Friday, August 4, 2017

Reflecting on a step forward for local Jewish-Muslim relations

On May 12, 2017, Temple Beth Shalom invited Spokane’s Muslim community to an evening Shabbat service and dinner. At the time, SpokaneFAVS reported on this extremely well-attended and inspiring event, so I don’t intend to rehash the facts. A little more than a week later, on May 20, a significant contingent from the Jewish community attended SpokaneFAVS and the Spokane Interfaith Council’s “Meet the Neighbors” event at the Spokane Islamic Center.

At “Meet the Neighbors,” members of the Muslim community showed the same degree of hospitality the Jewish community had displayed the previous weekend. There was a presentation on some basic elements of Islam, a Q&A session, and a delicious and bountiful meal. For Spokane, two opportunities for Jews and Muslims to break bread together in less than 10 days is a big deal. As far as I know, such intentional interfaith bridge-building has never happened here between these two communities.

I am heartened by these events particularly because I have witnessed firsthand, at times, the opposite of such open-mindedness in Jews’ views of their Muslim neighbors. A couple days after the Shabbat service and dinner, a Jewish friend of a friend expressed skepticism that Jews and Muslims can find common ground. He even went so far as to say that Muslims don’t love their children as much as Jews do.

Although he claimed to have personal experience that supported his point of view, this person’s comments sounded sadly familiar to me. Especially when the topic is Israel/Palestine, it’s not uncommon to hear comparisons of Jews and Muslims that purport to stand up for one group by dehumanizing the other. It’s no more productive for Jews to engage in this behavior than it is for Muslims to do so. Nobody wins when we follow this path.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues its anti-immigrant rhetoric and policymaking, and some Inland Northwest organizations promote Islamophobia under the banner of “national security.” Despite these destructive forces, my hope is that something new, powerful, and promising blooms from May’s two interfaith events. And I think there’s reason for hope: After all, these were instances of unprecedented connection between communities that have so often, and so profoundly, misunderstood each other.

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