconceived notions were demolished, and my ignorance displaced with substantive content and nuance. Leading Muslims from North America certainly will have a similar experience vis a vis Jews, Judaism and Israel.
My friend’s visit to Israel couldn’t come at a worse—or a better—time. Worse, in that following last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas, the well of Muslim-Jewish relations in North America is teeming with toxins: a Palestinian-Israeli conflict that is far from resolution; growing international terrorism committed in the name of Islam; radicalized, disaffected youth, who are a grave concern to Muslim communities as well as to others—the list of problems is large and increasing.
Perversely, these factors also make this Muslim journey to Israel auspicious. Our society stands to lose if Jews, Muslims, and Christians fail to partner in order to counter the very forces that threaten us all. Everyone who wishes to coexist harmoniously, let alone celebrate our collective diversity, must refuse to surrender to the very forces that threaten our common values. For Muslims to travel to Israel to learn about Judaism, and for Jews to engage similarly with Muslims and Islam, are essential acts of good faith. These courageous acts fly in the face of those who preach intolerance; ultimately, I pray, these acts will defeat those forces of intolerance, dissolving them in a sea of brotherly and sisterly love.
My Muslim friend and his fellow travelers are brave to travel to Israel; surely there are those who will consider their educational visit as some kind of betrayal. Nonsense, I say; only through mutual understanding can we build the kind of future worth living in.