the delegations of rabbis and imams
the delegations of rabbis and imamscourtesy

Amidst the heightened tensions from the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, leading to fears of deteriorating relations between Jews and Muslims, a delegation of Israeli imams and rabbis met a delegation of American imams in Morocco. The initiative is a collaboration of the Ohr Torah Interfaith Center in Israel, the Islamic Coalition for Peace and Reconciliation (I-CPR), a group of Imams who are students of the late Imam W. Deen Mohammed (Muslim American Spokesman for Human Salvation), the largest African-American Muslim group in the United States, and Sharaka, a joint Israeli-Arab organization working to forge warm ties and collaborations on the foundation of the Abraham Accords. The delegation was accompanied by Faical Marjani, head of the Maroc Co-Existence Association.

While in Morocco, the delegates met with Moroccan religious, social, and political leaders to "transform religious identities from potential sources of conflict into catalysts for harmony and learn from the Moroccan model,” according to organizers.

Learning together/credit: Ohr Torah

Rabbi Yakov Nagen, Executive Director of the Ohr Torah Interfaith Center, said, “The horrific events of October 7th gave the world a close encounter with the outcomes of the weaponization of religion and the challenge it poses to global stability. On top of that, the recent upheaval in Gaza has also led to a surge in antisemitism around the world, while Muslim communities suffer the consequences of Islamophobia. This situation creates a confluence of interests for Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, and we believe that the time has come for them to step up and forge creative alliances with one another.”

The ongoing war has led to serious concerns that the significant advancements in Muslim-Jewish relations in recent years, particularly with the success of the Abraham Accords, could be in serious jeopardy. The delegation, which met in Israel this past August and has been working together worldwide, chose to travel to Morocco to convey that religious coexistence efforts must be viewed separately from any political or security developments, undoubtedly leading to friction between the two communities. Morocco was chosen for its unique Jewish and Muslim co-existence history for hundreds of years. The delegation was inspired by His Majesty, King Mohammad the 6th, who once said, “The three Abrahamic religions were not created to be tolerant of one another out of some unavoidable fate, or out of courtesy to one another. The reason they exist is to open up to one another and to know one another, so as to do one another good.”

“We are all too aware of the tensions and skepticism towards coexistence that the current war has created,” said Rabbi Aharon Ariel Lavi, Managing Director of the Ohr Torah Interfaith Center. “As a resident of the Gaza border, who was there as a medic on October 7th, I am far from being naïve and know exactly what evil we are facing. This is exactly why this connection is so important, to prevent the transformation of our local conflict into a full-fledged religious world war. This is exactly what Iran wants, and we must not fall into this trap.”

The delegation held an official visit to the Mausoleum of Kings Mohammad the 5th and Hassan II. Mohammad the 5th is famous for having saved Morocco’s Jews during the Holocaust when he refused to transfer them to the hands of the Nazis during the Vichy Regime. In his honor, the delegation held a Jewish requiem prayer in Hebrew at his tomb for the first time in history, led by Rabbi Doron Danino, who also comes from Moroccan descent.

Imam Talib Shareef, a world-renowned leader of interfaith dialogue and head of the Nation’s Mosque and the I-CPR, said, “The good news is that before the horrors of the current crisis, we visited Israel, hosted by Sharaka, to meet and study with rabbis in the best interest of our everyday life, and shared experiences as people of faith. Our engagement came as a response to ongoing turmoil resulting from hate and the weaponization of religious identities. While this current war deeply disturbs us, it has strengthened our resolve to stay the course. We want to contribute to and draw from the historic Moroccan model of what’s necessary to instill hope and harmony and to help heal these deep wounds across the region and globe. Faith communities together are imperative towards advancing peace and reconciliation.”

Taking place during the holy month of Ramadan, the program allowed Jews and Muslims to enjoy the traditional Iftar meal together in a spirit of unity and collective understanding. The main event was an Iftar in Rabat with almost 150 dignitaries from all over the country in the presence of His Excellency Puneet Talwar, the United States Ambassador to Morocco. Talwar said that interfaith work is of utmost importance at this moment in history and encouraged the delegation’s participants to carry on their crucial work.

Mr. Dan Feferman, Executive Director of Sharaka, reflected that “Especially at this difficult time, we are proud to play a role in bringing together leading rabbis from Israel and imams from the US to build relationships, learn from one another, and offer their respective communities a positive example, inspiration, and leadership in these times when so many are turning away from dialogue and respect. We chose the Kingdom of Morocco as the site of the second meeting we are organizing between these groups because it is a country that has so successfully built a living model of coexistence with a long history of interfaith respect. We wish to honor it and learn from it.”

This delegation is another step in a long-term process that partners are leading to promote deep and historical reconciliation between Jews and Muslims. The process is inspired by the 1965 Nostra Aetate declaration, which effectively ended two millennia of hostility between Jews and Christians. Participants have already committed to an online mutual learning process and another delegation to the Emirates in the Fall.