Muslim-Jewish Relations: The Way Forward
By Yonathan Gez
Interfaith student


Founders and supporters of the CMJR with Professor Akbar Ahmed (third from left)

Cambridge, UK: The ongoing social changes in English society are being reflected by some interesting developments in the academic arena. Since 1998, Cambridge University has been the home of the Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations (CJCR), a unique institution combining rigorous academic thinking with grassroots interfaith work. The last year saw the formation of a complementary organization, the Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations (CMJR), co-directed by Dr. Edward Kessler, who is also the Director of the CJCR, and Dr. Amineh Hoti, the author of Sorrow and Joy Among Muslim Women: the Pukhtuns of Northern Pakistan.
Both centers are hosted under the umbrella of the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths, named after former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Woolf.
The new center has recently hosted its first major public event entitled "Muslim-Jewish Dialogue: the Way Forward". The attendants were honored by the participation of Professor Akbar Ahmed, a world-renowned authority on Islam and the former High Commissioner for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in the UK. His introduction by Dr. Richard Stone, the founder of the Alif-Aleph organization for British Muslims and Jews, made it clear that, like his daughter co-Director Dr. Hoti, Professor Ahmed is one of the clearest voices of interfaith dialogue.
In his talk, Professor Ahmed pointed at the similar causes of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, stating that "where you see an act of Islamophobia, within three days there will also be an anti-Semitic act". Professor Ahmed also pointed at the multiplicity of viewpoints within Islam, mentioning the voices of the universalists, modernists and traditionalists.
Another highlight of the event was Dr. Kessler's exciting announcement of a recently received donation of one million pounds from the Stone Ashdown Trust.
WORKSHOPS: After a noon recess for lunch, in which ideas were informally exchanged, four workshops were held. Dr. Edward Kessler presented, in brief, the Islamic and Jewish accounts of the near sacrifice of Abraham's son. He began by putting the Qur’anic and Biblical accounts in parallel with one another, then moved forward and pointed to exegetical accounts within these two traditions. These later interpretations deal with such debated elements in the story, as whether it was Isaac or Ishmael who went with Abraham and the obedience of the son. This demonstrated that, while interpreters of the two faiths often reached different conclusions, they asked similar questions of the shared story.
Dr Amineh Hoti presented a discussion on “Women in Islam”. Drawing upon both her PhD research and the content of her highly commended book, Dr Hoti discussed the role of Muslim women through a case study in Pakistan. To illustrate the difference between widely held perceptions from some media simplification and the complexity of Muslim women’s life in Pakistan, Dr. Hoti initially gathered the participants’ negative and positive associations in relation to Muslim women as represented in the media, and concluded with a similar exercise finding striking differences. It was a well-attended workshop with engaged and enthusiastic participants.
Sheikh Michael Mumisa led a discussion on the inclusive and exclusive nature of Islamic rhetoric about the ‘other’. He gave the participants a taste of the deep complexity of the meaning of such terms as Islam, Muslimun, Din, and Kufr, unpacking the terms within both their Qur’anic context and their later meanings given by the Ummah. One of the questions brought up by the Sheikh was whether a Jew or a Christian could be considered a "muslimun," (one who submits and surrenders to God).
Dr. Richard Stone and Urmee Khan led a discussion concerning the recent ‘Mapping Positive Contacts’ project, which examined community relations in the UK. One of the conclusions reached concerned the need for improved teaching in relation to religious education and interfaith interaction. The connection between politics and interfaith was also discussed. Urmee Khan suggested that although it is often necessary to begin with subjects more neutral than politics in order to open interfaith dialogue, it was equally important not to ignore the controversial issues that such dialogues inevitably raise.
WAY FORWARD: The conference marks what will hopefully be a sustained and fruitful discourse. Dr. Hoti stated, "Because together the three Abrahamic communities make up more than half of the world's population, a genuine dialogue between the three communities is key to world peace."


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.