There is no betrayal in interfaith relations

There is no betrayal in interfaith relations

There is no betrayal in interfaith relations
Dr Mohammad Abdulkarim Al-Issa visits Auschwitz with American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris. (File/MWL)
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In mid-June, the Al Jazeera host Ahmed Mansour tweeted an outraged response to the news that Muslim World League Secretary-General Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Kareem Al-Issa had attended an online conference on anti-Semitism. He wrote: “The Secretary General of the Jewish-Muslim World League calls for a new religion?!” Perhaps feeling this did not go far enough, a week later he doubled down, mockingly awarding Al-Issa “the Great Medal of the Zionist.” Other Islamists in Qatar and elsewhere joined in the attack. 

That an Al Jazeera host should show such casual anti-Semitism, as to think that interaction with Jews would turn an organization Jewish, is not a great surprise: It is very much true to form. But it is indicative of a growing divide in this region between those who believe that peace and inclusivity between religions is a good thing, and those who do not. 

For clarity, as if it were needed, Al-Issa is not establishing a new religion. He understands the differences between Islam and Judaism. In fact, he probably has a greater understanding of the differences between the two religions than Mansour, as he has multiple degrees in theology, while Mansour has a degree in literature.

But this isn’t the only recent example. In Lebanon, a prosecution is being brought against Sayyed Ali Al-Amin, a Shiite cleric and former Mufti of Tyre, for attending an interfaith conference in Bahrain. His alleged crime: “Meeting with Israeli officials.” The apparent evidence: A photograph of the conference, which was also attended by rabbis from Israel. 

The trumped-up nature of the charge against Al-Amin is made clear by the other elements of the indictment: “Continuously attacking the resistance and its martyrs [i.e., Hezbollah], inciting strife between sects, sowing discord and sedition, and violating the Shariah laws of the Jafari sect.” In other words, Al-Amin, who has long been known to be hostile to Hezbollah’s growing stranglehold on many elements of the Lebanese state and the Iranian power that backs it, is being prosecuted because he hasn’t stayed quiet.

What Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood and their friends have not seen is that peace does not require homogeneity. 

Peter Welby

Hezbollah and its political allies have been accused of subverting the rule of law and politicizing the Lebanese judiciary, while the prosecutor’s office that brought this charge against Al-Amin has been accused of being one of the group’s instruments. The public prosecutor of Mount Lebanon, Ghada Aoun, has been accused of bringing politically motivated cases in defense of her political allies, whether on ideological grounds or simply for political expedience, such as in the case of Teddy Rahmeh. She is being investigated by the Supreme Judicial Council of Lebanon.

If Al-Amin’s true “crime” is opposition to Hezbollah, why make the primary charge one of “meeting with Israeli officials?” This is what links his case to the intemperate tweets of Mansour and to the Islamist groups that dominate both Qatar and Lebanon — for them, there is nothing more heinous than meeting with Jews. There are two major reasons for this; one is to do with Israel and the other with ideology. 

The reason linked to Israel follows a simple, if flawed, logic: That, because Israel is a Jewish state, then all Jews are linked to the Israeli state and are therefore responsible for its actions. Like other anti-Semitic tropes, this doesn’t stand up too much scrutiny. Even if one were to accept the false premise that all Jews are linked to the Israeli state, it is as absurd to say that all Israelis are responsible for the actions of their government as to say that the Lebanese are responsible for theirs. But, to an organization like Hezbollah, whose very foundation depends on resistance to Israel, such considerations are irrelevant.

The ideological reason is more fundamental. Islamist movements, like all extremist movements, depend on enemies. They therefore actively promote the division upon which they stake their purpose. Peace is anathema to them, particularly if it involves cooperation with those of different faiths, who may not see the world on their terms. What Al-Issa and Al-Amin have seen, and what Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood and their friends have not, is that peace does not require homogeneity. It is possible to disagree with someone on something as fundamental as their understanding of God and still live alongside them in peace, and even in friendship.

To people like Mansour, his ideological influencers in the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah, such peace is intolerable and they will continue to attack those who pursue it. There is no syncretism in interfaith relations. There is no betrayal of the Palestinians in recognizing the evils of the Holocaust. There is certainly no “betrayal of the resistance” in happening to be in the same photo as an Israeli rabbi. But facts matter little to those who claim these things: Their aim is simply a Leninist devotion to chaos and destruction, out of which they can build their Islamist utopia. 

It is imperative, for this reason, that people like Al-Issa and Al-Amin are protected, encouraged and equipped to continue their work. These are not minor local disputes, but are representative of a much wider fight — between those who see a Muslim world that is closed to the outside and constantly seeking an enemy and those who see a Muslim world at ease in its own skin and welcoming dialogue with those who see the world differently. 

  • Peter Welby is a consultant on religion and global affairs, specializing in the Arab world. Twitter: @pdcwelby


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