In a first-of-its-kind visit, a delegation of Indian Muslim leaders is currently on an extensive tour of Israel. The group's leader repeatedly expressed his pleasure at having his preconceptions about Israel overturned. The Muslim leaders' visit to Sderot on
A delegation of rabbis, including Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger, made a similar trip to India.
Monday included a first-hand lesson on Palestinian Authority rocket attacks.
The Indian Muslim visit to Israel was arranged at the invitation of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council. Earlier this year, a delegation of rabbis, including Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger, made a similar trip to India.
Maulana Jamil Ilyasi, president of the All India Organisation of Imams and Mosques, is heading the Indian delegation. His group represents about 500,000 imams and 200 million Indian Muslims, 40% of the global Muslim population. Among the other members of the delegation are Akhtarul Wasey, the head of the department of Islamic Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, Mahmoodur Rahman, former vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), and Sahara Samay editor Aziz Burney.
According to the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), when the Hindustan Express carried a front-page story about the visit of prominent Muslims to Israel, at least one member of the group, Sirajuddin Qureshi, dropped out. As a major meat exporter, Qureshi " feared the news of his journey to Israel could adversely affect his business prospects," according to IANS. The news agency noted that the visit has caused controversy among Indian Muslims.
'Muslims in India Should Come See for Themselves'
"The Jews I have met here say that we are all children of Abraham, part of the same family," Imam Ilyasi said with a measure of surprise. "This is something I didn't hear in India. The Muslims in India should come and see things for themselves."
Ilyasi said his visit had reversed many of his own prejudices: "My initial impression was that the Israelis are certainly dominating Muslims out here. Once I came here, that impression completely changed. I saw the reality on the ground, the mutual respect Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews have for each other. Constant conflict is not the reality here." In Jerusalem, he said, "I saw that Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side by side happily, not at each other's throats."
In fact, Ilyasi claimed, in some ways, Israel treats Muslims better than India does: "I was pleasantly surprised to know that the Sharia (Islamic law) is being supported by the Israeli government; whereas, in India, only local Muslims implement it. That is unique." Ilyasi was apparently referring to the existence of government-sanctioned Islamic courts in the Israeli justice system, which handle marriage, divorce and conversion issues for Muslim Israelis. Similar religious courts exist for Jews and Christians.
Rabbi David Rosen, AJC's international director of inter-religious affairs in New York, said, "This visit is of great strategic importance and hopefully will impact on the wider Muslim world as well."
Unfortunately, the Muslim delegation also learned a different lesson on Monday, while visiting the Negev city of Sderot, a frequent target of Palestinian Authority rocket attacks.
"We heard a warning shot which was followed by a siren. We were immediately rushed to a shelter house where we heard the sound of a rocket attack," a member of the delegation told the Times of India.
Joint Declaration With the Chief Rabbis
The delegation of Muslim Indian leaders took part in an inter-religious dialogue on Sunday with representatives of the Chief Rabbinate, which concluded with the signing of a joint declaration with the two Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Yonah Metzger and Rabbi Shlomo Amar.
"It is high time for the religious leaders of both sides to engage in dialogue and use their collective influence to stop the bloodshed of innocent civilians," the declaration said. "Rather, we need to condemn killings, reject extremism, and the misuse of religion for acts of violence. Suicide is a forbidden act in Islam and therefore suicidal attacks can not find sanction."
Muslim Indian leaders took part in an inter-religious dialogue on Sunday.
Even before his visit to Israel, Ilyasi said that Indian Muslims "believe in the Indian tradition of resolving issues through dialogue and peaceful means."
"The time for violence has come to an end, and the era of peace and dialogue between Muslims and Jews has begun," said Ilyasi. He also called on Pakistan to establish official relations with the Jewish State.
The Indian delegation was also received by President Shimon Peres, who said that whereas past international efforts focused on separating religion from the state, the current struggle is to separate all religions from all types of terrorism. Peres went on to say that the One God respects human life without distinction and hate. "We are all children of Abraham," the President said, adding, "Jerusalem is a living example of co-existence among all the religions. The voice of the Muslim muezzin, the bells of the Christian church and the song of the Jewish cantor - all rise together to Heaven, unhindered, without borders, and with no need for visas."
President Peres also noted the Indian struggle against terrorism and factionalism, praising the country for maintaining its democratic character throughout.