Shahid Akhtar, co-founder and co-chair of Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM) and Walter Ruby, FFEU Muslim-Jewish Program Director, held an informative and sometimes provocative dialogue on Sunday June 15 at the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga, Ontario before an enthusiastic audience of about 75 Muslims and Jews from throughout Greater Toronto.
The theme of the discussion was Muslims and Jews: “Enemies, or Allies in the Struggle Against Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism?” The dialogue was moderated by Imam Hamid Slimi of the Sayeda Khadija Center. Slimi, former president of the Canadian Council of Imams, is Founder and Director of the Faith of Life Network, which promotes the positive values of Islam for Muslims and non-Muslims alike in Canada and around the world.
During the course of the 90 minute conversation, Ruby and Akhtar spoke about the important progress they have seen in Muslim-Jewish relations in the years since Akhtar co-founded CAJM in 1996–making it the longest operating Muslim-Jewish organization in the world–and since FFEU began working to strengthen global Muslim-Jewish relations in 2007. Since then, both pointed out, there has been important forward movement both in the Toronto area, where CAMJ has co-sponsored state of the art Weekend of Twinning events since 2008, and worldwide, where twinning events have brought together thousands of Muslims and Jews in more than 30 countries around the world.
Yet both Akhtar and Ruby said that ongoing efforts to strengthen Muslim-Jewish relations have faced new and difficult challenges in recent months during which there has been a palpable pulling apart among some Muslims and Jews in North American and Europe due to a deterioration of the Middle East peace process and violent acts, like the recent attack on the Holocaust Museum in Brussels by a French Islamist extremists that left three dead. Ruby and Akhtar said that members of the two faith communities should agree to disagree respectfully on aspects of the Middle East conflict and speak out forcefully against violence and terrorism, while stepping up efforts to build coalitions like recently created and FFEU-inspired Muslim-Jewish solidarity committees in Los Angeles, Washington, New Jersey, and New York. Following in the footsteps of CAJM, these committees are focused on bringing Muslims and Jews together to fight against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism; educate the two communities about each other to as to discredit misinformation and half-truths that create roadblocks to understanding, and organizing joint festive, educational and social service events that give Muslim and Jewish participants to strengthen inter-personal ties.
According to Akhtar, “Moments like the present, when difficult issues come up between our communities, are exactly the times we need most to be communicating with each other…We must raise our voices together when either community is discriminated against.” Ruby remarked, “There is a beautiful energy at this event, with Muslims and Jews really engaging and learning from each other. I just spoke with a Muslim woman who was meeting Jews tonight for the first time in her life. Once you encounter people face to face, you can never again see them as part of a sinister ‘Other’.
Rabia Khedr, a hijab-clad blind woman who is a candidate for Mississauga City Council remarked, “It is wonderful to be among Muslims and Jews coming together to listen to and take part in a heartfelt dialogue like this one. This event leaves me feeling more optimistic about our ability to strengthen Muslim Jewish relations.”