The American Muslim Community – Challenges and Opportunities for Jewish Professionals
IJMA believes outreach, engagement and education between the Muslim and Jewish communities reduces misunderstanding and bigotry. On 6 January 2021, IJMA hosted its first webinar dedicated to addressing these problems, with a focus on the American Muslim community for Jewish professionals. Over 180 Jewish leaders joined the webinar from all over the country, representing local and national level organizations, from the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to the directors of Jewish Federations in Fort Wayne, Michigan and Memphis, Tennessee.
Suhail Khan, IJMA Vice President, introduced the speakers and served as moderator. Following are highlights of the presentations.
Raheemah Abdelaleem, a civil rights lawyer, set the stage by describing the Muslim community relying on data from the Pew Research Survey of U.S. Muslims from 2017.
There are 3.4 million Muslims in the U.S., up from 2.35 million in 2007. It is the most diverse American religious community, no racial or ethnic group is more than 30 percent of the total population of Muslims.
A young population and majority immigrant. The median age of American Muslim adults is 35 while the median age of American adults generally is 47. 58 percent of Muslims in the U.S. are immigrants. 20 percent are African Americans who have lived in the U.S. often for generations.
Raheemah is herself an African American Muslim whose family has been in the U.S. since the 1700s. Her parents came to Sunni Islam from the Nation of Islam when Warith Deen Muhammad, the son of Elijah Muhammad, led a mass conversion of Nation of Islam members to mainstream Islam in the 1970s. Today the Nation of Islam under Louis Farrakhan represents only 3 percent of African American Muslims.
Raheemah said her faith compels her to be focused on social and community issues like hunger and poverty.
Rabia Chaudry, a criminal defense attorney and New York Times bestselling author, next addressed the difficult issues of anti-Muslim bigotry in the Jewish community and antisemitism in the Muslim community.
Rabia noted that we often don’t see bigotry in our own communities or we tend to dismiss it as problem. She acknowledged that for a long time, she didn’t see antisemitism in the Muslim community. We often don’t see how our words “land” on others.
She spoke of a “cottage industry” of self-described Muslim experts who portray Muslims as a national security threat to the U.S. and noted how this industry has grown since 911. She cited polls that tolerance towards Muslims in the U.S. has decreased over time. Some Jewish organizations have financially supported this industry, often without knowing the details of what they are supporting.
Behind the growth of Jewish-Muslim intercommunal bigotry is fear of the other. While it is relatively easy to marginalize some of the outrageous actors in both communities (and important do so), she stressed that it is even more important to address the pervasive, often unacknowledged bigotry and misunderstanding that is based on fear and ignorance.
In a final segment, two religious leaders gave an example of one of the opportunities of intercommunal discourse – learning from each other. Both spoke about Moses, a common ancestor of the two faith traditions.
Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles spoke about Moses in the Jewish tradition, how he began as a man of action who wasn’t articulate but became a man of words. Rabbi Wolpe stressed how words shape the way we think about ourselves and the world and that we must be careful about the words we use.
Imam Talib Shareef of Masjid Mohammed, the Nation’s Mosque, talked of Moses in the Muslim tradition, how he is associated with liberation and is the most frequently mentioned person in the Qu’ran. Chapter 20 tells the story of Moses.
In brief Q and A (to be continued in Part II on Feb. 17, see below), our speakers all agreed that a good follow-up program should involve public dialogue between IJMA leaders from the two communities. They noted that a public dialogue is possible now because of the confidence-building between the two communities built by IJMA and other Muslim-Jewish organizations.
Next Steps: This webinar elicited a lot of very good questions to our speakers, thus on February 17 IJMA will host The American Muslim Community II – Questions and Answers. Registration link is https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYkduChrzkuHNZzrbDPiaQd7-0fw7PUfxED?_x_zm_rtaid=DGbhzsIvSfavuu3QDVPR9w.1612887454239.ccd17d9b26bbe78774817cf9f46431d5&_x_zm_rhtaid=999
IJMA is also planning a parallel webinar entitled: “The American Jewish Community – Challenges and Opportunities for Muslim and Progressive Professionals.”
IJMA sponsors for this program included: ADL, HIAS, Jewish Council of Public Affairs, Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, Marcia’s Light Foundation, Rabbinical Assembly of America, Union of Reform Judaism, Westchester Jewish Council, Zioness