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Religious Diplomacy

Herein I discuss some history of religious diplomacy, the activities of the AlSadiqin Institute, commonalities between Judaism and Islam that you may not have heard of, barriers to conciliation today, and our focus on what we feel is the ultimate trust building mechanism - joint sharia/halachic courts - joint Muslim/Jewish courts.

Why is it essential that religion play a role in peacemaking.

The recognition that religion plays a role in peacemaking has been slow in coming, but this recognition is rapidly gaining ground. It is called Track III Diplomacy, or Cultural/Religious Diplomacy. Though grassroots work across religious lines can be regarded as taking place since the dawn of the Abrahamic faiths, I want to give you an idea of the time frame when it started taking momentum in the contemporary world, and there was a recognition that religion has to be included in the political process:

1999 – The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy was founded in Berlin.

2011 – Diktyo Network for Reform in Greece and Europe, founded in Greece

Momentum increased in the first decade of the new millennium, and it is rapidly picking up speed. This is long after Camp David in 1978, and after Oslo in 1995

2012 – a delegation to Turkey which my husband attended included professor of Arabic Dr Mordechai Kedar, and Alan Baker (former Israeli Ambassador and participant in the Camp David accords). Mordechai Kedar commented, “traditional Islamic people find it easier to talk to Jews who share the same cultural world, and perhaps it is time that the Israel foreign ministry understand this.” A diplomat remarked off the record to Ben that if he had known what a vital role religious leaders could play in peacemaking, he would have included them in peace processes years ago. I had the honor of meeting Dr Aly ElSamman during my trip to Egypt last March. He had just published an article chiding the Egyptian public for the ongoing unofficial boycott of Israel - since Camp David, there is only cold peace, Egyptians do not tour, study, or teach in Israel.

Five years after the Oslo accords, there was such a violent uprising in Israel that this period came to be known as the "mini Oslo war" - the fact that violent attacks were actually named after a peace agreement points to its failure. These agreements are not working because they do not capture the soul of the people.

The soul of the people in the Middle East is intimately tied up with religion.

Upon drafting these accords, did any secular leaders take into account the need to appeal to religious sensitivities? How about entering the medrassa, yeshivot, and seminaries and requesting that, say, the top one percent of its students gather as part of a think tank to discuss peace building along religious lines? The marginalization of religion meant that people did not feel heard and included, and it fostered frustration.

It is essential that conflict resolution take place in line with cherished classic and scriptural values that Muslims and Jews hold dear. Otherwise, agreements imposed from without will be resented by local populations, deemed as imperialistic, quasi-colonial interference. Peace agreements, both large scale and small, that organically grow out of our scriptures and shared histories are the real key to lasting peace.

As we expand our narratives, we also reclaim the scriptural roots of Western political history and human rights as brought down by Erastus of Switzerland, Hugo Grotius of Holland, John Selden, to the the founders of the English Parliament and the United States of America. These theorists were impressed with the rights of the non-Jewish residents of the ancient Hebrew Commonwealth and with the limited role that theocracy has in enforcing religious law - and this finds its parallel in Islam. Our expanded narrative will reveal an inherent unity among the Abrahamic faiths, even expressed in western models of political science. It turns out that we are not so foreign to each other. Regarding expanding the narrative, I would like to see a day in which westerners have a natural awareness of the contribitions of Islam to the west, such as - the contributions of Muslim scholars like Avicenna to the world of medicine, of the geographer Al-Idrisi, who correctly mapped out the world, and of him it is said that Christopher Columbus probably wouldn’t have found America if he hadn’t used Al-Idrisi’s maps.

It is not too late. By supporting religious diplomacy, we will be sowing the grassroots work so necessary for having Holy Writ be on the map in peacemaking.

AlSadiqin is an organization that researches the common heritage of Islam and Judaism, with the conviction that religion is in fact the ultimate bridge for peace. My husband Rabbi Ben Abrahamson was inspired to research Islam after he survived a terrorist attack in the Holy Land. The idea that religion could serve as an impetus to attack people riding on a bus drove Ben to research Islamic teachings from within, he discovered remarkable commonalities and paths to conciliation, which I will tell you about. He began discussions with Muslims on his facebook page, which led to him being invited to speak in many prominent venues all over the world, he has close to 20,000 followers and fb friends. I took a cross section of his facebook discussions and edited them into book form, and I started a column entitled "Giving Voice to Muslims who Seek Peace" in order to give a platform to Muslims who are active in conciliation work and to educate the public about Islam. My writing led me to more activism, which has meant fewer articles, so I have gotten one contributor to this column and and hereby request from you all - please find a subject along these lines and contribute to this column, because redressing the balance of the unfair representation of Islam in the media is also a form of peace activism.

AlSadiqin's next step is the formation of joint Abrahamic sharia/halachic courts.

There are important concepts in recognizing the Other within Judaism and Islam. In Judaism, when a Jewish court recognizes (in this case) a Muslim as following the seven laws of Noah, the Muslim then has full protection as a righteous gentile and, if living in the Land of Israel, ger toshav.

In Islam, there are two important concepts in recognizing the Other - one, is this person Ahle el kitab - the People of the Book. After this is the next crucial step - is this member of the people of the book a Mumin - related to the Hebrew word amin, ma'amin - and in the legal framework, this is a declaration that this person is trustworthy, believable.

The project of joint courts will replace the “courtroom” of the media and public opinion Joint courts means that we can develop healthy relationships among ourselves, free of the need to convince the Other in the constant race for swaying public opinion.

We can then put our energies into the Race for Virtue.

When conflict resolution lies in scriptually-based adjudication, it is accountable, all parties feel represented To every people (is given) a rasul (law giver): when their law giver comes before them, the matter will be judged between them with justice and they will not be wronged. Qur’an, Al Yunus 10:47 The Qur'an (2:62) says: "Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." Based on the above verse, there are three conditions to be considered mumin: any who believe in Allah, the Last Day, (day of Judgement), and perform righteousness, Umma Wahida according to the Qur’an: The Qur’an is the voice of experience, with a tried and tested formula for acceptance of all People of the Book, and all who do good deeds. Authentic Islam is more than tolerant, it is accepting of the Other.

Seventy nations of the world according to Torah: Jewish tradition assumes variety in humanity. It assumes that all those who keep the Seven Laws of Nuh (pbuh) are acceptable before Allah (swt) and have a place in the World to Come

And he said, The Lord came from Sinai,and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints (prophets): from his right hand went a fiery law for them. Deuteronomy 33:2

Seir symbolozes the West, Paran, the East.

There is a parallel between the Umma Wahida of the Qur’an and the concept of Seventy Nations


Scripture is actually the basis of modern political science

Professor of Government at Harvard University, Dr Eric Nelson, states that many assume that basic human rights are a secular invention. He asserts that human rights and fundamental freedoms are in fact derived from Scripture as studied by Christian Hebraists in the 16th-18th centuries.

We need to reclaim the Scriptural basis for basic human rights. We need to resist the externally imposed identity that religious people are intolerant.

Islamic theology and history has a place in this, based on the theological and historical symbiotic relationship between Judaism and Islam

The goal is not tolerance, but acceptance, a return to symbiosis.

The West and Islam are not foreign to each other. The West is in need of revival, of moral accountability, of a return to its scriptural roots, and Muslims can regard themselves as key players in this. Secular Humanism has replaced the Abrahamic religions vis a vis moral accountability as human-centered. Moral accountability is in fact G-d centered.

That is where I am headed, but I need to tell you how we got here.

Touchpints between Islam an Judaism

The contrast between the terms used in the Qur'an "Yahud" vs "Banu Israel" - these terms need to be understood in context.

A major barrier to peacemaking - abrogation, viewing the Other as a non-entity

Four hundred years after Muhammed (as), the commentator Ibn Hazim, who was a contemporary of Shmuel HaNagid, (commander of the Muslim army in eleventh century Spain under the Sultan. This is in itself clear evidence that Islam can indeed regard a Rabbinic Jew, observant of the Torah, as a Mumin, as trustworthy, as part of an Islamic inner circle so to speak), was under pressure to defend and explain Islam. It was perhaps this defensive stance that influenced him to choose a narrower interpretation of the Qur'an - and he declared that the "banu Israel" of the Qur'an referred to Muslims who had Jewish roots, and not to Jews practicing Torah, vis a vis Sabbath observance, Yom Kippur, etc. This marked a significant shift in Muslm-Jewish relations. While Torah-observant Jews had been regarded as not only people of the book, but Mumin - believers in the community of believers, commentators such as Ibn Hazm started the concept of abrogation.

Solutions -

1. Putting the commentators into context. Ibn Hazm's works may have been misinterpreted and been influenced by his place in history. The commentators Al Tabari (tenth century) and the sahaba Qatada ibn al-Num'an (seventh century)  were less exclusionist of the People of the Book, so the works of the more exclusionist school may be seen in a more contextualized light. 

2. Emphasizing the words and actions of Muhammed himself in the Qur'an, in his authorship of the Constitution of Medina, ahadith that illustrate Muhammed's recognition of Jews as they are: Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 53, Number 398

2. Our actions - are representatives of the Jewish people, both on an individual and global level, working towards building trust with the Muslim community?

Two points are crucial here: 1. Are we expressing intellectual honesty when it comes to our shari'a/brit/covenant? The message from the west has largely been - water down your differences, that will make peace. This is actually derived from ancient Rome, in which uniformity was thought to be the prerequisite for peace, and this lack of respect for variety is un-Abrahamic. But the message from Islam, from the crown of the Abrahamic faiths, is of authenticity, of integrity, of reverence for G-d, holy writ, religion and tradition. it does not help to " water down your differences."

It helps to say we Jews and Muslims are different. God's plan is for us to be different and we are commanded to accept each other as different, then, to compete for righteousness. here is the Quranic text: "To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues." (5:48)

2. And, are we doing everything we can to ensure full civil rights for all residents of the holy land, including those Palestinians who still reside in refugee camps? I suspect that the more we express our authenticity and integrity for our brith/covenant, and true regard for our Muslim brethren, the more mutual recognition will be reciprocated and we will cease being the non-entity and regain our status in the eyes of Islam as both Ahle el Kitab and Mumin.

Here is a hadith that illustrates that Muhammed himself validated Jews as Mumin: Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 53, Number 398: Narrated Sahl bin Abi Hathma: 'Abdullah bin Sahl and Muhaiyisa bin Mas'ud bin Zaid set out to Khaibar, the inhabitants of which had a peace treaty with the Muslims at that time. They parted and later on Muhaiyisa came upon 'Abdullah bin Sah! and found him murdered agitating in his blood. He buried him and returned to Medina. 'Abdur Rahman bin Sahl, Muhaiyisa and Huwaiuisa, the sons of Mas'ud came to the Prophet and 'Abdur Rahman intended to talk, but the Prophet said (to him), "Let the eldest of you speak." as 'Abdur-Rahman was the youngest:. 'Abdur-Rahman kept silent and the other two spoke. The Prophet said, "If you swear as to who has committed the murder, you will have the right to take your right from the murderer." They said, "How should we swear if we did not witness the murder or see the murderer?" The Prophet said, "Then the Jews can clear themselves from the charge by taking Alaska (an oath taken by men that it was not they who committed the murder)." They said, "How should we believe in the oaths of infidels?" So, the Prophet himself paid the blood money (of 'Abdullah). (See Hadith No. 36 Vol. 9.)

And in the Sahifat al Medina, the Constitution of Medina, (622CE) Muhammed himself drafted agreements with Jews as they were. Legal points: 1- Islam is a link in the chain of the prophet Nuh (pbuh)


a – The term “Muslims” is derived from “G-d-fearers” Numbers 24. Onkelos, Rabbi in the first century CE, translated the five books of Moses to Aramaic. He translated “Kenites” – a distinguished group of G-d fearers – as Salamai and Muslamai.

b – It is He who named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation) Qur’an Al Hajj 22:78

Also see Qur’an Al Maeda 5:3

c – Islam cleaves to the basic Seven Laws of Nuh (pbuh)

These Laws are:

1. Justice – setting up righteous courts

2. Respect for G-d (do not blaspheme)

3. Belief in G-d (do not worship idols)

4. Respect for Family

5. Respect Human Life (do not murder)

6. Respect for Property (do not steal)

7. Respect for all Creatures (do not eat limb from a living animal)

Islam more than fulfills the Sevan Laws of Nuh. Pbuh

c – Muhammad (pbuh) consulted with Jewish Rabbis as recorded in the Qur’an


Islam and Judaism are historically linked

Evidence: a – Constitution of Medina – Jews were considered full citizens with equal rights.

b – Caliphs Omar and Ali used Jewish Rabbis from the academies of the land of Babylon to serve as judges for Islamic courts in the eighth century c – Hadith – the conquest of Constantinople in the End of Days will be accomplished through Jewish troops supporting the Mahdi

Thus, we have an ancient relationship based upon both Scripture and History

It is time we embrace the legal relationship between Islam and Judaism

When conflict resolution lies in scripturally-based adjudication, it is accountable, all parties feel represented, and it mitigates extremism and violence.

Here are our tools

I. The concept in Islam and Judaism of “believer”

The concept of Mu’min (believer) in Arabic as well as Ma’amin (believer) in Hebrew refers to one who trusts in Allah SWT. Mu’min also carries the connotation of one who provides security, is trustworthy and reliable. So in Arabic, as in Hebrew, the recognition of who is a believer is tied to concepts of a secure community. It is in this sense that it the word Mu’min was used in Sahifat al-Madinah (Constitution of Medina). I also propose that it is this sense which is essential to peacemaking in the Middle East.

In our terminology, a believer is a citizen, and an unbeliever is seen as a barbarian, one who is outside of law. Faith is thus an integral part of civil society.

to the best of my understanding, the quran (2:62) says:

"Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve."

based on the above verse, there are three conditions to be considered momen:

any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, (day of Judgement) and work righteousness,

“there is no compulsion in religion” (Sura 2:256)

This does not mean that everyone is deeply religious. It does not spell religious coercion. It means that both Islam and Judaism have minimum requirements for being considered trustworthy in legalistic terms. For the Muslim to be able to demand rights as a Muslim citizen, the basic requirements are offering salat and giving zakaat. For a Jew to be considered a credible witness in a religious matter, Sabbath observance is required.

The qualifications for what confers rights upon a Muslim to be recognized as a Muslim in an Islamic society, and what qualifies a Jew to give testimony in court are not exact parallels. My point here is that only in these areas can a Muslim or Jew be judged if they are fulfilling a basic requirement. Most commandments in Islam and Judaism have no temporal punishment and are only between oneself and one’s creator.

Islam and Judaism have only a small section of law that is punishable by authorities on earth. Both civilizations anticipate that not all members of their people are believers or follow their sharia properly.

This is really about recognizing each other as fellow citizens, valuable contributors to society, and in Noahide/basic Islamic terms, as believers – trustworthy, reliable. It is about showing them dignity. It is about respecting Islam. Does the Qur’an say to fight the unbelievers until they convert? No – only until they respect Islam.

The Peace Ladder:

Recognizing each others as believers leads to being able to trust

Being able to trust leads to credibility

Credibility leads to justice

Justice leads to civil society

Civil society leads to peace

"To every people (is given) a rasul (law giver): when their law giver comes before them, the matter will be judged between them with justice and they will not be wronged. Qur’an, Al Yunus 10:47 With the various peacebuilding organizations that abound, we have a wonderful opportunity for specialization, a "race for virtue", as the various groups devoted to conciliation emphasize different activities. Some will emphasize social action, others, joint events such as iftaar dinners, others such as the IEA emphasize discussion. Diversity is predicted in the Qur'an in a beautiful quote which also illustrates Islam's true tolerance of variety: “To each among you we have appointed a law (shar'ia) and a custom (minhaj). Had God willed, He would have made you a single community (umma), but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So strive as in a race in all virtues. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” (Surat al-Ma’ida, 5.48)