The typical view,” said Ismail Amaan, “is that Muslims and Jews can’t get along. We’ve proven that wrong.”Amaan and fellow Muslim Jewish Forum cofounder Rabbi Herschel Gluck have spent the past five years disproving “the typical view” by bringing together devout Muslims and Orthodox Jews in London’s Stamford Hill neighborhood, where the two communities live side-by-side.The two men, with beards and head coverings and both strictly observant, may not seem like the most natural of partners. They were brought together, they told The Jerusalem Post, by common political interests.Describing the forum’s work in Stamford Hill, they recounted their successes in lobbying together to preserve legal rights to kosher and halal slaughtering practices and burial procedures, as well as the status of religious education, and to win various housing and social benefits.There is also the day-to-day issue of maintaining good neighborly ties, for which both Amaan and Gluck credit a shared sense of trust and decency.“People [here] are prepared to go the extra mile for each other. They trust each other,” said Gluck.“Islam encourages people to respect our neighbors, and that ethos exists here,” said Amaan, agreeing.Comparing the peace between Muslims and Jews in Stamford Hill to the relatively positive relations between Muslims and Jews in Spain, he said, “The bottom line is that our relationship is a true relationship.” The forum has even addressed more poignant and difficult issues such as terrorism.“Muslims in the forum have condemned all kinds of terrorism, not just in front of British audiences, but in front of foreign Muslim audiences as well. When it comes to the killing of innocents, any decent human being would get up and condemn it,” Gluck said.“After the Mike’s Place bombing,” he added, “we put out a very strongly-worded condemnation of it. As usual, I wrote the release, and when I did so, I took into consideration that there were people [in the Muslim community] who would have trouble condemning it in strong terms. But when I brought it to my Muslim friends in the forum, they insisted that I make it stronger.”Gluck has also stepped up on behalf of the Muslim community. After the first series of bombings in London earlier this month, which were claimed by an Islamist group, he spoke in defense of the country’s Muslims at a rally at the North London Muslim Community Center.“The police have said that what this forum has achieved is very special, that it has managed to keep relations not just on an even keel, but to keep them positive in these difficult times,” he commented.Amaan said that many of the Muslims in the neighborhood have family and friends in their countries of origin – India and Southeast Asia, largely – and that they have encouraged the relationship established through the forum.
One element that helps the two groups maintain such a friendly relationship is the fact that Israel is not a particularly divisive issue. While Gluck said many of the Jews who participate in the forum’s activities are strongly supportive of Israel, he and most of his community members are not.“I am not a Zionist,” he explained. “But I do have a very good relationship with the Israeli administration.”Amaan said of the issue, “We’re sophisticated enough here in Stamford Hill to realize that Jews and Israelis are not the same thing… and they know that Muslims are not representative of Hamas, either.” He said the forum is even considering a trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the next few months.
Finally we turn to the question of the Middle East and Israel. It has been widely reported in recent months that the majority of the Hasidic community in Stamford Hill is anti-Zionist and objects to the existence of the state of Israel. ‘The Holy Land is a special place and religious Jews love the land and the people. However, Zionism is a secular ideology and has contributed to the secularisation of many Jews. The state of Israel wasn’t the best way forward for Jewish people. Today more than ever, both in the land of Israel and around the world, we all feel passionately that we want and need Moshiach (the coming of the Messiah).’The orthodox Jews see themselves as ‘keepers of the faith’ and are at best unhappy when the deeply-entrenched, spiritual traditions of Judaism are under attack, as they claim they are from many quarters within Israel. The most extreme anti-Zionist group in the area are the Neturei Karta, around 100 families, who provoked outrage from many within London’s wider Jewish community when they joined Palestinians in protesting at a recent anti-Israel rally in the West End. I ask the Rabbi, then, if he is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. He smiled and commented ‘ I am sympathetic to the suffering of any human being’.
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