- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 17, 2005

A group of Muslims and Jews who had been meeting secretly in Montgomery County surfaced late last week with the release of a joint statement promising that the two faiths will work together to find common ground.

“We’re deeply committed to the idea of pluralism, tolerance, peace, co-existence and one God — the same God,” said Tom Kahn, president of the Washington chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). “A bird needs two wings to fly: a left wing and a right wing.”

The statement, which was read aloud during a reception Thursday night at the Potomac home of Muslim couple Aquilur and Rukhsana Rahman, promised to “develop closer ties between our communities” and stand together against “hate crimes and other forms of discrimination against all religious and ethnic communities.”

It also supported separate Palestinian and Israeli states and denounced “all forms of terrorism and violence directed at civilians.”

“I’m very optimistic,” said Islam Siddiqui, a lobbyist who served as an undersecretary in the Department of Agriculture during the Clinton administration. “With dialogue begins an understanding of our difficult issues.”

Representatives of the two faiths have been meeting for about two years, said Roberta Baruch, a member of the AJC board. She had been looking for sympathetic Muslim contacts before then, but groups whose avowed intent was for the destruction of Israel “weren’t a place to start,” she said.

However, a chance contact between Steven Goodman, a member of the local AJC board, and Tufail Ahmad, a shipping company owner and board member of the Montgomery Muslim Council, led to a breakthrough. A five-point “statement of cooperation” was drawn up during a meeting at Otello, an Italian restaurant near Dupont Circle.

“We’ve had tough discussions, but the whole idea is to move forward toward peace,” Mr. Goodman said. “We’re not saying if we just meet over pasta, everything will be OK.”

Muslim guests at the reception Thursday night said they want to draw other nationalities into the circle.

“We’ve talked with the Palestinians, but it will not work,” Mr. Ahmad admitted. “We’re still trying to bring them in.”

An invitation to local Saudis was snubbed, he said, but he still hopes to draw Qatari, Bahraini and Kuwaiti Muslims into the dialogue.

David Elcott, director of interreligious affairs for the AJC’s national office in New York, said Jewish-Muslim gatherings are happening quietly across the country.

“Muslims have experienced prejudice and lack of civil rights, and Jews have already been there,” he said. “We understand prejudice and discrimination.

“So we want to help instruct a moderate Muslim community on how to work with Christians and Jews to expand civil and human rights and fight against polarization and extremism that can do enormous damage in this country,” Mr. Elcott said.

The 100 persons who met Thursday night in Potomac also worked together to raise $16,261 for Hurricane Katrina relief. The fundraiser, which included food ordered for kosher and halal specifications, attracted Jews from the religion’s Reform and Conservative branches and Muslims from Pakistan and India.

The money that was raised went to three charities: the Red Cross, the Islamic Relief Fund and the AJC Katrina Fund. The group will meet next month to observe the Jewish High Holy Days and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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