Tuesday, January 13, 2015

  • Tuesday, January 13, 2015
  • Elder of Ziyon
Last June, a brave Muslim woman named Rabia Choudry wrote about her experiences spending a year in Israel at the Sholom Hartman Institute to learn about Israel from an Israeli perspective, in a program specifically geared towards Muslims.

As I mentioned then, many Muslims were aghast at this program. In fact, most of the participants did not go public for fear of how their fellow Muslims would react.

Now, another courageous American Muslim woman, Amanda Quraishi, has just started the same program:

To say that this program has been controversial is an understatement. A stormy public debate that tested (and damaged) many relationships within the American Muslim community took place last summer as members of the first cohort engaged on social media with critics of the program.

I’m well aware that my own decision to be part of MLI and to travel to Israel to engage in dialogue at a zionist institution is enough to classify me as a zionist for many Muslims. I know that there are people I care about who will now consider me untrustworthy. I expect that I will lose opportunities, and risk abuse from strangers online (and perhaps even some I count as friends) who feel qualified to insult me, judge my faith, and say cruel things because of my participation.

I know this will happen because it happened to the people who went before me.

And still, I said yes.

Not because I’m a naive, kumbaya-singing interfaith activist willing to gobble up the hasbara just to earn myself a seat at bigger and better interfaith tables. Not because I will profit from it in any way. (This decision is more of personal & professional liability than anything else I’ve done as an adult). And not because I egotistically think I will have some influence over matters on the ground in Israel and Palestine.

I am going to participate in this program at one of the most influential Jewish institutions in the world for two very important reasons:

First, I have voluntarily worked as an interfaith activist in a local, state and national capacity for more than a decade. Interfaith work is not (contrary to popular belief) about getting people to agree on everything. Rather, it’s about getting people comfortable with being uncomfortable together so that real conversations about big issues can begin to happen.

...The second reason I’m going is because I believe in engagement as a way of life.

One of the things that contributed to me embracing Islam was the life story of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a statesman and diplomat. Muhammad didn’t live in a bubble. He and his minority community of early Muslims lived side-by-side with different tribes and religions, some of whom were very hostile to the Muslims. Yet he consistently, proactively sought to make peace with them, the very people who attempted to kill him. Muhammad’s humility and cool-headedness in the face of oppression and outright aggression influenced me as I formed my own Muslim identity. This has been the touchstone for how I engage as part of a Muslim minority in this country for fifteen years, and it has served me well.

As a lover of peace and an equal-opportunity humanitarian my soul is burdened by the conflict and deep injustices I see in the world. I often feel simultaneously terrified, helpless and angry at the suffering I see happening all over this planet. But I have come to realize that those who are guilty of perpetuating the violence and conflict are often doing so out of fear, helplessness and anger themselves.

There are no simple answers, but I do know one thing: if there is a way to peace it lies in loosening the knots, not in making them tighter. The answers we seek to the biggest problems of the human family lie in seeing beyond political and religious affiliations–at least long enough to view the reflections of our own humanity even within those we hate and fear the most.

I have been invited to engage. I feel compelled to say yes.
Naturally, Quraishi is being slammed by many other Muslims, and she discusses her distress a bit in her blog that is describing her experiences in Israel.

No matter how earnest the Quraishis and the Choudrys of the world are, there are still far more simple-minded haters who can't stand this "normalization" with the "Zionist enemy." So now the BDS movement is not only boycotting Israel, but they are boycotting their fellow Muslims who have the audacity to think for themselves.

They are calling an initiative to have a dialogue between serious Jewish Zionists and thinking Muslims "Faithwashing."

We as organizations and individuals committed to Palestinian self-determination call on the Muslim community in North America to eschew any and all participation, facilitation, or any form of legitimization for the Muslim Leadership Initiative of the Shalom Hartman Institute and its representatives or advocates.

Just a few months following Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, which killed 2,200 Palestinians, and during this time when activists worldwide are working to strengthen campaigns to hold Israel accountable for its continued denial of Palestinian rights through tactics such as boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), it is distressing to learn that Muslim American chaplains, journalists, academics, and cultural workers are being approached and a small yet growing number are participating in an initiative that is a clear propaganda attempt by the Israeli organization Hartman to “influence the North American Muslim community in reassessing its preconceived notions of Judaism and Israel.” MLI participants are ignoring Palestinian calls to isolate Israel and are taking part in a program sponsored by an organization involved in efforts to thwart BDS.

...We pledge to not give a platform to any MLI participant to speak about their experiences at our community centers, places of worship, and campuses and call on a complete boycott of MLI.
When will they extend the boycott to any mosque or school who allows a MLI participant to speak?

Some of the rabid critics of Muslims who think for themselves are going nuts. They are trying desperately to "out:" the Muslims who go on the trip - something that can endanger them when they come back home.

Here is a video showing how fearful some of the participants are of being filmed, and later on a male participant who does identify himself (he's a lawyer) tells the person making the video that he is quite wrong about what "all Palestinians" want, since he's spoken to them. He comes across as far more reasonable than the videographer claiming that the Hartman Institute is supposedly "Islamophobic."




There are lots of articles in American Muslim media about how to deal with these people who actually want to engage in real dialogue with Israeli Jews in order to understand them.

Terrible, isn't it?



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