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Jews and Muslims -- Coexistence Is Possible, in America and in Israel

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For many years, I have been promoting the idea that Muslim-Jewish coexistence in Israel is possible. Indeed, I have argued that if we want to know our Muslim neighbors in Israel better, then we must not only engage them vis a vis their ethnic/national identity but that we must take their religious identity into account.

During my recent speaking tour to seven cities in the U.S., with the kadi (judge) of the Sharia Court of Jerusalem of the state of Israel , Kadi Iyad Zahalka, who is a Muslim citizen of Israel, I discovered over and over again that Muslims and Jews can and do coexist in America as well!

• At the University of South Florida in Tampa , Florida, an equal group of Jewish and Muslim students came to hear us speak over lunch at the local Hillel foundation.

• In St Paul , Minnesota, where we spoke at a Catholic University, a law school, a church and a synagogue -- in a city where 19 organizations co-sponsored our visit -- all of the audiences were comprised of Muslims, as well as Jews and Christians.

• In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Muslims, Jews and Christians came to here us speak at the headquarters of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

I could go on and on, but I want to come to one of the highlights of our recent two-week lecture tour in the U.S. which took place on the last day of the tour. On October 11, we were warmly hosted by a major American mosque and cultural center, called the ADAMS CENTER, which is one of the five largest mosques in the U.S. This was my second visit to this mosque during prayer, and in both cases, I was welcomed warmly and with great respect.

According to its website,

ADAMS -- All Dulles Area Muslim Societyhttp://www.adamscenter.org/ -- was established in 1983... Over the past two decades it has grown to be one of the largest Muslim Community organizations in the Washington metropolitan area. It is a membership organization... and is affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)....ADAMS membership is continuously increasing and has reached about 2,200 individuals. However, it serves close to 5000 families in the area. ...ADAMS believes that service to humankind is an important part of devotion to Allah and that all Muslims are enjoined to be good neighbors. Thus, ADAMS' mission is to serve Allah through service to the Muslim community by providing religious education and social services in the best professional manner as embodied in the Quran and Sunnah. Further, ADAMS is dedicated to representing the eternal truths of Islam to the broader community through positive contributions to the society at large....ADAMS aspires to be the anchor of a model community of practicing Muslims of diverse backgrounds, democratically governed, efficiently served, relating to one another with inclusiveness and tolerance, and interacting with neighbors in an Islamic exemplary fashion.

I could go on, but you get the gist. This is an incredible American religious institution, which has a vision and a mission and a highly organized structure to carry out their extensive religious and cultural program for children and adults. Moreover, it is led by Imam Mohamed Magid, who serves as president of ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America, and is one of the leading Muslim religious personalities in the USA who is regularly engaged in dialogue with Jewish religious leaders.

By the way, one of the major reasons that American Jews can now dialogue with the leaders of ISNA, derives from a speech given at an ISNA convention several years ago by my friend, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who was then President of the Union for Reform Judaism, and the reciprocal speech by the then President of ISNA, Dr. Ingrid Matson, at a Biennial Convention of the Union for Reform Judaism.

This year, I was warmly welcomed at Friday Jumma prayers by the young charismatic chairman of the ADAMS Board of Directors, Rezwan Jaka, in a remarkable setting -- the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, which has hosted the local Muslims for Friday prayers in their social hall for many years!! As he explained to me, ADAMS operates worship services in Northern Virginia in 10 centers, a main one (which I visited last year) and 9 "satellite" centers, which attract 5,000 Muslim worshippers every Friday (we are not talking about Yom Kippur here; we are talking about every Friday!) and two of the satellite centers take place in Reform Jewish synagogues in the region!

As a rabbi who lives in Israel and works for peaceful coexistence among Jews, Muslims and Christians in my country, I brought greetings of "Shalom, Salaam, Peace" to two groups of worshippers (since they offer two times for prayer every Friday at each center). After each service was over, tens of congregants came up to me to wish me well and offer spiritual support for the work that I do in inter-religious dialogue for the sake of learning to live together in peace and harmony. I was overwhelmed by the positive reaction to my words, and left the congregation inspired to press on.

By the way, on the same Friday , I spoke in a Reform Jewish synagogue on the other side of the Potomac river, in Washington, D.C. in the evening, and when I asked the audience if anyone had heard of the ADAMS Center in Northern Virginia, 30 minutes away, not one person had ever heard of it!

So, for all those who say that Muslims and Jews are intractable enemies, controlled by extremists who only teach hatred and are out to kill each other, I suggest that you visit the ADAMS center in Northern Virginia. You will be welcomed and impressed, as I have been, by the fact that Muslims and Jews can and do coexist in mutual respect and with high regard for each other's religion.

You could also visit many Muslim communities throughout Israel and be warmly welcomed by hospitable people, who will be glad to explain their religion to you. I do it all the time. It is an eye-opening experience, contrary to the "conventional wisdom" that you get from the mainstream media.