From Ibrahim to Khalil:   Healing through the flames, American Islam and Palestine/Israel

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Demonstration against Israeli assault on Gaza

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Demonstration against Israeli assault on Gaza

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The recent visit of some American Muslim leaders to Jerusalem to engage in interfaith dialogue with the Jewish leaders has yet again opened deep wounds for the American Muslim community. It is Ramadan, and it is Gaza. It is a sacred time, and it is a time of profound sorrow and outrage as we see Baraka and pain mingling. Let us hope that these words may help usher some healing for our community.

  • Tom Joyce

    Beautifully articulated, my friend. I hope many people read and share these thoughts.

  • Firoj Khan

    Prof. Safi!
    I listened to few of your lectures. Those were so intense, deep, articulate and full of conviction. Tone was so soft, melifluous and deeply spiritual. Even your choice of words while you speak reflects your heart which is filled with love and nothing but love. It brings tear in my eyes. When I read your Memories of Mohammed- for few days i was so content with myself, my heart filled with some divine light, I can not describe in words- I am not a word smith.
    Your piece on the controversial project and its fallout similarly is a response by a sage who cares everybody and tries to instill love and respect for one another and not attacking the intention of the participants and its critics.
    May Allah give you best of the rewards here and here after and Cngrats for your new post at Duke University.

  • Ruth Roded

    On another terrible Jerusalem morning, your words spoke to my heart, even though I am not a Muslim, or an American any more.

    sad/angry finding it more and more difficult to find people I love, although there are some real heroes in this part of the world.

  • Kelley

    I have seen this trip referenced negatively by one or two Muslim articles and wasn’t really aware what had taken place. As a Hartford Seminary I know some of the people involved. I was trained by some of them in peacekeeping. But just now reading Rabia Chaudry’s Time peace, I am very very perplexed. Her mentioning of the Israeli’s “fear” of Palestinians being “real.” What does that mean?! It sounds as if she is justifying continued occupation and military operations. Based on a following her on social media & her other writings, that doesn’t seem to be her official stance. But it does come off as that.

    I, like you, knowing some of the Muslims who made that trip, and being trained as a “peacekeeper” at Hartsem, know the importance of interfaith dialogue. But I think I have some problems with the MLI trip based on different ground. It seems a good first step. But that is all. And it seems those involved, and perhaps because they want to defend themselves to the subsequent reaction, have blown the importance of the trip out of proportion. There is only so much that interfaith dialogue can do, and especially when those engaged in it are NOT those involved in the conflict.

    Also, this trip demonstrates something that many interfaith workers know – that is often very hard to get people to come out of their own safe bubbles. The SHI group was presenting their side. It is like a little child saying, “See? Come see what HE did to ME!” They are the ones that need to be involved in the dialogue. And perhaps the MLI group could/will act as mediators in the future. That would be an important outcome of the trip. But it seems it is a long way away.

    I will say, I don’t doubt for a second the intentions of any MLI participant. Those from Hartford Seminary, or around the CT area – it is a magical place. On campus, people of different faiths break bread together and discuss conflict, and you think “wow! we can solve this!” Then you go out into the world, and meet other faith leaders and they want to engage but they seem so far from actually engaging it is laughable.

    We once attended a Jewish seminary and the were so excited to engage with Muslim students. They had asked Hartsem students and faculty there to ask us “how do we get the Muslims to come?” And perhaps that is what SHI was trying to accomplish. Or maybe they really were just trying to brainwash the MLI participants. But knowing them, I know they will be trying to use their Israel trip experience to see how they can “get the Muslims to come.”

    I don’t think the bevy of articles has really accomplished that. It has been more defensive in tone. But I hope that happens. Blessed be the peacemakers.

  • Larry Snider

    It is a beautiful sentiment of love and justice binding together in the ummah and throughout the world in search of peace. Speaking truth to the pain and injustice of al-Nakba and the Occupation involves recognition and the enormous intra-faith work that you call for. It also requires the expansion of the interfaith dialogue begun by Imam Antepli and the Shalom Hartman Institute to begin to identify and even understand the truth of the “other.” G-d bless this effort….

  • Shahnaz Latif Dallas

    Very good article. Islam re-enforces the concept of humanity and respect for individual liberty. It also reminds man of his fundamental human right of being free to choose his own religion and live with peace. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that the long-awaited messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian, India, whose advent was foretold by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace and blessing of Allah upon him). Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that God sent Ahmad within the fold of Islam, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace. Ahmad’s advent has brought about an unprecedented era of Islamic revival. He divested Muslims of fanatical beliefs and practices by vigorously championing Islam’s true and essential teachings. Ahmad emphatically declared that the doctrine of violent jihad goes against the teachings of the Holy Quran and the practice of the Holy Prophet of Islam. Similarly, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Islamic organization to endorse a separation of mosque and state. Promote hatred is not the mission of any religion. We condemn and reject all kind of terrorism and violence. Our Motto is “Love for All hatred for None” Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continues to spread Islam’s true teachings of moderation and restraint with compassion, patience and prayers, in the face of bitter opposition from the Muslim world. Please visit or watch MTA.TV to get the true teaching of Islam.

  • Linda Sarsour

    I am going to have to disagree with you on this one Omid. The critics extend far beyond Sana and Ibrahim for good reason. This program lacks transparency and I haven’t heard not one good argument about why this is a “good” program to participate in. There are alternatives let’s not settle for the one that pays our way (might as well went on Birthright Israel trip). Any fellowship that I attended my name and affiliation was clearly listed on the website. Not this fellowship. Did anyone ask why no Arab/Palestinian Americans attended? We support dialogue with others it seems but not amongst our own? Rabia was proud to say she learned about true Zionism. Zionism is a political ideology and movement that has unfortunately used Jewish traditions to legitimize their principles and their land grabs and abuses of Palestinians. Israel is a by-product of Zionism. There are many Jews who are not Zionists. I am very disappointed that members of our community would engage with such a program without starting this conversation within our community. We should be consulting each other – I have asked prominent Palestinian American activists who many of these attendees know and not one was asked their opinion. Difficult and courageous conversations must happen amongst your own before you dive in to “dialogue” with others outside of your community. How can you benefit from dialogue with Zionists when you can’t even have a frank discussion with your colleagues and community. There’s something that doesn’t sit well with me and I would appreciate if you took the time to think about my words and not settle for this is about a guy and his family who is still upset about his dad’s case. It’s MUCH bigger than that and if we can’t be honest with eachother – we choose to be honest with Zionists? I also know Jewish Americans who have constructive criticisms about this program as well – their voices aren’t included here either.

  • salam Linda, and Ramadan mubarak. As always, I have so much respect for you, and the principles you live your live by. I am not really interested in being a defender of the MLI program, and both above and in person I have shared many concerns I have about it, its design, and its efficacy. There are reasons why I personally have not accepted these invitations from Jewish organizations to go to Israel and will not do so as long as the occupation endures. And I do absolutely agree with you that we need to be able sit down and have frank face-to-face conversations with our own community. This is exactly what I said in the piece, “We cannot withdraw from civic engagement, from interfaith work, of course. Our obligations as citizens preclude us from doing that. But we need a massive amount of intra-faith work.” And I think we need that not just on FB walls or online forums, but in person. I would dare so more than we need Muslim-Jewish dialogue these days. So I do agree with you on all that. My concern is in many ways about where to go from here, what ethical principles we are going to base our own communal relations on. As you probably know as well as anyone, I am all for firm, principles, unrelenting critique and speaking truth to power. But i also know that that concern for truth and justice always needs to be mingled with love–with in my own experience is lacking from our own community right now. So my concern for healing is not to defend a program or even a few individuals. It is, above all else, about our capacity to form a vibrant and robust community that stands up for justice, based on love.
    If you have the time, I would so cherish a chance to have a conversation about this, and learn more from you about how we can get there, insha’allah. may God bless you and yours.

  • Hussar Ayloush

    Salaams and Ramadan Mubarak Dr. Omid.
    Thank you for writing about this issue. In general, I agree with you that we have to continue to engage, especially with those we are trying to educate and change. However, such engagement has to be qualified to ensure that any projected and aspired good is not overshadowed by greater harm. In this case, it is clear that this Zionist program is exploiting certain American Muslims (I am confident that most if not all of them are well-intended) to drive a wedge within the community by pitting the community as pro vs anti peace. More dangerously, the program aims to reinforce false premises involving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by painting it as a Muslim-Jewish conflict that can be resolved if we just take Muslim who hate or distrust Jews on trips to Israel to face their fear and engage with and learn about Zionism. Once that happens, Muslims are magically going to change and then talk and write about their transformation and the org will imply that this will eventually lead to peace and harmony. As you know very well, the conflict is about serious issues of injustice, dispossession, and racism. Kumbaya trips will not resolve the injustice, sadly, they might prolong it by providing the necessary whitewash cover that the occupier needs to sustain such inhumane practices.
    I am all for interfaith collaboration and dialogue. Let’s make sure we pick the right partners for such a dialogue. Let’s also make sure we involve the rest of the community in such sensitive engagements, not after the fact. Most importantly, we need to involve, not dismiss as angry or emotional, those who are most aware, affected, and engaged with the issue: the Palestinian American community. The last thing we need is to undermine the struggle for justice and freedom of Palestine in the name of our narrow-minded and stubborn understanding of engagement with hardcore zionists who don’t believe in the basic Palestinian right of return or equal citizenship just because they happen not to belong to the “right” ethnicity or religion, according to such Zionist orgs. The rule goes that if we cannot help a cause, at least we should not hurt it.

    Hussam Ayloush

  • Hussam Ayloush

    Sorry, I guess I mistyped my own name in the earlier comment. 🙂


  • Maruf Khan

    I am so glad you touched on this issue Omid. I, like many others, have been reading the back-and-forth on this issue and have been somewhat torn. This article answers a lot of questions. It will hopefully bring all sides a little closer together for dialogue as well as a stand towards justice – two things you inspire in all your readers all the time.

  • Larry

    No comment at all about the leadership of Gaza, Hamas?

    Nothing about the money flowing into Gaza from Iran, but all of it used to fill militant coffers?

    Nothing about Gaza’s other neighbor Egypt who easily could render any kind of Israeli blockade moot? There are not even settlements anymore in Gaza, why should there still be a conflict?

    Nothing about Hamas’s Taliban-like iron grip on the populous of Gaza? How they drove out, moderates, Fatah members or anyone who remotely looks for peaceful resolution?

    Nothing on how Hamas uses civilian facilities as weapons depots to deliberately invite Israeli attack?

    Frankly until Palestinian leaders get off of the Iranian and Arab League payroll, stop acting like proxy soliders for the Arab/Israeli conflict and Saudi/Iran cold war, they will always be mired in misery.

    It would be nice if there was a civil rights movement like MLK’s in Palestinian areas, but their leaders would either exile or kill such people once they are no longer useful for foreign propaganda. If any nation in the Middle East could possibly be affected by such a thing, it would be democratic Israel. Anyone else in the region would just shoot the organizers and raze the communities they came from.

    The last thing Palestinian leaders want is a democratic, non-violent political movement. When that happens, people start demanding things they haven’t seen ever, like government accountable to its people, not siphoning all economic activity into the piggy banks of political factions, peace.

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  • Hi Larry. Let’s make a deal: we’ll get Iran and Arab league off of Hamas, you work to get America to stop funding Israel at a tune of 3 billion dollars a year over the last 30+ years. Deal?
    If you want to see Palestinian nonviolent movement, study the “5 Broken Camera” film, which talks about the nonviolent movement there. And how Israel has used every opportunity to crush the Palestinian nonviolent movement. Here’s one example:
    In a sense, the current Israeli government loves dealing with Hamas, because it allows them to unleash the one language they understand: brute force.

  • sun

    Blessed be the peacemakers.

  • larry

    Given the disappearance of my rather lengthy rebuttal, it is clear you are not interested in an objective or informed view of Palestinian leadership.

    Hamas and Fatah only tolerate non violent groups which get media attention, do not criticize the corrupt leaders or ask for democracy.

    What would happen if Hamas renounced its war with Israel and demanded relations as a legitimate nation state? We will never

  • sleepless

    Hamas was established in 1987; Israel in 1948. To depict Hamas as the reason of the military conflict is to deliberately hide the complicated history and hence the real reasons of the problem. The main reason of the bloodshed is the denial of facts by Israel and people like you. Israel does not want peace, and it never did (see: It is the state based violence, occupation and apartheid committed on a daily basis by Israel (and supported & funded by the US and people like you) that strengthens radical reactions like Hamas. We have little hope for peace, and even less hope, after seeing unfortunate responses like yours.

  • Larry

    Memories and facts are notoriously selective with cheerleaders for the Palestinians. Especially those people willing to ignore the fact they are supporting a violent theocratic government. Especially when they fail to acknowledge there are really 2 Palestinian states right now. Anyone who speaks of the Palestinians as a single unified group is deliberately misstating the situation.

    Denial of facts? So how did Hamas gain control of Gaza again? Through fratricidal violence. You guys always forget there is a civil war going on among Palestinian factions. You also always ignore the fact that both sides are beholden to foreign powers (Iran and the Arab League) with no interest in peace in the region.

    You also ignore the fact that Israel has made peace with its enemies before. The Oslo Accords was the closest thing to a real peaceful resolution and Hamas was instrumental in killing it.

    Btw what occupation of Gaza? There are no more settlements there.
    Israel can’t blockade Gaza completely either. It is adjacent to Egypt, but the Egyptians catch no flak when they seal off that end of the border. Did you know Israel tried to give Gaza back to Egypt as part of the peace treaty at the end of the October 1973 War? Egypt didn’t want them.

    What does Hamas do to allegedly secure the freedom of the people they pretend to govern? They fire rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians. How does that further their goal of independent statehood? It doesn’t. It merely invites reprisals and puts Gaza in a siege mentality.

    Hamas has no desire to actually govern its own people. By keeping Gazans in constant fear, they absolve themselves from having to look out for the welfare of the under their control.

    Until Hamas can do something besides terrorize its own population and fire rockets at Israeli civilians, nobody is going to take them or their supporters seriously.

    That being said, I believe the only way towards peace is a multi-state solution. Israel has to get rid of the West Bank settlements, Palestinians absolutely need peaceful existence with Israel if they are ever to have a chance at normal economic existence.

  • shireen

    Omid, Thank you for this useful and inspiring piece. There is a national webinar today with key religious leaders at noon PST to explore the situation, our role and solutions. Here’s the link:

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  • Susan

    “There are reasons why I personally have not accepted these invitations from Jewish organizations to go to Israel and will not do so as long as the occupation endures.”

    Will the occupation end one day sooner because you don’t go to Israel? I don’t think so. Will the occupation last longer because you don’t go to Israel? Possibly. I do want the occupation of the West Bank to end so I think you should go.

    It is true that some Jews are not Zionists, but most are. The religious Jews who are anti-Zionists don’t believe there should be a Jewish state until the Messiah comes. They think that God will establish a Jewish state eventually and that Jews should just wait patiently.

    I don’t apologize for being a Zionist. Jews need one space on the planet where they can control their own destiny. Right now Jews are leaving France for Israel, because of the attacks of French Muslims. I can live in American, because Israel exists. Modern Zionism is a response to the failure of assimilation to solve the problem of antisemitism. Zionists did make one mistake. They thought that having a state would normalize Jews, but it hasn’t.

  • Ted

    The blight on humanity that is commonly known as “Islam” very specifically instructs the followers of its crazy fictions to kill and maim nonbelievers. It is the only popular superstition that is worse than Christianity in that regard.

    Let’s put the sick, murderous superstition known as Islam behind us and into its grave, for the benefit of all humanity.

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  • Very good article.

  • Eman H Aly

    I’m having a hard time reconciling this piece with your petition against MLI. No need to respond. Just sharing.

  • AmericanEagle

    Is this a dream world? “Prejudice against Hispanic immigrants”? Oh, really? After 20 million have entered the country illegally and have been allowed to live and work here? “Women’s rights being rolled back”? Only in Muslim-majority countries. Even gays have marital rights now. How about gays in any Muslim country? “A planet environmentally being destroyed”? Seriously? By a less than one degree Celsius increase in the average global temperature over the last 135 years?

    Why is Palestine a bleeding wound 68 years after the two state proposal that was supposed to be the solution to the competing claims by both sides? Who rejected this proposal? Was it Israel? Who attacked Israel in 1948 and several times thereafter? Who has refused to accept Israel’s right to exist? Does anyone here know what the Hamas Covenant says? Who walked away from Clinton’s peace proposal? What happened after Israel withdrew from Gaza? Did peace follow?

  • AmericanEagle

    Dr. Safi, I think you are confused by what is going on. It is the Palestinians, aided and abetted by several Arab countries, who have tried to use brute force since 1948, and they have failed every time. You don’t even have Egypt and Jordan and Iraq on your side now.

    The Hamas Covenant requires the Palestinians to wipe Israel off the map and kill Jews. The Jews are not interested in being wiped off the map. The Nazis tried and failed. You don’t have the strength to finish the job.

    I have a deal for you. You get the Palestinians to accept Israel’s right to exist and to renounce violence against their citizens and I will get them to sit down and negotiate all your grievances with you.

    This could have been done in 1948, but, alas, it was not to be. If five Arab armies could not finish them off who is going to do so now?

    Your side has lost – like every group throughout history that does not have the strength to take back what they think they have lost, you need to…

  • AmericanEagle

    Sun – please read this and see who has no intentions of any peace that includes Israel:

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