Abraham… died in a good old age… Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, buried him (Gen. 25:8-9)
Praise to Allah, who has granted to me in old age Ishmael and Isaac (Quran, 14:39)
The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis reaches out in friendship to our Muslim neighbors, offering this statement itself as a step toward greater engagement and dialogue with each other. We celebrate all that has been accomplished locally in building bridges between our communities and we express our commitment toward expanding and deepening that process. We also acknowledge the challenges in building bridges and the great effort required. Our communities have too often been separated by fear and suspicion, by the absence of familiarity, and by local reverberations of geo-political dynamics beyond our control. We know all too well the historic danger of separation and the ghettoizing of communities. We have seen too often how hate is spawned through stereotypes formed in the absence of relationship with real people. Affirming the deeply entwined roots of our peoples in the ancient soil of holy texts, descendants of a common ancestor, we are committed to building on the growing trust between us and to nurturing new possibilities together.
As Jewish leaders, cognizant of both accomplishments and challenges, we seek a new path from house to house, from synagogue to mosque, from mosque to synagogue. We invite the Jewish community to walk with us, striving to transcend our own divisions, even as we invite the Muslim community to walk toward us. There is much healing to do in the Jewish community as part of a greater effort of repair. We are committed to dialogue among Jews as a necessary part of the process of facilitating dialogue with Muslims. There have been times during this process of great pain and separation among ourselves as Jews, as there have been between Jews and Muslims. Scars remain in both communities from tensions that surrounded the building of the grand Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Today, we celebrate the place of the ISBCC on the interfaith landscape of Greater Boston and the role it plays in facilitating interfaith dialogue.
We acknowledge many people to people efforts through the years to bridge divides, efforts that are now bearing fruit: programs between local synagogues and mosques, study gatherings between imams and rabbis, book groups of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian women, young adult dialogue and social justice projects, the quiet efforts of Jewish and Muslim communal leaders to establish open communication between their organizations, and an increasing role by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization to bring communities together. We note with pride, that in the winter of 2017, Shaykh Yasir Fahmy, senior imam of the ISBCC, and the organization’s executive director, Mr. Yusufi Vali, addressed a general meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, a gathering that serves as a historic expression of change and possibility.
Building on that sense of change and possibility, we offer with this rabbinic statement, a tone and backdrop from which to address specific needs and opportunities as they arise between our communities. Transcending the politics of any given moment, our call is rooted in Torah. As we draw on strands of Quranic teaching that reflect our own teachings as starting points for dialogue, we invite Muslim leaders to weave them more fully, until together we create a beautiful tapestry that is both brand new and very old.
Descended from the same father, Abraham/Ibrahim, Jews and Muslims are siblings born of two mothers, Sarah and Hagar/Hajar, joined forever through the fate of their children, through Isaac/Yitzchak in one tradition and Ishmael/Isma’il in the other. We share holy stories and sacred teachings, liturgical themes and religious values, recognizing ourselves mirrored in the wellsprings of each other’s sources and traditions.
As two families within the human family, we hear the cry of two children, of two mothers, of one father, of one God, each of them waiting for us to act for the sake of reunion and reconciliation. This is the moral and religious imperative to which we respond. In a world so filled with violence, even in our texts at times, parallel teachings offer a challenge and a plea in language virtually the same, “whoever saves one life, it is as though having saved a whole world/all of humanity.” And, God forbid, so too the opposite regarding the destruction of a single life, the entire world held in the balance (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5; Quran, Surah al Ma’idah 5:32).
As two peoples who have known the sting of hatred, Jews and Muslims are called to stand with each other in the face of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Whenever hate threatens either of our peoples, or any others among us who are vulnerable, we are called in real terms to love our neighbor as ourselves. We recognize that there are diverse views of Jews among Muslims and of Muslims among Jews. Hurts that are both perceived and real affect how we see the other. Yet only through direct experience of the other is healing and trust made possible.
We urge both the Muslim and the Jewish communities not to allow differences to preclude dialogue and engagement. There is greater security in relationship than in isolation and alienation. The very issues that are sometimes seen to preclude dialogue are the ones we most need to talk about. Whether bearing on the politics of the Middle East, historic enmities given root in our sacred texts, or perceptions of each other’s communal organizations, it requires courage to engage. The degree to which Jews and Muslims can engage with each other in greater Boston is its own measure of what is possible elsewhere in the world. Instilling hope and offering a path of possibility, we empower our children to be active shapers of tomorrow and of the world in which they will live. Whether that will be a world of greater peace than we know today will depend on our children’s confidence and courage to engage with others. It is our responsibility to give them the tools and to model the way.
Of common roots and shared destiny, the quality of relationship between Jews and Muslims depends on all of us, and so too the possibilities to emerge through friendship. Reaching out to the Muslim community and reaching in to the Jewish community, the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis encourages our synagogues and organizations, our rabbis and communal leaders, our schools and our youth programs, to become more familiar with the Muslim community and with Islam. The following suggestions and resources are meant as a guide to help facilitate such learning within the Jewish community. So too, we invite and encourage the Muslim community to learn more about Jews and Judaism. We call on Jews individually and collectively to stand up and speak up for our Muslim neighbors when they are under attack, as we know that the Muslim community will stand with us in our times of need. Having witnessed such caring concern by both communities, we look beyond offering support in difficult times. Building on foundations of trust and friendship established over time, we look forward to fuller engagement, creating opportunities to celebrate together, while expanding and deepening possibilities for dialogue and cooperation. We pray that through Jewish and Muslim friendship in our communities we shall help to create a more just society in a more peaceful world. As a starting point for discussion and an invitation to engage, we offer this statement and the following action suggestions and resources in a spirit of possibility and hope.
- Learn about Islam through personal reading and adult education programs
- Arrange as a community to visit a nearby mosque, ideally in coordination with other congregations in your area
- Look on line to find a mosque near you, or contact the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, Roxbury, MA, http://isbcc.org/
- Invite Muslims to visit your synagogue, whether Muslim friends and acquaintances or in coordination with a local mosque.
- Invite a Muslim speaker to address your synagogue/organization; does not need to be an official representative, personal sharing by Muslim acquaintances, friends, and colleagues can be very meaningful
- Given the stress upon Muslim leaders and organizations to represent the Muslim community and Islam, try to join with other congregations and Jewish organizations in seeking speakers and developing programs
- Look at Muslim community websites, such as that of the ISBCC, to be aware of public programs, classes, and visits; go as a community and then discuss the experience together
- Organize in your community to support immigrants, and, particularly in regard to Muslims, to oppose limiting immigration based on religion or national background. The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) is a good local resource for such organizing.
- Sign up for HIAS updates and to be part of this organization’s excellent advocacy for all immigrants and minorities
- Contact your representatives to make your views known regarding a Muslim ban and restrictive immigration policies
- Stand up for Muslims in times of stress by writing letters of support to mosques and to newspapers
- In the face of hate directed against Muslims and any others, help to organize and participate in interfaith solidarity vigils in your community
- As individuals and communities, whether with our children, friends, families, or colleagues, we can all model respect and appreciation for Muslims and all people, challenging stereotypes and bigotry whenever and wherever we encounter it
Bridge-Building and Advocacy Organizations:
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society: https://www.hias.org/
Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston: https://www.jcrcboston.org/
Foundation for Ethnic Understanding: http://www.ffeu.org/
Abrahamic Family Reunion: https://www.facebook.com/AbrahamicFamilyReunion/
Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations at Merrimack College: http://www.merrimack.edu/academics/centers/jcmr/
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: http://www.rac.org/
Kids4Peace, Boston: http://kids4peaceboston.org/
Reading and Study Material:
Sharing the Well: A Resource Guide for Jewish-Muslim Engagement
Children of Abraham – Jews and Muslims in Conversation
A Dialogue Curriculum prepared in partnership by the Union for Reform Judaism and the Islamic Society of North America
An Introduction to Islam for Jews, Reuven Firestone PhD
Under Crescent and Cross, Mark R. Cohen PhD
Islamic and Jewish Legal Reasoning, Encountering Our Legal Other, Anver M. Emon PhD
The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary, Seyyed Hossein Nasr PhD