Judaism and Islam: Beyond Tolerance

His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan

Posted Sep 24, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan had an unprecedented meeting with over 60 rabbis, in an event held September 21, 2005 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington DC. �It was a transformative event, for the Jewish community and particularly the rabbis in the United States,� said CRDC Director Dr. Marc Gopin. �It was the first time in history that an Arab or Muslim Monarch had so honored their religion and their culture.�

King Abdullah had requested an audience with a representative group of American rabbis to discuss the future of the relationship between Judaism and Islam.

�This is a new stage in the very nature of official diplomacy� said CRDC Director Marc Gopin. �We had a head of state and a mechanism by which he [the King] could do diplomacy with tens of thousands of people who will listen to the sermons of the rabbis who were present. Numerous rabbis, practically with tears in their eyes, asked for copies of the speech afterwards so they could cite the text in their sermons in the upcoming holy season.� The event was initiated by King Abdullah, sponsored by the Embassy of Jordan, and coordinated by the CRDC and Dr. Robert Eisen of George Washington University.


Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim: In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

Thank you all for taking the time to be with us today. I am honored to have this opportunity to address not only a distinguished group of Rabbis, but through you the American Jewish community. I pray that our humble efforts will be an important step towards building better relations between Jews and Muslims in America and throughout the world.

The Prophet Muhammad�God�s peace and blessings be upon him�once said: �None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.� As all of you know, the Torah also tells us, �Love your neighbor as yourself.� (Leviticus 19:18) In this spirit, I come to you today as both neighbor and kin. As many of you know, the Hashemite line of Jordan is directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad�God�s peace and blessings be upon him. He in turn was descended from our father, Abraham through his eldest son Isma�il�God�s peace be upon them and upon all the prophets. We are therefore linked to you through Abraham, our common ancestor, and we all participate in God�s promises to him and his two sons.

But it is not just ancestry that connects us. More importantly, we are, all of us�all Jews and all Muslims�joined together by faith in the One God. The Muslim testimony of faith�the Shahada�la ilaha illa Allah, �There is no god but God��is prefigured in the Torah by: �Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.� (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). While the latter words of the Shema are not found in the Shahada, no Muslim could disagree with them, and they are confirmed by the Quran: �Truly the believers are those whose hearts quiver when God is remembered.� (8:2)

Lastly, Jews and Muslims are tied together by culture and history as well. For over a thousand years both our peoples have contributed to the complex tapestry of Middle Eastern civilization. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews and Muslims borrowed a great deal from each other in the areas of philosophy, science, mysticism, and law. For example, Maimonides was deeply influenced by our Muslim philosophers, while many in the Islamic world to this day read Maimonides as an Arab thinker.

It cannot be denied that the relationship between Jews and Muslims has been very difficult in recent years. Nonetheless, at this moment in history, we have no choice but to take bold strides towards mutual forgiveness and reconciliation. We face a common threat: extremist distortions of religion and the wanton acts of violence that derive therefrom. Such abominations have already divided us from without for far too long. We all too often fail to acknowledge that they also threaten to destroy us from within. This is not simply a matter of importance to Jews and Muslims, it is something that confronts and threatens the whole of humanity.

The only antidote is that we work together in a spirit of mutual co-operation and respect to defeat this common enemy. We must move beyond the language of mere tolerance toward true acceptance. Our common faith in the One God and our shared history are the greatest asset in combating the forces that threaten to undo everything that is sacred to us all.

In Jordan we have taken important steps to combat the extremist threat within the Muslim community. Over the past year, we gathered fatwas�legal rulings�from 17 of the most authoritative scholars representing all the schools of Islamic law�Sunni, Shi�ite and Ibadi. We then hosted a conference last July entitled �True Islam and its Role in Modern Society,� which was attended by over 180 Muslim scholars from 45 countries.

The conference issued a joint statement of accord, to help end abuses of our faith. For instance, they agreed that religious edicts cannot be issued by people lacking the proper qualifications and religious knowledge (like Bin Laden and Zarqawi). And they agreed that no one can call another Muslim an apostate�as the extremists do to those who disagree with them.

Much of what we have thus far accomplished in Jordan concentrates upon internal Islamic affairs. But it has important implications for the international community as well. Muslims from every branch of Islam can now assert without doubt or hesitation that a fatwa calling for the killing of innocent civilians�no matter what nationality or religion, Muslim or Jew, Arab or Israeli�is a basic violation of the most fundamental principles of Islam. Both of our religions are based upon an overriding emphasis on the sanctity of every human life. As you know, in Judaism the imperative to save a human life overrides almost every other law. This same principle is clearly stated in the Quran: �Whoever kills a soul�without right or justification�it is as if he has killed the whole of humanity� (5:32).

We should thus strive not only for tolerance and co-existence, but for true acceptance. Our communities must see each other as sharing a common heritage, and a common future. It is only by adopting this attitude that we can combat the extremist threat and live in peace with each other.

The basis of such a relationship is stated in our sacred texts. According to the Quran, Judaism and Islam derive from a common source. Regarding the people of the Scriptures, the Quran states:

Truly those who believe and those who are Jews, and the Christians and the Sabeans—those who believe in God and the last day and do righteous deeds, they shall have their reward from their Lord and no fear shall be upon them, nor shall they sorrow. (Quran, 2:62; see also 5:69).

Whilst some may regard this verse as abrogated, the oldest and most famous of Quranic commentators, Al-Tabari, said, �God�s promises cannot be abrogated.� Moreover, the Quran says, �We have made you peoples and tribes to know one another. And the most noble of you before God is the most pious.� (49:13)

In Jewish texts, there is a similar idea regarding Muslims. According to some rabbis, non-Jews are required to observe the seven laws of the sons of Noah and if they do so they are to be treated with reverence and respect. Jewish commentators generally agree that Islam includes these seven laws and is therefore to be esteemed by Jews.
For all the Children of Abraham, the pursuit of peace and justice is paramount. As the Quran says, �God loves the just.� (5:42). Expanding upon this, the Prophet Muhammad�peace and blessings be upon him�said to his companions: �Shall I inform you of an act better than fasting, alms and prayers? Making peace between one another: enmity and malice tear up heavenly rewards by their roots.� Such statements echo the words of the Holy Torah, �Justice, Justice shall you pursue.� (Deuteronomy 16:20) This wise counsel is reflected in the words in the Psalm that states, �Seek peace and pursue it,� (Psalms 34:14) and the Quranic verse, If they incline unto peace, then incline unto it. (8:61) Let us find a way to unite our peoples in the pursuit of justice and the peace to which true justice gives rise.

It is my hope that we as children of Abraham can go forth from this gathering with a common mission, to work together towards peace, justice and reconciliation. The point on the religious calendar at which we find ourselves can inspire us in this endeavor. This year marks an unusual concurrence of the High Holy Days on the Jewish calendar and Ramadan on the Islamic calendar, each of which begins next month. These are opportunities for self-examination, reflection, repentance, atonement, forgiveness, and renewal. By embracing the true spirit of these sacred times, conferred by God, we can reaffirm the essential principles of our faiths and apply these principles to the challenges before us all. Just as Isaac and Isma�il were able to put aside the differences that had separated their mothers and come together to honor and bury their father, so too must we put aside the differences that some use to tear us apart. We must honor our common heritage, reaffirming the essential principles that lie at the heart of our faith.
I hope that our common message is one that will be heard far beyond this gathering.

Thank you very much.

Remarks of Rabbi Dr. Marc Gopin thanking King Abdullah for his remarks

“Gratitude is the foundation of the most ancient Jewish prayers, from the book of Psalms to our ancient prayer book. I want to thank you, Your Majesty, for every act of courage, every visionary gesture that you and your family have offered the world. We stand in appreciation of your family’s vision, courage, and friendship to all, even to adversaries. When I watched your father speaking so nobly in his last months of life, almost like a prophet, I felt that I was in the presence of the best of the children of Ishmael, hailing from the home of Ishmael and Hajjar. It filled me with a sense of awe for what Muslims and Jews can share when we are at our best, and that is how I feel today as I have listened to you.

“Our common father Abraham was a man of courage and vision. He was not merely a leader of men, not merely a wealthy man, though he was those things. He was a dreamer, a man of courage, and he would be pleased today. The Talmud said over two thousand years ago, ‘ezehu Mekhubad? ha-mekhabed et ha-beri’ot. “Who is honored? He who honors all human beings.” It also said, ‘ezehu gibbor? ha-‘oseh et son’o le-‘ohavo. “Who is a true hero? He who turns an enemy into a friend.” By bestowing generous honors on the diversity of humanity, you are turning adversaries into friends, both within the world of Islam, and between the Muslim world and other worlds, such as the Jewish world. In so doing you are bringing to life the nobility and vision of our father Abraham.

“As you have noted, Judaism and Islam share many moral values, and that we must honor each others’ commitment to these common values. We also share a deep commitment to prayer. A cornerstone of our yearly cycle, as in Islam’s, is a commitment to a sacred time of prayer and fasting that leads to self-examination and repentance. Ours, The Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur, are upon us soon, as is Ramadan for you. I for one hope and pray that your vision enters into the hearts of Jews and Muslims alike in this season of fasting and reflection. I can think of nothing better to evoke the repentance and reconciliation that God always seeks from the human family, the children of Adam and Eve.

“Rabbis express themselves by way of blessings. I want to bless the world’s secular heads of state, the world’s religious leaders, and the secular and religious leaders of my people, to learn from your example of what generosity of spirit is at the critical times of life, what true honor of others is, and what true heroism is as one confronts adversaries. In the speeches of this trip you have also set forth a new identity for the children of Abraham, an identity that inextricably weds the modern man of science and progress with the man of tradition and faith. You have defined the Abrahamic family’s identity of the future as one rooted in our ancient patriarch’s embrace of justice, compassion, pragmatic engagement with the world, courage, and, above all, an inclusive vision of a future for all of humanity, in all of its magnificent diversity. Finally, the formal blessing for the occasion of meeting a king: Borukh Atah Adonai Elohenu Melekh ha-Olam, She Notan mi-khevodo le-basar ve-dam. And I would like to add: May the God of Abraham, Itshak, and Ishmael, Sarah, Rebekah, and Hagar, bless you and your entire family with many years of health, happiness, safety, and peace.”

Dr. Gopin presented His Majesty with a special edition of the Written Torah, known as the Hebrew Bible, with the inscription,

“To His Majesty, King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussain, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, with deepest respect and gratitude, from the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution. May we live to see all of the Family of Abraham Live up to your vision and courage. Delivered in the presence of over seventy distinguished Rabbis of the Jewish community of the United States. September 21, 2005.”


Originally published on the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution website at http://www.gmu.edu/departments/crdc/