NEW YORK (JTA) – As a rabbi and an imam, we deeply mourn the tragic loss of innocent lives in the murderous terrorist attacks in France. We express our heartfelt sympathy and compassion for the bereaved.
Amid the wall-to-wall media coverage of the attacks and their aftermath, one piece of the story has received less attention: the inspiring manner in which Muslims and Jews in France have stood side by side in denouncing these heinous acts.
Thousands of Muslims and Jews reacted to the savage killings of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the earlier murders of three French soldiers, including two Muslims, by joining together in solidarity marches in communities throughout Paris.
Meanwhile, top French Muslim and Jewish leaders have vowed to stand united in opposition to acts which Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, has accurately characterized as being “in total contradiction with the foundation of this religion [Islam]."
This heartening coming-together of Jews and Muslims in France did not happen in a vacuum.
In 2003, Rabbi Michel Serfaty, the spiritual leader of the Jewish community of the Paris suburb of Ris Orangis, responded to being accosted by Muslim youths near his synagogue by founding the Jewish-Muslim Friendship Society of France, which is dedicated to building ties of understanding and trust between the two communities. Every year the organization’s dedicated Muslim and Jewish staffers and volunteers take part in a Tour de France, in the process building a network of ties between grass-roots Muslims and Jews in towns and cities throughout the country.
In 2009, the European imams and rabbis who took part in the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s Mission of European Imams and Rabbis to the United States agreed to participate in the foundation’s annual Weekend of Twinning in which scores of mosques and synagogues and Muslim and Jewish organizations hold one-on-one encounters during a weekend each November in cities around the world.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the FFEU and the Islamic Society of North America will host the first Mission of Latin American Muslim and Jewish Leaders. The event will bring 14 imams and rabbis from five South American countries and two Caribbean islands to Washington for meetings with Muslim and Jewish members of Congress and with top officials at the White House and State Department. We are optimistic the mission will jump-start a process of dialogue and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities of Latin America.
What we have learned from five years of working together to nurture an ever-expanding fabric of Muslim-Jewish relationships — and what has been proven anew by the joint response of Muslims and Jews in France to the terror in Toulouse — is that when Muslims and Jews open sustained face-to-face communication, we can maintain our unity even in the face of unspeakable horror directed against our respective communities.
As we have undertaken together a joint study of Torah, Koran and the oral traditions of our two faiths, we have discovered profound commonalities between our beliefs. We have come to understand that just as we share a common faith — dating back to our common patriarch, Abraham/Ibrahim — we also share a common fate. Our single destiny must strengthen our bonds of concern, compassion and caring for each other.
Indeed, as Jews and Muslims, not only must we carry out a sustained dialogue, but we must actively fight for each other’s rights, standing together against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. We believe deeply that a people which fights for its own rights is only as honorable as when it fights for the rights of all people. For only when we see the humanity in the Other can we preserve it within ourselves.
(Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Imam Shamsi Ali is the spiritual leader of the Jamaica Muslim Center in New York.)