[Blog] Why rabbis and imams have united to fight hate

Rabbi Danny Rich, Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism
21 February 2017

Last weekend the Joseph Interfaith Foundation’s National Council of Imams and Rabbis held a meeting at St John’s Wood United Synagogue, hosted by the shul’s senior rabbi, Dayan Ivan Binstock.

The National Council of Imams and Rabbis, consisting of 25 senior clergy nationally, was founded by the Foundation in 2010 to benefit from each other’s counsel on matters of community cohesion, gain a better knowledge of each other’s faith, address respectfully what divides the two communities and challenge myths and misconceptions about the other within their own communities.

Last Sunday, rabbinic leaders from all the main British Jewish denominations, all of who are members of the Council, joined Muslim representatives, also members of the Council, from a number of Islamic expressions and regions including Shia and Sunni, the Arab led Regent’s Park Central Mosque and the Bangladeshi East London Mosque.

Members of local Jewish congregations, and their Muslim counterparts were welcomed by Rabbi Linstock, who drew attention to the celebration of Tu B’shevat, reminding his audience that tall trees arise from small, unseen, underground beginnings. He acknowledged the significance of the Council in bringing senior imams and rabbis of major mosques and synagogues together to work productively, and he publically thanked the Regent’s Park Mosque for its support at the Westminster Council Planning Committee for Jewish efforts to create an eruv in the area.

He was followed by Rabbi Harvey Belovski, of Golders Green United Synagogue, reminded his listeners that, in accord with the creation story recorded in the Book of Genesis, every human being is created in the image of God, with a spark of the Divine, and if each person only recognised that in the other the world could be transformed.

Rabbi Colin Eimer, emeritus rabbi of Southgate Reform Synagogue, warned what happens when institutionalised hatred goes unchallenged. He declared the event “an amazing and moving act of solidarity. We all feel the uncertainty surrounding the future and know that the forces driving groups apart in society must be resisted.”

Muslim speakers including a Muslim Patron of the Joseph Interfaith Foundation (Mr Moussavi), Secretary-General of the Regent’s Park Mosque (Dr Al-Dubayan), Executive Director of the East London Mosque (Dilowar Khan) and Sayeed Yousfi Al Khoei, representative of the major Shi’a Al Khoei Mosque echoed similar sentiments, remembering theological similarities between the two religions and Islamic respect for Moses, and calling for solidarity in the face of religious hatred, regardless of its target.

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, the senior rabbi of Masorti Judaism, and Qari Asim, senior imam from the Leeds Central Mosque, sent messages of support.

The Joseph Interfaith Foundation conceived the afternoon following expressions of Jewish concern about President Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees and migrants from seven Muslim majority countries. The Foundation and the Council of Imams and Rabbis wished it to be known that locally, and across Britain, Jews and Muslims affirm their co-operation and good relations, and condemn the stirring of religious hatred, division and racism.

I’m proud that I also addressed the gathering, telling my peers: “Nearly 200 years ago Rabbi Eliezer declared: Let your neighbour’s honour be as dear to you as your own. Who is my neighbour? The Jew? Yes. The Muslim? Yes. The Englishman? Yes. But most importantly the refugee and the nations targeted by the most powerful elected official on earth.

“Today these are my neighbours!

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