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Efforts Grow for Improving Muslim-Jewish Dialogue

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May - June 2006

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pennsylvania has announced that it will offer a course this spring on Muslim-Jewish relations and will become the first and only rabbinical school to require its students to take courses in religions other than Judaism. The course, Contemporary Manifestations of Islam, will include a service-learning component so that students can supplement book learning with community work that teaches them how to improve Jewish-Muslim relations.  
The new offering was conceived by Associate Professor Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer and will be team-taught with Adnan Ahmad Zulfiqar, a student in his final year of a joint J.D./Ph.D program at the University of Pennsylvania. His doctorate will he in Islamic jurisprudence.  
According to the college publication Connections, “Fuchs-Kreimer says the course will help students understand the variety of ways Islam has developed in the last several centuries. It will cover a number of hot-button issues, including the role of women, war and terrorism, and how Muslims approach non-Muslims. Midway through the semester, RRC students will break bread with Muslim graduate students from Penn over a three-hour kosher/hallal meal at Penn’s Hillel House. The rabbinical and Muslim students will then pair off and meet on their own to plan how they will team-teach a class section at a Jewish and Muslim day school.”  
According to Fuchs-Kreimer, “My job is to train students to go out and be responsible leaders of the Jewish community living in a multicultural world. Understanding Islam is important for American Jews, both as Americans and as Jews. As Americans, we need to understand both the growing Muslim population in our country and worldwide Islam as a force in international affairs. As Jews, the stakes are even higher. Israel exists in the heart of the Muslim world. The bottom line is that American Jewish religious leaders ought to make it their business to learn and to teach about Islam.” At the same time, reports The Forward (Feb. 24, 2006), “seeking to build on the success of their own longstanding dialogue, Jewish and Catholic leaders have held several discussions in recent weeks about launching more intensive interfaith talks with Muslims. ‘Before it was considered like something nice to do,’ said Father Patrick Dubois, the French bishops’ liaison to the Jewish community in France. ‘Now it’s considered a social and religious emergency.’”  
Officials at the World Jewish Congress are calling for Jews and Catholics to establish joint, high-level discussions with moderate Muslim leaders. The chairman of the Congress’ policy council, Rabbi Israel Singer, has raised the issue of Muslim-Jewish-Catholic dialogue at meetings with Vatican officials, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and in a speech in February at the University of Heidelberg.  
In March, Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, paid a visit to the capital’s main mosque, the first time a chief rabbi has visited the 11-year-old mosque and cultural center, the largest in Western Europe. The New York Times (March 14, 2006) reports “Dr. Si Segni was met by Abdellah Redouine, the secretary general of the center, and Mario Scialoja, the president of the Muslim World League in Italy. He expressed solidarity and encouraged Muslims to strive harder to become full members of Italian society. ‘As Italian Jews who have been here for 20 centuries, we had a very long relationship with Italian authorities and we have managed to find solutions and models of coexistence,’ he said. ‘We think our experience can be very useful to you in this very difficult process of integration.’”

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