Introductory Letter from Dr Ingrid Matson, President, ISNA
Judaism and Islam share a similar tradition that even if the trumpet to signal the end of time is blown and you are holding a seedling in your hand, then you should plant it. There is no doubt that countless generations of our ancestors Jews and Muslims believed that they would live to witness the end of the world. Plagues, famine, war and other calamities created a deep sense children and our grandchildren. of betrayal in the ability of human beings to ensure their own security. Still, humanity carried on. Despite unbearable and countless tragic losses, we continued to work for a better future for our
Our faith traditions do not require us to be idealistic or even optimistic (although those can be healthy attitudes); rather, our traditions require us to work for a better future despite our frustration and pessimism. But faith also requires the expectation of holy surprises. With our limited imaginations and unlimited egos, we confidently assert what can or cannot be only to be proven wrong again and again. Thus, in the first place, faith requires us to imagine the possibility that the majority of American Muslim and Jewish communities can develop respectful, productive relationships.
There are good reasons for the engagement of American Jews and Muslims at this point in our history. On the one hand, religion seems to have a particularly strong role in our society. On the other hand, perhaps there has never been a time in American history when "religion" has been so widely seen as a negative force. Conflicts among religious groups have contributed to a general loss of confidence in religion. Many young people wonder why they should bother with ancient prove that affirming our differences can be done in an atmosphere of respect, and that we can even move beyond mutual respect to play a positive collective role in society.
traditions that create antagonism, when diversity is such an important part of their lives. We need to
There are those who see the empowerment of American Muslims and American Jews as a zero-sum game. This perspective is not only ethically problematic, it is, I believe, simply wrong. The reality is that each of us is a small religious minority in a society in which we must regularly assertion of rights. However, these rights that have been hard-won by generations of Americans have not been uncontested. Prejudice is highly mutable: it passes easily from Jew to Muslim to Black to Arab. If our communities contribute to the production of mutual stereotypes and if we justify discrimination against the other, we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction.
assert our rights against the majority. This does not mean that the majority is always hostile to our
One Muslim scholar has characterized many of the statements that faith communities make about others as "false witness" (qawl al-zur). Thus, beyond the pragmatic need to encourage a culture of respect for religious diversity and rights, we are ethically bound to speak the truth about each other. We can no longer rely on rumors, innuendo, medieval apologetics and sweeping generalizations. We need to get the truth about each other from each other.
The Islamic Society of North America was honored to have Rabbi Eric Yoffie speak at our annual convention in Chicago in 2007. As President of ISNA, I was proud that our community was so receptive to Rabbi Yoffie's address and to this project that was to follow. Many of our members this guide will help Jewish and Muslim communities begin or continue to engage in the important work of mutual understanding and, hopefully, productive engagement. have been engaged in dialogue with members of the Jewish community at the local level. Many more have considered this engagement important, but have lacked the support to move forward. The American Muslim community is limited in its institutional resources we do not yet have enough American born and educated religious leaders, education specialists and administrators, much less seminaries and research institutions, to meet other, more established religious communities on equal terms. What we do not lack, however, are Muslims all over America with a sincere desire to contribute positively to a vibrant, pluralistic and just American society. I hope that
Ingrid Mattson, PhD, President, The Islamic Society of North America