Controversy over American Muslim groups’ trip to Jerusalem

Controversy over American Muslim groups’ trip to Jerusalem

by Sheila Musaji

A controversy has been playing out within the American Muslim Community.  It is part of the ongoing controversy about Muslim engagement exemplified by last year’s White House Iftar War. At that time, I noted:

... However, the discussion On Facebook and twitter, and on some blogs in response to these articles has become strident and judgmental, and has in some cases descended to name calling and insults.   Names like “house Muslim”, “traitors”,  and other egregious comments are being thrown around with no context.  This is inappropriate and truly surprising coming from some individuals who have themselves been on the receiving end of such baseless slurs in the past, and should know better.   Twitter is limited to 140 characters, not enough to spell out a coherent argument, pro or con.  If those who are angry about the decision of others want to contribute to a reasonable discussion, perhaps they should write a cogent article explaining their reasoning, and post the link on social media.  There are perfectly valid arguments on both sides of this issue.  Name calling doesn’t advance any argument.

That this discussion has become so bitter is very problematic, especially when Muslims have struggled so hard for so many years in order to have their voices heard.  There is a full time Islamophobia industry engaged in a concerted effort to marginalize American Muslim civic participation.  To attack those who are attempting to build bridges, forge relationships, and open channels of communication in such a spiteful manner is destructive for the entire community.   ...

  That statement holds true for the current controversy.  Here is a brief summary of what has happened to date:

It began when a group of American Muslim leaders and activists accepted an invitation from the Shalom Hartman Institute to come to Jerusalem as part of the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI) to study Judaism.  The group was led by Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke University.  As Imam Antepli explains:

... I conceived, created and conducted the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI) through Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) in Jerusalem. It was my idea and suggestion to create such program. Its creation and completion of its first pilot program inspired this essay. This is an honest and truthful account of what MLI is, how it has developed so far, and what were and are my hopes and expectations for its success.

But I do not claim to speak for all participants, their reasons for attending, or their takeaways.  I can only share my story.

MLI attempts to reverse the negative flow and create a different energy for critical Muslim-American thinkers to establish healthier relationships –  primarily with American Jewish communities – without compromising their loyalties and attachments to the Palestinian cause. It is to initiate a unilateral, sincere Muslim attempt to learn and make sense of Judaism, Jews, Israel and Zionism through the eyes of the people and communities who self-identify this way.  It was critical to engage with a self-identified Zionist Jewish organization because they are the groups American Muslims rarely engage, because we often exist on the opposite political spectrum and in isolated silos. In its essence Nothing more, nothing less.

Let me again be very clear: Engagement is not a total agreement. The program was not intended to and does not develop a Muslim voice in support of Israel or to justify Israeli policies, or to agree with the Zionist vision, which many people throughout the world have strong disagreements with. Furthermore, engagement is not acquiescence. It is not uncritical, wholesale adoption of the other’s political and religious ideologies. It is persistently incremental and patiently hopeful. It seeks opportunity to have a space that can create a more meaningful conversation, debate, pushback and critical discussion that can gently move both communities forward – together.

For years, I have been eagerly looking and shopping for credible voices and institutions respected within both American and Israeli Jewish communities who are interested in telling me their version of the story with no expectation that I would agree with it. I was looking for such Jewish and Israeli individuals and institutions who are not in the business of sheer propaganda (there are way too many of them), who are not looking for quick, cheap answers, who are not interested in recruiting loyalists, who realize this current stalemate and ongoing bloodshed can only result in an apocalyptic ending, who share my pain about the grim conditions of the present and who are as determined – if not more – to invest in every possible positive alternative.  ...  You can read more about the Muslim Leadership Initiative HERE

Rabia Chaudry, one of the participants wrote Jerusalem: Full Disclosure from Jerusalem.  She explained how and why she accepted the invitation.

After the trip, Rabia wrote a second article What a Muslim American Learned from Zionists which was picked up by Time.  After this, social media was filled with accusations, and insults.

Sana Saeed published An Interfaith Trojan Horse: Faithwashing Apartheid and Occupation, and Abdullah Al-Arian and Hafsa Kanjwal published The perils of American Muslim politics in which they expressed their objections to the groups’ decision to accept the invitation.

Rabia Chaudry responded to these objections in Ten things about the Hartman Program

Imam Abdullah Antepli also responded to these objections in After Abraham, Before Peace – Navigating the Divides

And yesterday, Prof. Omid Safi published From Ibrahim to Khalil:  Healing through the flames, American Islam and Palestine/Israel attempting to heal the rift that has developed in the community, and providing context.

Rather than adding my own comments to this controversy, I will only say that anyone who is interested in this issue should read all of the articles provided with an open mind, and then come to your own conclusions.  And, I would hope that even those who disagree would do so in a civil manner.

Sheila Musaji is the founding editor of The American Muslim (TAM), published since 1989.  Sheila received the Council on American-Islamic Relations 2007 Islamic Community Service Award for Journalism,  and the Loonwatch Anti-Loons of 2011: Profiles in Courage Award for her work in fighting Islamophobia.  Sheila was selected for inclusion in the 2012 edition of The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims published since 2009 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.    Biography  You can follow her on twitter @sheilamusaji ( )