While sitting in my car the other day, waiting to pick up my daughter from school, I got a call on my phone. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
The caller was a Jewish Louisvillian, a fairly prominent member of the community. He was troubled by the violence in Israel, and he wanted to talk.
Understanding that there wasn’t much we could do to influence events there, he nevertheless wanted to do something to lessen the pain and anger that millions of people were feeling.
He talked about some way to stay connected with Muslims in Louisville during the spasm of violence, which paused last week with the cease-fire. After all, blood is the least common denominator in this conflict.
“Can’t we at least grieve together?” He asked.
Those words have stuck with me.
I thought about them while reading an opinion piece in the London Jewish Chronicle about Mufti Abu Layth, a U.K. Muslim cleric living in Birmingham – pro-Palestinian, to be sure – who nevertheless proposed publicly a nonviolent solution to the plight of his co-religionists.
According to the author of the piece, Fiyaz Mughal, the mufti recently made a 30-minute video in which he said that Palestinians, if they believe they have no future in the region, should protect their lives by leaving.
He based his position on a historical Islamic concept called Hijra – migration due to external societal issues. Arguably, Jews have done the same thing, fleeing tsarist Russia or Nazi Germany when things got hot. For the record, this column does not endorse his proposal.
The mufti paid for his opinion.
The day after an edited video of his remarks was posted on YouTube, “a mob of some half a dozen men, with their faces covered and one holding a baseball bat, broke the windows of his home and entered while his family were relaxing in the evening,” Mughal wrote. “One can be heard shouting the name of the mufti while others shout abuse at him and threatened him for “daring to give away Al-Aqsa” – the mosque in Jerusalem’s Al-Haram Es-Sharif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
All for daring to support a nonviolent approach.
By the way, the author of the piece, Mughal, is the founder and trustee of Muslims Against Antisemitism in the United Kingdom, a “charity made up of British Muslims who believe it is the duty of everyone to challenge antisemitism in all its guises,” according to its website.”
While critical of what he called “Israeli injustice,” the mufti contended it wasn’t worth spilling blood. Now he’s in fear for his life and those of his family.
Can we not grieve with him, as my friend on the phone wished? Could grieving be the common ground we need?
Common ground isn’t a new idea. Jewish-Muslim outreach has been going on for years, including here, where a Louisville chapter of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council was established in December 2019. One of its founders, Dr. Muhammad Babar, reached out to Jewish leaders during the fighting, reaffirming relations. He also spoke to Temple Shalom during Shabbat.
More must be done.
Putting aside long-hardened opinions on who’s right or wrong long enough to recognize that everyone is grieving (or should) is a practice that needs buy-in by us all.
This cease-fire or de-escalation (whatever you prefer to call it) is an opportunity. Estranged families – and Jews and Arabs are family – sometimes heal wounds when they come together to bury a loved one.
During this lull in hostilities, we should not miss a single chance to reach out and grieve with the Arabs and Muslims of our city. Maybe we’ll be rebuffed; maybe we won’t. For the sake of the future, though, we should try.
(Lee Chottiner is the editor of the Jewish Louisville Community.)