Australian Muslims and Jews attend Washington conference

June 25, 2013 by Jeremy Jones
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Six Australians – three Jews and three Muslims – have participated in a mission to Washington designed to overcome prejudice and develop mutual projects for the common good.

Rear: Rabbi Jacqui Ninio, Jeremy Jones, Kim Beazley and Rabbi Ralph Genende

Rear: Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio, Jeremy Jones, Kim Beazley and Rabbi Ralph Genende     photos: B J Holtgrewe

The Jewish delegates were Jeremy Jones AM, Director of International and Community Affairs for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council and Co-Chair of the Australian National Dialogue of Christians, Muslims & Jews, Rabbi Ralph Genende of the Caulfield Hebrew Congregation and Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio of Temple Emanuel, Woollahra. The Muslim delegates were Sheikh Amin Hady of the Zetland Mosque, who is the Religious Advisor to Muslim Australia Inc. and Co-Chair of the Australian National Dialogue of Christians, Muslims & Jews, Professor Abdullah Saeed, Director of the National Centre for Excellence for Islamic Studies at Melbourne University and Aisha Amjad, a member of the Federal Government’s Sub-Continent Ministerial Consultative Committee and an experienced Ministerial Advisor on a State and Federal level.

Invited by the New York based Federation for Ethnic Understanding, led by Rabbi Marc Schneier and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, and co-hosted by the Islamic Society of North America, the Australians were accompanied by Jews and Muslims from South Africa and New Zealand.

We were hosted for dialogue and discussions at the Embassies of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, participated in a round-table on Jewish-Muslim relations with senior State Department officials, and had a White House briefing on faith-based social initiatives.

While Ambassadors Kim Beazley and Michael Moore where welcoming, encouraging  and inspiring, the breakfast at the South African Embassy was identified by some participants as the highlight of the tour.
Ambassador Ephraim Rasool, a Muslim, was passionate and eloquent, speaking as a  South African aware of the parlous state of Jewish-Muslim dialogue in that country.  He emphasised the importance of honesty and open-mindedness, leading to “an exploration of common values”, noting the imperative of abandoning “the pursuit and title of being the greatest victims”. “”Victims can’t make peace. They carry too many wounds”, he concluded.

At the White House

At the White House

Four members of Congress, two Muslims and two Jews, devoted an afternoon to discussing common concerns and visions for the future with us. Congressmen Keith Ellison, Andrew Carson and Jerrold Nadler, and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, outlined the way their religious and cultural identities served as positions in their public service and as motivators for inter-communal cooperation.

As a special treat, we were hosted at a baseball game, between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets, which was not only a taste of authentic American culture (as well as kosher hot dogs and knishes) but a great opportunity to discuss weighty matters in a relaxed atmosphere.

Indeed, the time together, over meals, walking or riding between venues, and while waiting for appointments, helped the mission fulfil the essential purpose of having the participants come to know each other on a more than superficial level.

The two most significant site visits were those to the Islamic Center of Washington and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

At the Islamic Center, we enjoyed a kosher lunch at which we were addressed by the Saudi Arabian Imam and discussed respect as an end-product of dialogue.

We then were invited to see (or join, for the Muslim delegates) afternoon prayers, in a beautiful mosque.

Spontaneously, we were welcomed enthusiastically by an ethnically diverse group of the devout, who were excited and overjoyed that our group had elected to visit their house of worship.

The visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum was very special for all of us.

Walking through the exhibit with an old friend, Sheikh Amin Hady, as well as Muslims from South Africa and New Zealand and the USA, I found myself supplementing the expert guide with background on Australian Jewry, the issue of Nazi War Criminals and aspects of my own family’s history.

Those with whom I was walking had vastly different personal experiences of racism and no common education concerning Jews or the Nazi period. However, they all were individuals whose life experiences demonstrated deep compassion and commitment to combating human evil.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the tour made a deep impact, not only on the Muslim delegates but on those of us who accompanied them on the journey to understanding.

After the tour of the Museum, we participated in a debriefing session, where we shared our reflections and then heard from Robert Satloff, the undisputed international expert on the relevance of the Holocaust to Arabs and Muslims.

We then had the opportunity to hear from Johanna Neumann, who was saved from the Nazis and their collaborators by Albanian Muslims.

The organisers of the Mission had made clear at the outset that one of the aims of our journey together was to foster relations between Jews and Muslims on the national level, and it is encouraging that we are already seeing plans for further cooperative activities in Australia.

Beyond that, the Australians were able to give examples of dialogues, projects and friendships which have developed over the past twenty years which have already laid the foundations for a relationship based on understanding, trust and respect.


2 Responses to “Australian Muslims and Jews attend Washington conference”
  1. skai says:

    What a farce.? A true muslim can never be friend with non muslims. Read Quran to know the truth

    • Shifra Joseph says:

      @skai which part of the Quran says this about “true Muslims”? I’d like to know the reference please?

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