March 3, 2010
In recent weeks, a widely disseminated online article has appeared which cast aspersions on the November 13-15, 2009 Metro Buffalo, NY Mosque-Synagogue Twinning Weekend and the many Buffalo area Jews and Muslims who participated.
The article entitled The Buffalo Interfaith Bluff by Ilya Feoktistov, first posted on frontpagemag.com, made a number of false or misleading statements to which we, as principal organizers and participants, feel necessary to respond.
The Weekend of Twinning, led on the international level by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), brought together 110 synagogues and 110 mosques in the United States, Canada and Europe to hold one-on-one meetings and celebrations during the weekend of November 13-15 on the theme of Building a Common Agenda.
In Buffalo, members of four area synagogues and three mosques shared religious services and study groups and together hosted a health fair, at which Muslim and Jewish physicians and dentists offered medical and dental advice and information to all who attended. It was an uplifting weekend during which new friendships were forged, specific collaborative projects begun, and other possible joint efforts discussed. Follow-up gatherings took place January 19 and March 2, with another planned for April 1.
Mr. Feoktistov sought to discredit the Buffalo twinning weekend, by falsely charging “some of the groups and individuals behind this initiative are known for being sources of viciously anti-Israel activity and rhetoric.” Specifically, he claimed that one of us was a “disciple” of the teachings of two leading Syrian imams, the late Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro and Sheikh Rajab Deeb, which is not true.
It is correct, however, that we sent participants in the Buffalo twinning events copies of articles by Sheikh Kuftaro, in which he urged his fellow Muslims to take part in interfaith efforts and to work together constructively with followers of the other Abrahamic faiths, including Judaism. We recommended those writings because we were inspired by his message of outreach to members of other faiths – exactly what we are trying to accomplish in Muslim-Jewish relations in Buffalo.
At the same time, Mr. Feoktistov pointed to anti-Jewish comments in other statements by the two sheikhs, of which we had not been aware. The particular passages cited by Mr. Feoktistov have been taken out of their cultural, historical, and linguistic context, and may not have been accurately translated. When taken literally, it appears that both sheikhs used unacceptable language in reference to Jews, especially in sermons concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such remarks, though, have a flip side in anti-Muslim remarks by some Israelis and American Jews, again largely as an outgrowth of the festering Middle East conflict. Such demonization is always wrong, whether anti-Semitic or Islamophobic in tone, and should have no place in any of our discourse.
Had we known of this potential issue in the language of the sheikhs’ statements, we would not have recommended their works. Yet both sheikhs, within the context of their own cultures, actually are well known for moderate views and a long struggle to promote global peace and coexistence. It is this aspect of their thinking that we had hoped to share.
But let us be clear. The Weekend of Twinning in Buffalo was never about advocating the philosophy of either Sheikh Kuftaro or Sheikh Deeb. Rather, the inspiring, exciting, and potentially transformative weekend focused on the goal of building ties of friendship and trust between Muslims and Jews in our own community. The attempt to build ties between Jewish and Muslim Buffalonians is simply too important to allow it be derailed by the dissemination of misinformation calculated to set us against each other.
Participants undertook this effort because it is a good thing in itself. It reflects the highest moral precepts of both Judaism and Islam, and we are convinced that strengthening relations between Jews and Muslims on a person-to-person basis and on the community level will rebound to the benefit of both communities and American society as a whole. Furthermore, we hope that our ongoing efforts, together with those of similarly-minded Jews and Muslims in cities across North America and Europe, will eventually have a positive impact among Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs as well, demonstrating that our peoples are not fated to remain enemies forever.
We fully realize endeavors such as ours will not be universally embraced or understood. Our only intention is to work toward peace, improve interreligious relations in our community, and hopefully set an example for others to follow. For the sake of us all, it is vital that local Jewish-Muslim collaborative efforts – such as the Twinning program and other cooperative and beneficial work between us – should go on.
Rob Stall MD
Othman Shibly DDS
Rabbi Drorah Setel