American Jewish group takes Indian Muslims to Israel
Tel Aviv/New York/New Delhi, Aug 16 (IANS) A delegation of Indian Muslim leaders are touring Israel in an unprecedented visit that is part of the American Jewish Committee's (AJC) efforts to showcase the country as a tolerant society and to improve Muslim-Jewish relations.
Maulana Jamil Ilyasi, president of the All India Organisation of Imams and Mosques, is leading the Indian delegation.
"We are coming with the message of peace and goodwill from Indian Muslims who believe in the Indian tradition of resolving issues through dialogue and peaceful means," said Ilyasi, who is the leader of 500,000 imams across India.
"Our visit to Israel will be historical in terms of developing a dialogue between Judaism and Islam in the Indian subcontinent, where more than 40 percent of the world's Muslim population lives. Interaction with both Palestinian and Jewish sisters and brothers and their religious leadership will lay a solid foundation for future engagement," llyasi said.
The visit is sponsored by Project Interchange, an institute of the AJC, in coordination with the Australia Israel Jewish Affairs Council. The influential Jewish lobby wants to portray that Israel is keen to accommodate Muslims in its quest for lasting peace in the Middle East.
Israel, an ally of the US, is at pains to deflect some of the anti-American hostility that gets directed towards it due to the US interventionist policy in the Middle East, especially in the aftermath of the Iraq occupation.
"This visit is of great strategic importance and hopefully will impact on the wider Muslim world as well," said Rabbi David Rosen, AJC's international director of inter-religious affairs in New York.
"Members of this delegation have direct influence on a wide cross section of some 200 million Muslims all over India," he pointed out.
The delegation will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and with Jewish and Muslim religious leaders. They will participate in an inter-religious dialogue with a delegation of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and sign a joint declaration with the two Chief Rabbis.
The declaration states that while relations between Muslims and Jews have deteriorated in the course of the last century as a result of political factors, "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.
"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."
Apart from Ilyasi, the team includes prominent members of a committee formed during the 2004 general election called the Atal Himayat Committee (after former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee).
Ilyasi first shot into prominence during the regime of former prime minister P.V. Narsimha Rao in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition when he floated his Imams' Organisation to secure government salaries for the imams of mosques.
The Himayat Committee originally included Sirajuddin Qureshi, a prominent meat exporter of Delhi who chairs the India Islamic Centre; 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.
But news of the Muslim delegation going to Israel caused quite a stir in the community in India. A well-known Urdu daily, Hindustan Express, carried a front-page story Monday about the proposed journey and at least one member, Sirajuddin Qureshi, dropped out.
Sources said this was because his major meat exports are to Middle East nations and he feared the news of his journey to Israel could adversely affect his business prospects.
The Israel visit follows a trip to India earlier this year by Jewish rabbis to Delhi for an inter-faith meeting. The meet led to a joint statement that drew criticism from extremist groups in India and Pakistan.