Can Jewish-Muslim dialogue work?
I found the article titled "Jewish-Muslim course uses texts to foster dialogue" (Jewish News, Feb. 12) a bit troublesome. To begin with, the author indicates that according to many Muslim scholars, Islam does not exhort Muslims to kill nonbelievers. This is blatantly untrue.
It takes very little research to find many quotes from Muhammad and the Quran that exhort the followers of Islam to "fight with the Jews 'til some of them will hide behind stones. The stones will (betray them) saying, 'O Abdullah (slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him'" and to "make war on non-Muslims until idolatry shall cease and God's religion shall reign supreme."
Muhammad said: "Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war."
And Sharia Law says: "'Jihad' means to make war on non-Muslims."
There are many other such passages in the Quran and in the sayings of Muhammad that are typical of what standard Islam teaches. It's not just the murderous jihadists who follow these words. The words are those of Allah and are immutable and for all time, according to most practicing Muslims.
In order for real dialogue to take place, the offensive texts from the Quran and the sayings of Muhammad should be discussed openly, especially those that are anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-American and anti-infidel ("infidel" meaning anyone who isn't a practicing Muslim) and that exhort Muslims to kill nonbelievers. If that's what this course purports to do, I wish the teachers and students a lot of luck.
We have a lot of work to do
Some of us in the Valley have been doing Jewish-Muslim dialogue before it was in vogue, in fact before 9/11. Our small, local Jewish-Muslim dialogue group, the Children of Abraham, started in 2000 and continues to meet.
Rabbi Reuven Firestone's new, more ambitious efforts based in a graduate course at the University of California, Berkeley (as reported by Sue Fishkoff) seem to be headed in the right direction. But the real substance of the course will be revealed in the frankness of the dialogue between Rabbi Firestone and the interestingly unnamed Muslim scholar.
This is also, most importantly, with the assumption that they not be bogged down in tiring apologetics from the Muslim scholar, which would give students a false sense of ideological comfort.
The letter writer above dives right into the scriptural issues this type of dialogue desperately needs to address. The Islamic "scriptures" cited are radical interpretations, which radical Muslims (Wahhabis) would associate with "their" form of Islam but which are not the translations and interpretations of Muslim scripture that I learned in "my" Islam.
Yes, those excerpts do exist and do fuel global jihadists and their theo-political fascism. But the important thing is the brewing civil war within the "House of Islam" over whose interpretations will prevail.
The supremacist interpretations are real and gaining ground, but if they predominated from the faith of a quarter of the world's population, the world would have perished long ago. Each passage the letter writer cites has - and needs - an alternative interpretation and a clear rejection from modern Muslims.
For example, the so-called quotation in which the Prophet Mohammed states "And the Jew will hide behind the stone and the tree, and the stone and the tree will say: 'Oh servant of Allah, Oh Muslim, this is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him!" is a forgery. I and many Muslims believe it was never stated by the Prophet Mohammed, regardless of what the radical imams like Yusuf Qaradawi of the Muslim Brotherhood think.
To dismiss our evolving Muslim civil war over scriptural exegesis and authenticity in Islam and hand over the reigns of the faith to a vicious minority of radical Muslims would be to surrender.
We have a lot of work to do, and I hope and pray that some day the silent majority of Muslims wake up and convincingly demonstrate in the court of public opinion that the Bin Laden narrative is not "our Islam."
These realities can only come out in honest dialogue. If the dialogue denies the reality of radical interpretations, it will fuel dangerous apologetics. Similarly, if it exaggerates the radical narrative, it will fuel the dismissal of the most important solution to radical Islam - a modern Islam that chooses peaceful, pluralistic interpretations of scripture and history and ultimately separates mosque and state.
M. Zuhdi Jasser
President, American Islamic Forum for Democracy