Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or and Imam Mohamed AbuTaleb of the Islamic Association of Raleigh pastor, teach and counsel their two congregations and the larger religious communities they represent. Sometimes, they also have to build bridges between the two.
The last time it happened was in January, when a member of Dinner’s synagogue forwarded her a link to the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI. The Washington-based Muslim-monitoring website had posted video excerpts of a lecture given by a Muslim scholar weeks before at an unnamed Raleigh mosque. In the clips, the speaker cited verses from the Quran prophesying that Jerusalem eventually will be returned to Muslim control, and that Muslims “will fight those Jews until the rocks and the trees will speak: Oh Muslim, this is a Jew behind me.”
In sharing the link with Dinner, the synagogue member demanded the rabbi issue a public statement of condemnation for what MEMRI called an anti-semitic sermon that had been delivered the day after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Tensions were heightened at the time because it was feared the announcement would prompt renewed fighting in the region. For decades, the U.S. had avoided declaring Jerusalem the Israeli capital, because Palestinians claim it as well, and its control had been regarded as a tool in Mideast peace negotiations.
But instead of announcing a condemnation, Dinner made a phone call.
She rang AbuTaleb and asked the rabbinical equivalent of, “What the heck?”
“I could do that because we already had a relationship,” said Dinner, who has served Temple Beth Or, one of about 10 local synagogues, since 1993 and has known AbuTaleb since he came to the mosque in 2015. Without watching the video, she said, she knew that if it contained anti-Jewish sentiments, they weren’t coming from AbuTaleb and they didn’t represent most of the 3,500 followers who attend services each week at his mosque.
In fact, the person who delivered the lecture, while a Triangle resident, was not an imam at any of the dozen or so mosques in the Triangle, AbuTaleb said. Local Muslim leaders have since talked to the man and say it was a mistake made by someone who is not a native English speaker and who thought his audience was sophisticated enough not to need additional context.
Still, the edited video was widely circulated on the internet and was upsetting enough to some that the mosque received “serious and credible” threats, forcing it to tighten security to protect worshipers and children who attend school on the property.
Dinner and AbuTaleb both said the incident was unfortunate, but that it served as a reminder of why it’s important for Jews and Muslims – two religious minorities in the area – to forge friendships across faith lines.
It’s easy to spread misinformation, hate and fear on the internet, Dinner and AbuTaleb said.
Breaking stereotypes by getting to know people whose beliefs and tradition are different from one’s own “is hard work,” AbuTaleb said, but without ongoing conversations, there is no basis for clearing up misunderstandings when they arise.
Interfaith efforts are not new, and Muslims, Jews and Christians in the area have found ways to work together, holding food drives, for instance, in honor of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha, three Muslims who were shot to death in Chapel Hill on Feb. 10, 2015.
In the past, Dinner said, faith leaders have studied together, focusing on verses common to their sacred texts, and she said teachers are organizing some study sessions now to begin this spring. Later, those could be expanded to lay people in each faith.