On Oct. 10, three days after Hamas raped, tortured, kidnapped and murdered more Jewish children, women and men in six hours than anyone since the Nazis, the supposedly moderate Muslim religious leader Omar Suleiman livestreamed on YouTube a sermon titled "Reflection and Du'a (prayers) for #Palestine." The 30-minute talk was viewed at least 266,000 times in its first 48 hours. This is a telling example of the mainstream Muslim-American community's defensiveness, cognitive dissonance and general inability to acknowledge the full humanity of Jews.
A Palestinian-American scholar and public speaker, Suleiman is one of the most well-known Muslim leaders in the U.S. today. He has nearly 775,000 followers on X, 2.1 million followers on Instagram and 2.7 million followers on Facebook. He is the founder of the Yaqeen Institute, an educational organization whose stated aim is "to move people to a realization of Islam that inspires faith, grounds it with intellect and creates a world of doers who are tranquil, confident and purpose-driven." The Islamic State called for his assassination in 2017. He has participated in numerous interfaith functions with other religious leaders.
In Suleiman's solemn, deliberative delivery, you will not once hear him utter the words "Jew" or "Israeli"—nor even "settler" or "Zionist." Aware that the traditional Palestinian David vs. Israeli Goliath narrative is especially hard to inculcate at this time, Suleiman preferred to start his narrative at around when Israelis began defending themselves by striking Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. One would hear this and think that Israel, completely unprovoked, had just decided to obliterate Gaza for no reason.
The closest Suleiman came to condemning the Hamas atrocities was a vague caution that Muslims must be "humble in victory" and "faithful in defeat." Suleiman offered comfort to the faithful with five minutes of parables about angels greeting martyred Muslims upon their deaths and exhorting the faithful not to grieve.
Without ever mentioning Hamas by name, Suleiman prepared the audience to cope with Hamas's impending defeat. He recounted the seventh-century battle of Uhud, in which the prophet Muhammad's followers were (temporarily) defeated by the Quraysh, a tribe of polytheists who ruled Mecca. Here is where the magic happens: Suleiman recounts how the wicked Quraysh desecrated the bodies of slain Muslims after the battle, but the Muslims did not lose their faith. After Jewish babies were decapitated and burned alive, Suleiman lamented the desecration of dead Muslim warriors in the year 625 CE.
The rest of the sermon was a babble of self-pity devoid of self-examination. The sheer horror of the Oct. 7 massacre shocked some corporations into putting out statements of solidarity with Israel; Suleiman called these statements "obnoxious." He expressed distaste for President Joe Biden's speech in support of Israel because it skipped the rote moral relativism that is a usual part of any presidential condemnation of Palestinian terrorism. Suleiman then incited his followers by equating the statement "I stand with Israel" with a "blank check for genocide," as if the oft-repeated term "from the river to the sea" was a Jewish-supremacist slogan rather than a Palestinian-supremacist slogan.
Suleiman's studied refusal to mention any of the relevant actors in this war speaks volumes. To mention Israelis might require him to admit that they are engaged in self-defense following a horrific war crime. To mention Hamas might require him to admit to its genocidal agenda and actions.
Here we come to the Zionist elephant in the room: Mainstream Muslim America will only tolerate Jews and Judaism on its own terms. They will only share spaces with marginal anti-Zionist Jewish organizations and leaders. The Jews' price of admission to the table of coexistence is for Jews to be unconcerned about their own existence. At best, Zionist Jews are entirely omitted from these discussions, as they are in Suleiman's sermon. At worst, Zionist Jews are held up as "bad Jews" juxtaposed with anti-Zionist "good Jews."
This is because Islam shares with Christianity the "Wandering Jew" trope; the idea that Jews exist in the world to serve as examples of self-authored disaster of whom Christians and Muslims must beware. In certain Christian denominations, Jews as a collective are cursed for killing Jesus. It is then held that Christians have replaced the Jews as the "true Israel." In Islam, Jews are cursed for rejecting the message of Muhammad.
What both Christian and Muslim supersessionists agree on is that Jewish statelessness and vulnerability are evidence of God's disfavor, to be relieved only by conversion. Self-determination and self-defense for Jews without first acknowledging the "true faith" is a challenge to the truth of that faith. This is why the existence of Israel as a Jewish state within any borders is considered anathema by the overwhelming majority of practicing Muslims and why mainstream American Muslims cannot engage with Zionism on its own terms.
The Catholic Church moved away from this supersessionist approach to Judaism in the 1960s under the Vatican II reforms. Many Protestant denominations teach a covenantal rather than supersessionist theology that seeks harmony between the monotheistic faiths.
There is nothing remotely like this among popular American Muslim organizations like Suleiman's Yaqeen Institute. Suleiman hears no Zionists, sees no Zionists and speaks with no Zionists. He likely thinks Zionists are simply evil.
We now see where this refusal to engage in civil debate with ideological opponents can lead. Before the ocean of innocent blood in the desert had dried, thousands of anti-Zionists in cities throughout the West took to the streets to celebrate the orgy of slaughter. Their refusal to engage with Zionism allows them to slander it as "apartheid," "genocide" and "colonialism." This further allows them to excuse mass murder while blaming the victims, about whom they know nothing.
American Jewish leaders and organizations must stop permitting non-Jews like Suleiman to arrogate to themselves the authority to define Jewish peoplehood and Jewish culture. If 10% of Jews worldwide are indifferent or hostile to the State of Israel, that is their right. But for any non-Jews to speak and act as if the 90% majority of pro-Israel Jews don't exist or aren't "real Jews," they are engaged in tokenism at best.
A feel-bad reckoning between mainstream American Muslims and mainstream American Jews is needed before the feel-good multicultural pablum can resume. If Christian and Jewish faith leaders can't find a willing partner in Omar Suleiman, they should hold out for a better partner, and hope that more American Muslims take to heart verse 13:11 of the Quran: "Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves."