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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Muslims advocate dialogue

Muslim author advocates multi-faith dialogue

Dear Sherry and the editor,

The sentiments expressed by Raheel Raza in the following article are pretty much my expressions as well, and are representative of a large number of Muslims. The silent majority of each group or any group carries the same sentiments but they simply do not express. It is time, we make an effort to enlist these good people to speak up.

I did a talk show radio for 7 years called Wisdom of religion, all the beautiful religions. In the last two years, an hour a month was dedicated to Judaism with with my friend Rabbi Haas, the more we talked, the more we learned mirroring each other. Two years ago we had a week long symposium with 32 different faith traditions participating in it, Rabbi Akiba and I sat together and for a while, we had our piece shortened, as what he said I called Ditto for Islam and vice versa. Indeed a documentary is made and will be shown in the Canadian film festival of non-violent films.

Muslim have done many things with the Jews and other communities in Dallas, among them on record are;

i) http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/Images_HolocaustDay/HMD2006_ProgramReport.asp
ii) http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/Honored_JewishCommunity_TG2005.asp
iii) http://mikeghouseforamerica.blogspot.com/2007/04/yom-hashoah-remembrance.html
iv) http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com/2007/04/yom-hashoah-yom-milaad.html

We have to continue to relate with the humanness in each other. All faith are designed to bring peace and balance to an individual and his/her surroundings. Religion is the reason we have relative hope, without which there would be major chaos.

Indeed, all the conflicts of the world can be traced to greed of individuals but never religion. If New York has a high crime rate, it is the individuals, not the law books of New York nor the religion of the people of New York.

If the moderates prevail in Israel and Palestine, peace is within reach.

Mike Ghouse

Muslim author advocates multi-faith dialogue

Staff Reporter

Raheel Raza, a prominent member of the Canadian Muslim community, addressed supporters of the Canadian Friends of Haifa University (CFHU) at its annual general meeting to promote tolerance, understanding and peace.

The author of Their Jihad… Not My Jihad, Raza is on the board of the Muslim Canadian Congress. She is a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star, and the recipient of numerous awards for her interfaith work.

She addressed CFHU board members at Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto on April 26, just one day after returning from Los Angeles where she was invited by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center to speak at the Museum of Tolerance.

The outspoken advocate for gender equality and multi-faith dialogue promoted the message that we must respect each other’s differences and understand our commonalities.

“We live in a world where hatred seems to be the favoured way of living with each other. I also realize that in our community there are two kinds of people. There are those who would spend a lifetime talking about differences and distances… because for them, to divide and rule is a very easy way to grab people’s attention. And then there are those who would shorten the distance by building bridges of trust and understanding, focusing more on similarities than differences. I wish to be one of those people,” Raza said.

She said that even though she grew up in Pakistan, she had an idea of the hostilities that Jewish communities faced and even knew a little about Jewish history, after having read The Diary of Anne Frank, and seen films with Jewish themes.

But when she moved to Canada, she, too, faced hostility from the Muslim community for sympathizing with Jews.

“What my fellow Muslims don’t understand is that in my journey to discover [other religious communities], all I am doing is trying to follow the word of God,” she said.

“The more I interact with others, the more I become rooted in my faith. Those who think I am going outside of my faith by befriending people who are not Muslims, they don’t understand that this is what roots me in my faith, when I learn more about you.”

She quoted a line from the Qur’an that she discovered is very similar to a line in the Talmud that says “humanity is one community.”

She said that after having read passages from the Talmud (in English), she realized how many similarities there are between the Muslim and Jewish faiths.

“As I was reading, I thought to myself, every single Muslim I know needs to come to a synagogue and hear what is being said to understand that the message is the same, that we are reaching out to the same God. But through the centuries, you know and I know that this message and others like it have been sidelined and Islam has been subjected to anti-pluralistic, exclusivist interpretation in order to advance both political and religious subversive agendas.”

Raza said she also identifies with Israel’s struggle to defend itself against communities that call for the destruction of the Jewish state.

“Pakistan is the only other country in the world that was created on the basis of religion, and if someone, like neighbouring India, or anyone else said that they don’t recognize them, I’m sure the world opinion would be very much against it,” she said.

“My firm belief is that Israel needs to be recognized and it has a right to exist just as much as my own native land of Pakistan does,” she said, adding that most Pakistanis and Muslims would disagree with her.

There can be no solution to the “Palestinian crisis” until Israel has a partner that recognizes its sovereignty, she said.

Raza also doesn’t shy away from challenging people who hold the view that Jews heavily influence foreign policy.

Muslims around the world need to abandon a popular, ignorant belief that whatever is happening in the world is a Jewish conspiracy, she said.

Just two days earlier in Los Angeles, Raza told the gathering that she hopped in an Iranian man’s cab to go shopping. She began to make conversation with her driver and asked him how he liked living in the United States.

“He said, ‘Well, you know, there’s [President] George Bush and those Jews.’ Maybe two years ago I would have changed the subject and talked about something else… [but] I asked him, ‘When you say “those Jews” what do you mean?’ And he said, ‘You know, those people run the country.’”

She said she lectured the cab driver for 20 minutes. He was so taken aback, and he asked her if she was a Muslim.

“I am a practising Muslim,” she told him. “This is what my faith and your faith, if you happen to be Muslim, tells you, that you do not judge people. I don’t know if it made a difference to him, but it made a difference to me.”

She said that it is important for people of all faiths to understand that unity does not mean uniformity.

“If we want peace and if we want to live together in harmony, we have to move beyond our differences. We have to have dialogue, we have to build these bridges, we have to have communication.”

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