First Jewish/Muslim Professorship to be Launched in Chicago
By Susan Bradford

In a global community in which an ill-spoken word or careless action on one side of the planet can ricochet to the other, Jews and Muslims must come together to dialogue, forge understandings, and work collaboratively towards peace. In an effort to enhance Jewish-Muslim relations, the world’s first visiting professorship in Jewish/Muslim Dialogue will be launched jointly next month by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Chicago-Kent School of Law.
This position follows the public diplomacy of Undersecretary Karen Hughes and a number of symbolic and substantive developments in Jewish/Muslim relations, which have been initiated by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Chair of Islamic Studies at American University who has been described by the BBC as “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam.”
Having served as a catalyst for this initiative, Ahmed will deliver two inaugural lectures on the “importance of Jewish/Muslim dialogue” November 28 and 29 in Chicago. “This comes at a critical time in world history when the world religions cannot afford to have conflict,” Ahmed said. “A rumor of the Qur’an’s desecration at Guantanamo Bay can easily foment riots, killings, and terrorism in other parts of the world.”
Therefore, Ahmed said, there is a need to build bridges between Muslims and Jews. As Ahmed points out, messengers in the Old and New Testament, including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, are highly revered and provide a theological foundation for Islam.
The new initiative builds on Ahmed’s work in interfaith dialogue, which led to the unity march in the nation’s capitol. On the anniversary of 9/11, Ahmed was joined by his colleagues, Washington Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Bruce Lustig and Washington Bishop John, and followers of various faiths, for a reverential walk to churches, synagogues, and mosques. “The message to the world from Washington, DC needs to be one of peace, unity, and compassion,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed’s journey has not been an easy one. When he first initiated interfaith dialogues in the United States, Ahmed received death threats and hate mail. Lustig and Chane were similarly maligned.
However, Ahmed persevered, joining UCLA Professor Judea Pearl - the father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl -- in a series of public Muslim-Jewish dialogues across the country and abroad, dramatically impacting relations between Israel and the Muslim world.
At one of Ahmed’s recent dialogues with Pearl in Ottawa, for example, the Pakistani and Israeli ambassador were publicly seen sitting side by side. Israeli and Pakistani Counsel Generals - representing predominantly Jewish and Muslim countries respectively - participated in another interfaith dialogue. At the United Nations Summit, moreover, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shook hands, even though neither country has formal ties with the other. Undersecretary Karen Hughes has also expressed interest in joining Ahmed, Chane, and Lustig in interfaith dialogue.
Ahmed has met President Bush, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Hughes and is helping shape America’s public diplomacy towards the Muslim world. Notably, during her recent listening tour to the Middle East, Hughes stressed interfaith dialogue. “As the world’s superpower, the United States must set the moral standard on how other countries treat and perceive Muslims,”Ahmed said.
While Ahmed is working tirelessly to improve interfaith dialogue and the way in which countries and individuals of other faiths engage Islam, he also has appealed to his fellow Muslims to categorically condemn violence and marginalize those in their communities who support terrorist activities. A highly sought speaker in Muslim circles, Ahmed is unique in that he delivers the same message of compassion and dialogue to both Muslim and Western audiences. He reminds Muslims of the peaceful, loving core of their faith, exemplified by the 13th-century Sufi poet Jalauddin Muhammad Ar-Rumi, who extols both the Prophet Muhammed and Jesus. “We, as a global community, are at crossroads and can either choose the path of violence or the path of peace,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed noted with humility the honor he felt as a Muslim when he was described by Chief Rabbi of the UK, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, as a “role model of supreme grace and dignity” for Muslims. This unprecedented recognition by a Jew towards a Muslim is not something Ahmed takes lightly. Once a solitary voice urging interfaith dialogue, Ahmed is finally realizing the fruits of his efforts. “My mission is far from over,” he said. “I appeal to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike to work with us, to help us.” The newly minted Jewish/Muslim professorship is a step in that direction.
(Susan Bradford is a prominent journalist and writer who has worked for Fox News Channel, CBS News, PBS Red Car Film Project, City News Service, and the European Review)


 

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