Muslims Against Anti-Semitism: Ways to Promote Common Values

Posted on December 30, 2007

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by Tariq Ramadan

Mosque. Photo/Horst Rutsch

The situation in our societies is becoming more and more difficult insofar as the increasing public expression of anti-Semitism and racism. We all know—Governments, official institutions, as well as citizens—that if we remain passive, the situation will worsen and drive us towards a new troubled era of racist and ethnical stigmitizations.

There are many ways and strategies to try to face the problems of anti-Semitism and racism in our societies, but one can say that at the global level there are two main choices: either to let the Jews alone struggle against anti-Semitism while advocating that every ethnic or religious community should protect itself (even though it is against the others), or to call on all people of goodwill, from every community, to commit themselves within a global movement, acting against all kinds of racism in the name of common universal values. The latter perspective is, in my view, the only efficient way, even though it is a very demanding task at both intellectual and practical levels.

In order to find and build this shared ground of common values and proactive commitment, every one of us, from his or her respective Jewish, Christian, Muslim, agnostic or atheist background, must put into motion a twofold process: first, one has to try to extract and promote from one’s religious or cultural tradition the values that are universal and common in order to be able to reach out and act and work with people of other belongings and faiths; second, one has to distinguish between the greatness of the message she/he believes in and the less noble use of it that is made by fellow-practising Jews, Christians, Muslims, etc. Self-criticism is an imperative prerequisite.

As we address the issue of anti-Semitism, it is urgent and necessary from a Muslim viewpoint to commit ourselves to promote from within our communities two concomitant intellectual stances: objective self-criticism and promotion of common values. As the relationships between the Muslim world and Jews are influenced and disturbed by the the perpetual reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is also crucial to differentiate the two problems and focus on this specific question: how to struggle with anti-Semitism from a Muslim viewpoint?

We should start by saying that the responsibility of Muslims and Jews in the West is tremendous: living together, both citizens of the same countries, they should raise their voices in the name of justice and mutual respect. In France, for example, one finds a unique situation, namely, the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe living together. In America, we find the same situation, with two important religious communities sharing the same citizenship. That in itself should be an ideal opportunity for people to learn to live in harmony. However, the reality is that problems are on the rise. While tensions have been incidental in the past, the situation has been exacerbated during the second intifada and more recently during the upsurge of violence in the Middle East. The trend appears to be that the Muslim immigrants, as well as native European and American Muslims, are becoming extremely sensitive to the events occurring in Palestine and are demonstrating their frustration quite overtly.

Malicious words, cries of “down with the Jews” shouted during protest demonstrations and, in a few cities in France, reports of synagogues being vandalized. One also hears ambiguous statements about Jews, their “occult-like” power, their “insidious” role within the media and their “nefarious” plans. After September 11th, the false rumour that 4,000 Jews did not show up for work the morning of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center was relayed throughout predominantly Muslim areas.

It is very rare to hear Muslim voices that set themselves apart from this kind of discourse and attitude. Often, one will try to explain away these phenomena as being a result of extreme frustration and humiliation. That may be true, but one must be honest and analyze the situation deeply. This is the real meaning of self-criticism. Much like the situation across the Muslim world, there exists in the West today a discourse which is anti-Semitic, seeking legitimacy in certain Islamic texts and support in the present situation in Palestine. This is the attitude of not only the marginalized youth but also of intellectuals and Imams, who see the manipulative hand of the “Jewish lobby” at each turn or every political setback.

The situation is far too serious for one to be satisfied by simple explanations based on current frustrations. In the name of their faith and conscience, Muslims must take a clear position so that a pernicious atmosphere does not take hold in the Western countries. Nothing in Islam can legitimize xenophobia or the rejection of a human being due to his/her religious creed or ethnicity. One must say unequivocally, with force, that anti-Semitism is unacceptable and indefensible. The message of Islam requires respect of Jewish faith and spirituality as noble expressions of “The People of the Book”. During the initial phase of the Prophet’s settlement in Medina, prior to the conflicts of alliances, the Prophet Muhammad sternly admonished: “He who is unjust with a contractor (Christians and Jews of Medina), I shall bear witness against him on the Day of Judgment”. Later, during a period of extreme conflict [between Jews and Muslims], eight Qur’anic verses were revealed to absolve a Jew who had falsely been accused of a crime by a Muslim. Mohamed constantly taught respect for all human beings, with all their differences. One day, he stood up out of respect when he saw a funeral procession nearby. When told it was that of a Jew, he replied, “Is it not a human soul?”

One cannot simultaneously neglect these teachings and continue to feed a tainted portrayal concerning Jews. [more]

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