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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dialogue: Jews, Christians & Muslims

The following two pieces are on the same subject. Praise the Lord, good things are happening. I welcome these steps.

Previous articles on the subject:

1. http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2008/05/saudi-arabia-interfaith-dialogue.html
2. http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com/2008/04/saudi-kings-for-interfaith-dialogue.html

Mike Ghouse
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Paving The Path To Dialogue
Understanding between Muslims and Jews.
-- Judea Pearl

First came an "Open Letter From Muslims to Jews," signed by dozens of leading Muslim scholars and intellectuals in the West, calling for "Peace, Dialogue and Understanding Between Muslims and Jews."

The letter, which was initiated by American University professor Akbar Ahmed and formally presented by Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadan at Cambridge, England, stresses the Quranic acceptance of Jews and Muslims as one nation (Ummah); elaborates on commonalities of contemporary beliefs, rituals and values; celebrates shared memories of positive historical encounters; and ends with a call for "concrete outcomes in Muslim-Jewish relations in different parts of our shared world."

Second came an impassioned plea from the Saudi King Abdullah, for a dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews, the first such proposal from the custodian of Islam's holiest shrines and a nation that bans non-Muslim religious services and symbols. Abdullah said that Saudi Arabia's top clerics have given him the green light to hold meetings with "our brothers" in Christianity and Judaism, "so we can agree on something that guarantees the preservation of humanity against those who tamper with ethics, family systems and honesty."

Israel's newspaper Yediot Ahronot had subsequently reported on March 30, based on a phone call from the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, that Israeli rabbis will soon be invited to an interfaith conference initiated by the Saudi kingdom.

The official Jewish response to these proposals has been wholeheartedly enthusiastic. Responding to the Muslim letter, the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), an umbrella committee representing major Jewish organizations, has issued a welcoming call for dialogue between Muslims and Jews titled, "Seek Peace and Pursue It," and IJCIC's chair, Rabbi David Rosen, encouraged Muslims to develop the dialogue "in the pursuit of a world made better through our efforts."

As to King Abdullah's proposal, my understanding is that all chief rabbis in Israel, and there are many of them, are currently busy packing for an adventurous trip to the Arabian Peninsula.

Oddly, when I was asked by the initiative organizers to respond to the Muslim letter, I felt somewhat reluctant; it seems that all the media excitement caused me to take a sober look at the enterprise of Jewish-Muslim dialogue, with which I have been involved for almost five years.

My first thought landed of course on the positive symbolic value of having a visible dialogue going, regardless of its content. I therefore commended the authors for opening a new channel of communication between Jews and Muslims, and endorsed the letter as "a welcome first step toward the goals of peace, understanding and mutual respect."

But then I asked myself, how would an average Jewish reader react to the content of the letter? It became clear that the letter would evoke two immediate reservations, if not objections: First, it is totally void of self-criticism and, second, it skirts the thorniest of all issues: Israel's right to exist.

The question then became not whether a dialogue is a good thing to have (this I take as an axiom), but whether unconditional embracing of an invitation based on certain premises constitutes a tacit endorsement of those premises, with which one may disagree: In our case, the two premises in question are, first, that Islam is in no need for reform or introspection because it is already a pluralistic, nonexpansionist, Jew-respecting, violence-minimizing and human-rights-protecting religion and, second, that peace can somehow be achieved without Muslim acceptance of the legitimacy and permanency of Israel.

The concept of reform is a sensitive one in conversations with Muslims. Understandably, no person, let alone a community leader, would engage in an interfaith discussion only to listen to a sermon on how his or her religion should be reformed. Reforms, as Jews would surely recall, emerge from internal debates, not external criticism. Dealing with reform is especially hard for Muslims, since they are instructed to view the Quran as the final, perfect and immutable word of God.

In view of these constraints, what the Muslim letter is presenting to us is, in effect, a progressive reform strategy that we might as well call "stealth reform," namely, reform cast as reinterpretation of the sacred scriptures. The strategy invokes a simple recipe of dealing with contradictory texts in the Quran: texts that conform to accepted norms of modernity are to be considered central, universal and intentional, while those that deviate from modern norms are contextualized to specific events in seventh century Arabia and marginalized from modern discourse.

Before we dismiss this strategy as self-deceptive or disingenuous, we should be reminded that identical strategy has been used to great advantage in the Jewish tradition since the time of the Mishnah. Its most explicit expression is encapsulated in the Talmudic saying: Kol mah Sh'Talmid vatik atid l'horot lifnei rabbo, kevar n'emar L'Moshe B'Sinai (Translated: "Whatever a seasoned scholar is destined to innovate before his master was already revealed to Moses at Sinai") (Yerushalmi, Pe'ah 2.4). In other words, the Talmud bestows divine power unto the capacity of the human mind to reason and innovate.

The secret of this "stealthy" strategy lies in its power to usher in reform without challenging the divine origin of the scriptures; modern interpretations, however creative, are given equal chance to compete against extremist, literalist interpretations that accord universal validity to morally outdated texts. Stealth reform worked marvels in the Jewish tradition (e.g. no child was ever stoned for disobeying his parents, Sanhedrin, 71) and, if it worked in the Muslim world, we would be the last ones to quibble with its logic.

However, the effectiveness of this strategy depends critically on finding authoritative spiritual leaders who are willing to implement it in practice and turn it into the ruling philosophy of religious education. In other words, progressive interpretations of the Quran would become credible if sustained and reinforced by educational and jurisprudence institutions such as, for example, Al Azhar University, in Cairo, the most prestigious center of Muslim learning in Sunni Islam. Unfortunately, the leaders of these institutions, including Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, grand imam of Al-Azhar University, often support literalist interpretations that depict Jews as despicable, eternal enemies of Islam, and these interpretations are the ones that are currently gaining momentum in vast areas of the Muslim world.

It seems reasonable therefore to suggest that the Muslim letter would do more good if sent to Grand Imam Tantawi and other Islamic leaders in the Middle East who, evidently, have compelling reasons to object to the conciliatory interpretation espoused in the letter.

The Israeli-Palestinian issue is more subtle. Though the Muslim letter tries hard to avert controversial topics, it admits nevertheless: "At the core of the Muslim-Jewish tension lies the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and proposes: "A peaceful resolution that will assure mutual respect, prosperity and security to both Palestinians and Israelis, while allowing the Palestinian people their rights to self-determination."

Readers familiar with the history of Israel's plight for a two-state solution would notice immediately the asymmetrical language in which the proposed resolution is cast. Whereas the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination are affirmed explicitly, the rights of Israelis to the same status of self-determination are left undeclared, vulnerable to future assaults by enemies of co-existence.

In my response to the letter, I therefore expressed hope that the next phase of the dialogue "will bring Muslim and Jewish leaders closer toward a position of symmetry and reciprocity, and boldly acknowledge the historical rights of both sides to self-determination in two, equally legitimate, equally indigenous, and equally secured states."

I am thoroughly convinced that such acknowledgment, benign and neutral as it may sound, would do more for world peace than theological accounts of shared prophets and common rituals. And if King Abdullah's conference manages to sprout such acknowledgment we will indeed be facing the dawn of a totally new era in the Middle East.

What I am still unable to determine, though, is whether entering a dialogue in response to an asymmetrical invitation has a better chance of restoring symmetry than insisting on symmetry at the onset. Let us hope that the Jewish delegation to King Abdullah's dialogue will find some of the answer in Riyadh.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He and his wife Ruth are editors of I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl, winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

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Headline News
Tuesday, May 27, 2008 staff writer

Saudi king invites Jews, Christians for interfaith dialogue

Israeli media is reporting that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has invited Jews and Christians to his kingdom for an interfaith dialogue despite the fact that anyone with an Israeli passport or an entry visa into Israel stamped in their passport is not allowed into the country.

Haaretz daily newspaper said the date and location of the meeting has not been announced. Abdullah first announced his plans in March to hold dialogue with Muslims from around the world and Christians and Jews. “We will start to meet with our brothers in every faith I have mentioned - the Bible and the New Testament,” he said.

At the time, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger responded positively.

“Our hands are extended to any peace initiative, or to any dialogue whose goal is to bring an end to terror and violence,” he said. “I have said many times that the true way to reach the long-awaited peace is through interfaith dialogue.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said in a statement that King Abdullah’s initiative “is a laudable step forward. We hope that other religious leaders and political leaders throughout the world will be encouraged to join.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Saudi Arabia: Interfaith dialogue

World Jewish Congress Welcomes Saudi Arabian King's Initiative on Inter-Religious Dialogue .

The world Muslim Congress welcomes this step. I have been a part of the exploratory dialogue by a Saudi Minister in 2005 in Dallas, where he has asked me to organize an interfaith meeting involving three Abrahamic faiths. Although I was reluctant to support this exclusivity, I accepted it as a first step towards developing an all embracing format over a period of time.

We must welcome all goodwill initiatives; after all, no one can be at peace when the other is not. Given the choice of conflict and aggravating, suppressing or bullying each other, befriending is a better choice to begin the process.

Previous article on the subject: http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com/2008/04/saudi-kings-for-interfaith-dialogue.html

Mike Ghouse
World Muslim Congress
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World Jewish Congress Welcomes Saudi Arabian King's Initiative on Inter-Religious Dialogue


NEW YORK, May 26, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ ----The leadership of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) considers a recent initiative by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia for a reinforced dialogue between the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) to be an important development in the area of inter-faith dialogue. In a statement, the WJC Steering Committee welcomed the King's initiative:

"The World Jewish Congress believes that all religions, and especially the Religions of the Book, can work together in responding to the challenges posed by the developments in society in these times. The WJC supports the proposal to bring together members of the Abrahamic faiths to discuss common values. Such an initiative demonstrates optimism that dialogue involving representatives of different faiths can help the peoples of the world during difficult times.

Discussion can help in finding ways to approach the crisis of ethical values facing our societies. It is the duty of all religions to restore respect for humanity. The WJC strongly believes that through discussion and debate between brethren who share a common root we will learn that the ideals, aspirations and values that we share far outweigh any difference we may have." In March, King Abdullah had told a seminar on 'Culture and the Respect of Religions' in Riyadh: "The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God."

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said: "Despite all obstacles that may still be in the way, King Abdullah's initiative is a laudable step forward. We hope that other religious and political leaders throughout the world will be encouraged to join."

The Chairman of the WJC's Governing Board, Matthew Bronfman, expressed his hope that the Saudi initiative will spell real progress in fostering better understanding with the Muslim world. "The World Jewish Congress is ready to participate in any serious inter-faith talks that are based on mutual respect," Bronfman said.

The World Jewish Congress is the international organization representing Jewish communities in over 80 countries around the world. The WJC serves as the diplomatic arm of the Jewish people to governments and international organizations and has been involved in inter-religious dialogue for decades. The WJC seeks to engage all faiths on issues of common concern and promote respect for human dignity.

Website: www.worldjewishcongress.org
SOURCE World Jewish Congress

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Critiquing Islamism and Maududi

Critiquing Islamism and Maududi

Article by Yogi Sikand follows my commentary;

I am glad to see Muslims unhesitatingly critiquing the revered Muslims scholars of the past, we need to sort out the truth from the bunk and there is plenty of it, that is being unraveled now and Insha Allah, in the next decade we must be able to take out the additives by reverend Maududi, Qutub, Hilali and their likes who sought political gains through religion. Political Islam is a human endeavor to dominate, influence and control others, possibly out of fear of being run over or to cash in on the fear. It is the same story with Zionism, Hindutva and Neocons, agents of fear and war mongering.

Truthfully following the religion comes when we have the freedom to question what is given to us. When we lose that freedom, we fall into the trap of distancing ourselves from the truth.

Neither the Prophet assigned the governance of the state to any one that would have led to a monarchial form of governance. The consultative form was adopted for the political governance of the state and it was followed with the first four Leaders. Abdul Aziz Sachedina calls it the roots of democracy.

Religion is a private matter between an individual and God, as no one, not even the Prophet is responsible for one’s good and bad deeds, it is the individual responsibility, he or she alone faces the consequences on the day of Judgment, as such no state has the right to regulate one’s faith matters. As a civil society we honor the general guidelines and rules of the society, and can regulate those acts that affect others in terms of crime and punishment.

Please click here to continue: http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com/2008/05/critiquing-islamism-and-maududi.html

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Israel at 60; a Land of Hope

Happy birthday Israel!

The following article on the subject is the the first article I have read in 16 days.... (due to: http://mikeghouseforamerica.blogspot.com/2008/05/gods-grace-for-najma-ghouse.html ) because my friend Joe asked, I read it, and I am glad I read it.

It is one of the best pieces I have seen to project the Jewish side of the human experience and endurance. I have written quite a few comments along the same lines.

I just wrote http://mikeghouseforamerica.blogspot.com/2008/05/clinton-stoking-anti-semitism.html and I hope you can see some sense in the piece I wrote last November http://peace-palestine-israel.blogspot.com/2007/11/peace-in-israel-palestine.html . I have to complete a full presentation on the subject of Peace for Israel and Palestine and it touches along the same lines Joe has written below. And this

There is a dire need for the Palestinians to understand the trauma the Jewish people have endured and the Israelis to understand the hopelessness, pain and anguish of the Palestinians. The leadership on both sides has focused on bullying each other and cowing each other down.... that is inhuman and has failed, yet they don't get it. We need a human approach - to step forward. I hope to write that piece some time this year.

The one sentence that I need to understand is the "the armies of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, attacked Israel. Five countries, with combined populations of 25 million, declared war on the State of Israel , with population of 600,000." I need to understand the background on this particular aspect and hope to learn it from both sides of the issue.

Sadly, we the Americans cannot bring peace to the Middle east because we do not have the genuine disposition to see another point of view nor do we have the emapthy for the Palestinians or truly understand the security needs of the Jews. Yet we talk about peace without meaning it. It is time we focus on justice to bring about sustainable peace to the Jews and the Palestinians.

Mike Ghouse
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Israel at 60 - A Land of Hope

Joe Samuels

May 14, 1948. Tears of joy mixed with tears of fear. After the longest exile ever endured by any people, the Jews now had their own State. Then the war broke out. Oops? The war broke out? How does a war break out? Is it lightening from the sky that starts a forest fire? Someone must start a war. On that day, May 14, 1948 while the Israelis were dancing in the streets of Tel Aviv and rejoicing the birth of their nation, the armies of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, attacked Israel. Five countries, with combined populations of 25 million, declared war on the State of Israel, with population of 600,000. That was a traumatic time that changed my life forever. I was 18 years old in Baghdad. The tears of fear drowned the tears of joy. A year later I was smuggled safely out of Iraq. I was lucky.

For centuries, Jews were dispersed all over the world, wandering from one place to another in search of safety and a place to live, always a minority. It was a history of suffering, adding new words to a lexicon of tragedy: expulsion, disputation, forced conversion, inquisition, ghetto, Dthimitude, and pogrom. Jews were suspended between memory and hope, sustained by the promise that God will bring them back. Although they no longer lived in the land, the land lived in them.

Throughout the years, they returned to the Promised Land. In the 15th and the 16th centuries, Jews came from Spain and Portugal. In the 17th century, they came from Ukraine after the massacre of 1648.

In 1879, a disturbing phenomenon appeared. It was given a new name: anti-Semitism. After the Russian Pogrom of 1881 and the Dreyfus trial in 1895 in France, Jewish leaders such as Theodor Herzl, warned that Europe was becoming unsafe.

Then came 1933 and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Anti-Semitism was at the heart of his campaign and laws against the Jews were enacted. Gradually Jews were deprived of their rights, jobs and their freedom. They were spoken of as lice, vermin, and a cancer to be surgically removed from the body of the German nation. Millions of Jews were in danger. Nation after nation shut its doors. On the vast surface of the earth there was not one inch of land Jews could call home.

As the smoke of war cleared in 1945, as the Russians entered Auschwitz and the British Bergen Belsen, people began to understand the enormity of what had happened. A third of the world Jewry had gone up in flames. One and a half million children had been murdered.

When the war was over, Jewish refugees couldn’t enter the land. On November 29, 1947 the UN voted to partition the land between its Jewish and Arab population. While the Jews accepted, the Arabs refused. After 2000 years of wandering the State of Israel came into being. Was this the hand of God or the work of human beings? Surely it was both. The tears of joy drowned the tears of fear.

A homeless, penniless refugee, I arrived in Israel, like others from Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, and Afghanistan. Holocaust survivors and refugees came from over 100 countries and spoke 80 languages. They came from Russia when it opened its doors. They came home to the land of hope, Israel. In few short weeks, after my arrival in Israel, I found work; and a place to stay. I was free and equal citizen. I was no more a refugee.

The Jews accepted every partition proposal, the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the Peel Commission in 1937, and the UN in 1947. After Israel victory in the 6 Day War in 1967, Israel again proposed land for peace. The Arab countries gathered in Khartoum declared: no negotiation, no recognition and no peace. Only two countries have since made peace treaties with Israel, Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The peace treaty on the lawn of the white House, in September 1993 lasted less than a year. A wave of suicide bombers struck in restaurants, buses, parks, schools, shopping malls and busy streets.

Had the Arab leaders accepted the UN partition plan instead of launching a war, to seize all the land, an independent Palestinian-Arab state would now exist alongside Israel. There would have been no Palestinian refugees. If Arab countries had not expelled their Jewish citizens, there would have been no Jewish refugees from Arab countries either. Israel was never far from war, or the threat of war, terror, or the threat of terror. It fought wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982. Israel is a tiny country home to a tiny group of people. It is the size of the Belize or the State of New Jersey and is one sixth of 1% that of the Arab lands.

Judaism is the oldest western religion. It is twice as old as Christianity, three times as old as Islam, yet there are 82 Christian countries, 56 Muslim countries but only one Jewish State.

How do Israelis live with the constant threat of violence and war, and create a thriving democracy, that excels in agriculture, science, medicine and technology? How did the Jews survive for a hundred generations to build a country from the ashes of the Holocaust? The answer is faith, hope and the refusal to believe or act as victims.

Israel’s National Anthem Hatikvah, means the Hope. Israel is the land of hope. At 60, Israel’s journey is not yet over, and will not be, until peace, Shalom, Salam will come. Peace is a duet and can’t be done solo by Israel alone. Until the Palestinians accept the existence of Israel, the chance for peace is slim. So, for the sake of the Israelis, for the sake of the Palestinians, for the sake of God, humanity and the future generations let us all pray and hope for peace.

May 6, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

God's Grace for Najma Ghouse

God has been good to us.

After 9 months of good medical care and God's grace, Najma, my wife is now completely under God's care and surviving with Allah’s grace, your wishes and prayers.

In the foot steps of Prophet Muhammad, as a Muslim, I draw inspiration from all faiths and share this beautiful precise expressive phrase from Jainism “ Michami Dukadam”, the essence of which is, on this day, let’s forgive and ask for forgiveness and start the next breath of life with a clean slate, free from guilt, free from anxiety, free from hate, malice, anger and all those enslaving emotions. ..... The Qur'aan says that God’s favorite person is the one, who forgives and seeks forgiveness. It is also an idea central to the teachings of Jesus Christ. I want to thank every one who has participated and will participate in this heart and mind purifying process with Najma and I..

Please say "Michami Dukadam", it will complete the transaction.

Click the link to continue: http://mikeghouseforamerica.blogspot.com/2008/05/gods-grace-for-najma-ghouse.html