By: Michelle Naim  | 

Muslim Delegation Participates in Interfaith Dialogue at YU

An interfaith dialogue was held at Yeshiva University in conjunction with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) on Dec. 2, 2019, on the theme of “Tradition and Modernity: Religious Identity and Civic Engagement in the United States.” The event was organized by Rabbi Dr. Stuart Halpern, Senior Advisor to the Provost, and Dr. Ari Gordon, the Director of U.S. Muslim-Jewish Relations for the AJC.

The meeting brought American Muslim religious leaders and Modern Orthodox institutions together. “The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council (MJAC) is one of the AJC’s signature domestic initiatives, taking our relationships beyond dialogue to advocacy and action on issues of mutual concern, on domestic policy issues, in a bipartisan manner,” Dr. Ari Gordon, the AJC’s Director of Muslim-Jewish Relations, said. The focus of the meeting was to learn how each faith can continue to retain their identity within the context of the modern world. 

The 12-person Muslim delegation was spearheaded by Imam Mohamed Magid, Executive Imam of All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center. His four-branch mosque community is based in Sterling, Virginia and serves 25,000 Muslims in Washington, DC.

The day began at Yeshiva University with a tour of the Glueck Beit Midrash where the Muslim and Jewish delegations watched students learn and engage in Torah texts with Roshei Yeshiva. They also heard a presentation made by then-Special Advisor to the President Rabbi Ari Lamm about the future direction of YU. 

Various members of YU’s administration attended the interfaith event, including President Ari Berman, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Selma Botman, Dean of Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dr. Karen Bacon, Dean of the Sy Syms School of Business Dr. Noam Wasserman, Dean of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration Dr. Rona Novick and Dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies Dr. David Berger.

President Berman welcomed the Muslim delegates. “One of the core values of Yeshiva University is the role faith can and should play in contributing positively to the broader society,” said Berman. “Our conversation with Imam Magid and his fellow Islamic American leaders on the opportunities our respective traditions can and should play in the betterment of mankind is inspiring for all involved, and we look forward to building a brighter future together.”

Muslim participants heard about the Beit Din of America (Jewish religious court) from rabbis at YU and specific Jewish laws related to the court system. The delegations also discussed how to conduct themselves in an interest-driven economy according to their respective religious guidelines. 

Other topics of conversation included the benefits of co-education settings while maintaining traditional religious values, how to address religious doubt amongst students and vaping. 

After visiting YU, the Muslim participants made their way to SAR High School, where they met with founding principal Rabbi Naftali Harcsztark, administrators, teachers and students. The purpose of the visit was to highlight the school’s unique approach to bringing together Jewish and religious values and American culture.  

According to Gordon, many Jews and Muslims are joining in conversation together in America, but most Orthodox and Modern Orthodox institutions stay out of the fold. This meeting was seen by him as an opportunity to change that. “It is important to connect Modern Orthodox Jews and American Muslims, because we navigate many of the same challenges that arise in nurturing religious commitments alongside broader civic and cultural life,” Gordon said.  

“I was impressed with how diverse the Muslim group was. I guess, I should not have been, considering how far-flung Islam has spread,” said Dr. Jill  Katz, Clinical Assistant Professor of Archeology at Stern College, who attended the event. “Nevertheless, the diversity of the group made an impression — they or their parents came from Afghanistan, Africa, America, Pakistan, etc.” According to Katz, the parameters of discussion were established before the meeting began and no points of conflict arose.

According to Dr. Ronnie Perelis, an associate professor at the Bernard Revel Graduate School, the event “was one of respect, curiosity, great conversations, questions, answers, listening and learning. He explained that his classes often discuss the history of the Jews in Spain. “A central feature of that history is the ways that Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together, learned from each other — and despite real tensions and conflict — managed to create a dazzling culture.” 

Gordon expressed interest in holding more interfaith discussions.“We hope that the visit to two flagship institutions of Modern Orthodox Judaism will inspire other Orthodox schools and synagogues to engage further with American Muslims, and that likewise, American Muslim communities will see Orthodox Jews as more approachable dialogue partners to learn from and about,” said Gordon. 

As of the time of publication, Imam Magid could not be reached for comment.

Photo Caption: Dr. Ari Berman and Imam Mohamed Magid 
Photo Credit: YUNews