The AJC is one of America’s oldest and most influential Jewish groups. At its recent yearly meeting, the group invited several Muslims to speak in an effort to improve Muslim-Jewish relations.
The conference began with a speech by Maajid Nawaz. He is a British-Pakistani former militant. He now heads the Quilliam Foundation in London. The group is dedicated to fighting Islamist extremism.
The next day, Zainab Al-Suwaij of the American Islamic Congress told people attending the meeting that, as a girl in Iraq, she was taught in school that the leader of Nazi Germany, Adolph Hitler, was “a good man.”
She condemned anti-Semitism as a serious problem in the Arab world, but said that Muslims are on the front lines of the struggle against terrorism. “In terms of condemning the extremism and violence, we are also the first victims,” she said.
Malian-born Lassana Bathily was honored for rescuing people in a terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris on January 9. He hid them in a cold store room and risked his life by leaving the supermarket to alert police. “If it were to happen again tomorrow, I would do exactly the same thing,” he said.
Rabbi Noam Marans is the AJC’s director of interreligious relations. He says “Muslim-Jewish relations is the great challenge of the 21st century.”
The major difficulty for improving relations between Muslims and Jews is their disagreement over of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Al-Suwaij of the American Islamic Congress said she has been called a traitor and a "self-hating Muslim" for her work with the Jewish community. “And not only by Muslims,” she said.
Rabbi Marans said that many Jews are concerned about engaging in dialogue even with moderate Muslims.
“There is a culture of fear, and a culture of fear can only be mitigated by relationships,” he said.
But, he also says he hopes the Muslim-Jewish dialogue can be as successful as the Christian-Jewish dialogue has been. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, an official order produced during the Second Vatican Council that ended the Roman Catholic Church’s treatment of Jews as a cursed people.
VOA Religion Correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reported this story from Washington. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in This Story
influential – adj. having the power to cause changes
condemn – v. to say in a strong and definite way that someone or something is bad or wrong
kosher – adj. accepted by Jewish law as fit for eating or drinking
traitor – n. a person who is not loyal to his or her own country, friends, etc.
mitigate(d) – v. to make (something) less severe, harmful or painful
dialogue – n. a discussion or series of discussions that two groups or countries have in order to end a disagreement
curse(d) – adj. affected by something that causes bad things to happen