Monday, April 7, 2008


WALTER RUBY, JEWISH WEEK The times appear to be a-changin' at New York's largest and most prestigious mosque, the green-domed Islamic Cultural Center of New York, located at 96th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the then-imam of the mosque, Muhammad Al-Gamei'a, lost his position there after stating in an interview that the Jews were responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Center and guilty of disseminating "heresy, homosexuality, alcoholism and drugs." Gamei'a's successor as imam, the Palestinian-born Omar Abu Namous, was considerably more conciliatory, initiating a public dialogue with Rabbi Marc Schneier of the New York Synagogue and joining together with Rabbi Schneier and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons in sponsoring the first National Summit of Imams and Rabbis last November. Yet Imam Abu Namous also jarred Jewish sensibilities in his first public dialogue with Rabbi Schneier by declaring that a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was preferable to a two-state one.

By comparison, the mosque's present interim imam, Mohammed Shamsi Ali, declared in a dialogue with Rabbi Schneier at the New York Synagogue earlier this month that it "cannot be accepted to deny the existence of Israel" or to deny the Holocaust. Appearing last week at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Imam Ali delivered a special sermon during Mincha services in which he urged Jews and Muslims to revisit "problematic" passages in the Koran and Torah. Those passages buttress bellicose stances against other religions by understanding them as having been written in earlier times, and not necessarily relevant to today's world.

Imam Ali also urged his listeners to "look beyond what is presented in the media" about Jewish-Muslim relations in order to create "real connections" based on trust and affection. "Once you get to know Muslims," he said, "you will ask them, ‘Are you really the people I see portrayed [negatively] on Fox News?'". . .

The 40-year-old Ali has certainly risen rapidly since arriving in New York in 1996. Born on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, Ali is said to have memorized the entire Koran by the time he was 11 and received a scholarship to study at an Islamic university in Pakistan before taking a teaching position at the Islamic Educational Foundation in Saudi Arabia. . .

Over the last several years, Imam Ali has focused much attention on opening interfaith dialogues with Christian bodies like the National Council of Churches as well as Jewish ones like Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and JTS. . .

Rabbi Burton Visotsky, a professor of midrash and interfaith studies at JTS who welcomed Ali to that institution before his sermon last week, remarked, "Shamsi Ali speaks to the Jewish community in a frank and straightforward manner, saying that while it is true that we have differences on the Middle East, we also have many strands in common and much we can do together. He and I see the world in very similar way."


At April 7, 2008 8:42 PM, Anonymous robbie said...

One of the commonalities between Muslims and Jews (along with Christians) is intense hatred of homosexuality and secularism. Wonderful, huh? If they could only put all those years of mistrust and hatred behind them and get together so they can quash the Hummershexual Agenda!

Oh, and atheists! Oi Vey, Akhbar!!


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