Op-Ed: Countering anti-Semitism in the month of Ramadan

Rashad Hussain (U.S. State Department)

Rashad Hussain (U.S. State Department)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — During Ramadan, Muslim communities around the world experience a month of fasting, devotion and increased consciousness of their faith. They also remember those who are suffering around the world and seek an end to the forces of hatred that lead to violence against people of all faiths.

The spirit of Ramadan, which lasts this year through Aug. 7, can serve as a positive force to bring people together and a powerful reminder of the common humanity that all people share. Muslim communities collect donations to aid those in need around the world. Campus groups at universities in the United States hold “fast-athons” in which students of all faiths fast together to raise money for charity.

In recent years, as Muslim communities have dealt with hateful depictions and inflammatory actions, American interfaith coalitions have come together to strongly reject such bigotry. It is this backdrop that makes the reported Ramadan release of the television drama “Khaiber” in some Muslim-majority countries particularly disturbing.

The new drama purports to provide a historical account of the Prophet Muhammad and the Arabian-Jewish town of Khaiber. But its producer has said that “the goal of the series is to expose the naked truth about the Jews and stress that they cannot be trusted.” The series also will reportedly focus “on the social, economic and religious characteristics of the Jews, including politics and conspiracies and how they dominate and control tribes.”

Rather than emphasizing Muhammad’s efforts to establish peaceful relations among religious communities, “Khaiber” does just the opposite. And it does so at a time when a number of religious groups, including Christians, face discrimination and violence in countries where the series will air.

Communities that were outraged at negative depictions of Islam must condemn this divisive and anti-Semitic effort. They should also understand that in many ways, this type of programming is also a disservice to Muslims and the legacy of the prophet. While censorship is not the answer, communities must come forward to counter such depictions with more informed views to prevent the spread of stereotypes and hatred that can dehumanize entire groups of people.

In May, I joined imams from around the world on a visit to the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration and death camps. As we toured the area in shock of the horrors that we saw, one imam commented, “Whether in Europe today or in the Muslim world, my call to humanity: End racism for God’s sake, end sexism for God’s sake. Enough is enough.”

Addressing Holocaust denial is an important step, and I raise this issue when I travel to meet government and civil society leaders in Muslim countries. Efforts also must be made to ensure that textbooks and television programming in the Muslim world are free from the types of dehumanizing ideas and images that breed intolerance and hate.

In doing so, honest and courageous voices must step forward, particularly during Ramadan, to condemn not only negative depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, but also a television series that uses a slanted historical narrative of his life as a facade for sowing discord, division and hatred.

(Rashad Hussain is the U.S. special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.)

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