‘A night of polite’ between Jews and Muslims in Atlanta

If you curled up in front of the TV on Tuesday, you saw members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, pair up like awkward fourth-graders at the school dance.

“The night of polite” became an underlying theme of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union evening — a bipartisan effort to muddy the clichés of talk radio and cable TV.

But if you had ventured into a bone-chilling rain and pointed yourself toward The Temple in midtown Atlanta that same evening, you might have seen the real thing: A Muslim scholar — one of the world’s best — explaining the Quran from the pulpit of a major synagogue.

In front of him was a mixed audience of 200 or so. Not of Republicans and Democrats, but Jews and Muslims, men and women, some in yarmulkes and some in hajibs. With the occasional bare-headed gentile thrown in for good measure.

The purpose in Atlanta was the same as in Washington — an attempt to escape the cartoon corner we have painted ourselves into.

On one hand, we sit on a globe splintered by politics, terrorism and at least three religions with histories that collectively stretch several thousand years. And yet, at this very moment, America’s most influential theologian may be Glenn Beck. The world can be a very silly place.

The two-hour session, “Understanding the Quran,” was sponsored by the Southeast division of the Anti-Defamation League, headed by former TV journalist Bill Nigut, and the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, led by Soumaya Khalifa.

Ice-breakers were tossed out — quips about things that American Muslims and Jews hold in common. For instance, a shared sense of not knowing what to do with themselves during Christmas. And a new governor of Alabama, who recently said that he views only Christians as his true brothers and sisters. (The statement was quickly retracted.)

But the main attraction was Joseph Lumbard, chair of Islamic and Middle East studies at Brandeis University. He addressed those troublesome Quranic verses, like this one:

“Slay the idolaters wheresoever ye find them. Capture them. Besiege them. And lie in wait for them at every place of ambush.”

Many Islamic scholars, Lumbard said, have judged that the verse is directed at a specific rival tribe in the deep past, and should not be used to justify terroristic acts in our world.

The Quran even has a verse acknowledging the likelihood of its own false prophets: “There will rise among this nation a people whose prayer will make you think little of your prayer,” Lumbard recited. “They recite the Quran, but it does not go past their throats.”

The first question from the audience was obvious. Where, the first interrogator asked Lumbard, were Islam’s moderates? They exist, and carry great weight in the Muslim world, he replied. But they are terrible at public relations. Another query: Is there an important difference between Sunni and Shiite? Yes, and far more than can be explained in a single evening, he said.

But the evening boiled down to religion and citizenship. Nigut, in his deep bass, took up the question of the separation of church and state — using Jesus’ admonition in the New Testament to render unto Caesar. Do Muslims have something similar?

Lumbard’s answer would have given comfort to many conservative Christians tired of Thomas Jefferson’s wall. “There isn’t what we would consider to be a separation of church of state,” he said. “Sometimes it works out that way, but from a Quranic perspective, there isn’t that.”

Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim, on stage to balance the question-and-answer session, shifted in his chair. “What you’re saying makes Jewish Americans nervous,” he admitted.

Nigut pointed out the irony. Many Christian Americans, polls show, remain suspicious of Jewish loyalty to Israel.

In the audience, Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta picked up the theme. Last year, Lewis delivered a fiery sermon that has become well known inside and outside Jewish circles.

“From Fort Hood to Bali, from Times Square to London, from Madrid to Mumbai, from 9/11 to Gaza, the murderers, the barbarians, are radical Islamists. To camouflage their identity is sedition. To excuse their deeds is contemptible. To mask their intentions is unconscionable,” the rabbi declared in October.

On this evening, Lewis — pointedly but politely — asked Lumbard whether Muslims in America considered themselves U.S. citizens.

Muslim minorities, Lumbard said, are “basically obligated to follow the laws of that particular state. Will your alliances lie with your religion before the country? Yes, they will,” he added. But the same rule applies in Islamic countries — creating the same tensions.

Lewis tried again. “I know that, at the Olympics, when I see the American get a gold medal and they play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ I cry,” the Marietta rabbi said. “So my question is, if an American Muslim sees somebody getting a gold medal for the United States and they play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ do they cry?”

“I cry,” the Muslim scholar assured him.

The evening closed with a reminder from a member of the audience. Perhaps he was of Pakistani extraction. A recent British study has found that home-grown Islamic terrorists are drawn, not from those well-versed in their religion, but from those who are fresh to the faith — and don’t understand its nuances.

A good reason for disposing of cartoons.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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43 comments Add your comment

Penny Lane

January 26th, 2011
7:15 pm

“A good reason for disposing of cartoons.”

What on earth does that mean? Were the Danish cartoons even discussed?


January 26th, 2011
8:22 pm

As a jew I am proud of the Temple for hosting this event…However, talk is cheap. As an American I am very wary of Islam and the dispropotionate number of Muslims involved in global terror activity. Add Israel to the mix and the threats of annihilation and war by Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran make me very nervous. I would like to see a sea change in the Muslim world in their view of violence as a legitimate tool of advancing their agendas…Keep talking but be aware…very aware and always ready to militarily neutralize the threat whenever and wherever…


January 26th, 2011
9:11 pm

Liberals hate cartoons except when the cartoons, half truths and character assinations are about conservatives.
I applaud the conversation. When we are real people with differences we are much more likely to find ways to cooperate than when we are spitting from our corners.

quit whining SawBe

January 26th, 2011
11:11 pm

rush limbaugh does enough liberal bashing to fill the library of congress


January 26th, 2011
11:34 pm

I attended the program and am thankful to the ADL and the Temple for hosting this. I’ll add a point to Jim’s coverage: The visiting scholar explained that the Quran are laws to live by, much the way the Torah and New Testament provide stories and instructions. All 3 books are open to interpretation as time passes and our world evolves. Islam has Sharia laws and the evolving Fiqh law much as Judaism has laws in the Torah accompanied by interpretations in the Talmud.
Bottom line: We need to get along, to coexist and preferably to respect and appreciate one another. We need to interpret the laws to help us get along, and not to rule the world.
As encouragement, listen to Bob Marley’s song, “One Love.”

Alabama Communist

January 27th, 2011
12:32 am

No doubt you were writing about Love Boat Earth!


January 27th, 2011
1:05 am

While Christians and Jews worship the same God, Yahweh (Jehova), Muslims worship Allah, then Moon God. Islam is incompatible with American culture and law.

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Death of America

January 27th, 2011
4:49 am

So glad we finally got back to “Merry Christmas” this past December but Islam is steadfastly taking over this country. It is only a matter of time where public transit will become a suicide haven for Mohammed extremists hell bent on converting and sending an example just as it’s done in Europe now. Then….it will become another day in America when we see suicide bomber stories on CNN or Fox simply because they are “exercising” their constitutional rights by fighting against profling!!!!

Death of America

January 27th, 2011
4:50 am

that would be “profiling”.


January 27th, 2011
5:05 am

Allah means God.
Eternal God
One Creator.


January 27th, 2011
5:08 am

There is no God but God.

T.J. Jackson

January 27th, 2011
7:36 am

Everything I need to know about Muslims, or the Koran, I learned on Sept. 11, 2001. There is only one God, God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.


January 27th, 2011
7:48 am

This was an opportunity for people to be open minded and learn about another culture. Always sad to see those who won’t open their mind just a little to begin to understand someone else.


January 27th, 2011
7:49 am

I am more concerned about the violent rhetoric of Obama than talk radio.


January 27th, 2011
7:59 am

The Shia/Sunni rift is the key here. Certainly Bush was ambushed by it in Iraq in 03. But look how complicated the region is: Iran is Persian, yet Shia. Iraq is Arab, and mostly Shia. Persians and Arabs can’t trust each other, yet they are united in the fact that they are both so damn Shia-licious.

That’s why Iraq survived as a country: The Iranians are so damn Persian. Thank God muslimsRracists2.

911. We must never forget that we must never let the terrorists win by default, that is, that we take our own freedoms from ourselves in an ill-conceived attempt to prevent another 911.

Support the Troops!


January 27th, 2011
8:02 am

All religions are elaborated myths.

Inman Park

January 27th, 2011
8:25 am

I strongly urge my lovely Jewish friends not to succumb again to the “Stockholm Syndrome.”


January 27th, 2011
8:52 am

I was a witness to this talk. It was an irony that the ADL hosted this talk: Muslims give little credit to their Jewish fellow-citizens. The willingness of the ADL (and The Temple), and indeed their initiative in putting together this program speaks volumes about their intellectual honesty. We may not agree and cannot agree on everything, but we must never stop talking.
For those detracting comments I read, I can only surmise you were probably not present to hear this talk.
For Muslim American citizens, I say, your job is cut out for you. You are obliged to set the record straight for your fellow citizens and for your children.
To all: The best way to disarm your enemy, real or imagined, is to make him your friend.

Last Man Standing

January 27th, 2011
9:02 am


“This was an opportunity for people to be open minded and learn about another culture. Always sad to see those who won’t open their mind just a little to begin to understand someone else.”

The muslims will show you only what you want to see. America has been under attack by the muslims since the 1970’s. We only awoke to that fact with the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. This muslim war against America is waged on two fronts: attacks by muslims from other countrues and the more insidious attacks on our government and way of life by those muslims who have embedded themselves within our society. To ignore either is sheer folly.

Last Man Standing

January 27th, 2011
9:09 am


“To all: The best way to disarm your enemy, real or imagined, is to make him your friend.”

For muslims, the best way to disarm your enemy is to say what you know your enemy wants to hear even though it is untrue. Make your enemy comfortable with your presence and make him feel that muslims mean America no harm.

It appears to be working for the muslims – in some instances.


January 27th, 2011
9:25 am

“…those who are fresh to the faith…”

I have observed this to be a truth for decades. Whether the “faith” be religion, politics or baseball.


January 27th, 2011
9:34 am

I’m sorry but come on, no more so than any other faith or belief system.

“Islam is incompatible with American culture and law.”

JIMBOB (aka James Robert)

January 27th, 2011
9:55 am

This is all nice and dandy, but the reality is that the proposed palestinian Arab state–carved out of land stolen from the Jews–is dedicated to the ethnic cleansing of non Muslims, and killing of Israeli civilians.

Why do op-ed columnists constantly advocate for these ethnically clean, gestapo-inspired Islamist states? Don’t they supposedly just want Muslims and Jews to get along?

Arab nationalist leadership allied with Hitler during WWII, and have supported and funded the murder of Jews (and non-Jews) continuously since then. American Muslims tend to lie about this and then carry on with their ‘free Gaza’ bracelets, while supporting the hamas stormtroopers.

Actual US policy has no relationship to any Muslim apostates and/or fascist-sympathetic Jews residing in the US. And actual US policy entails supporting rabidly antisemitic Muslims.

So this article is so very nice, now let us see some of the columnists here support states that tolerate Muslims and Jews living side-by-side, such as Israel or the US, instead of advocating for the theft of land from Jews and the creation of rabidly antisemitic Islamist states therein.


January 27th, 2011
9:57 am

I don’t understand why Muslims claim to be so religious but 99 % of terrorist bombings etc. are committed by Muslims.


January 27th, 2011
11:02 am

If the Quran is so sinister and threatening that it requires a two hour session with scholars to try to put a smiley face on it then there’s a big problem. Good luck spinning “Slay the idolaters whereever ye find them” into a message of peace and love.

Last Man Standing

January 27th, 2011
11:18 am

As has been said of peace between the so-called Palestinians and Jews:

“If the Palestinians lay down their weapons, there will be no more war. If the Jews lay down their weapons, there will be no more Israel”.


January 27th, 2011
1:51 pm

It is events like these that make me proud to be a member of the Temple. It is stark contrast to other synagogues in metro Atlanta that use the high holidays to kowtow to our worst instincts by preaching that our default position must be to distrust muslims.

J Throckmorton Malcontent

January 27th, 2011
2:25 pm

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
The Nazz His Ownself, Matthew 10:34

Mansour Ansari

January 27th, 2011
4:54 pm

I attended the event and was glad to see so many concerned citizens who had the intellectual courage to listen to ‘the other side’. As an American Muslim, I don’t consider Jews as ‘the other side’. I’ve always considered them to be the earliest followers of the Abrahamic faith. For the benefit of Fox News types, it would have gotten ‘better ratings’ if Rabbi Lewis had been on the stage with Dr Lumbard because he seems to embody the gold standard for showing loyalty and citizenship. I cry at Rolling Stones concerts, not the Olympics. Is that acceptable for citizenship? Jewish Americans and Christian Zionists have more loyalty to Israel than America but that’s acceptable?

Some bumper sticker comments like ‘I learned all I need to know about Islam on 911′ only show the ignorance of such citizens who are unaware that there has been a Muslim presence in America, documented, for 7 centuries. Sir, we are not going anywhere. We Muslims are the best hope for America. You can dumb-ass your way through with many immigrant Muslims but when you come upon an American Muslim you run the risk of wallowing in the aftermath of an intellectual bloodbath.


January 27th, 2011
6:50 pm

Loved the event! It is events like this that will move America forward in a positive way. Though there is still much to be done. The hate remarks on here is proof that we ,as society ,are still not educated enough to know there are good and bad people of all faiths.

Hatred is a disease. Before judging anyone, try getting to know them. If there is something you don’t understand, try asking.

In a nutshell Muslims view their faith as just a continuation of Judiasm and Christianity. That is why they share most, if not all the same values, stories, prophets ect. We are more alike than we are different.

I Love America. I am a Muslim. I am here to stay, so you might as well get to know me.
For all my Jewish, Christain, Hindu, Buddist, and Atheist friends, I love you and I will never judge you based on the comments of a few, or the horrible acts committed by some in your faith, that’s a promise!


January 27th, 2011
7:20 pm

@Last Man Standing:

So American Muslims exercising the rights to which all American citizens are entitled–such as the freedom to worship, express their views, and assemble–are somehow “embedding themselves within our society?”

You know absolutely nothing about the history of this great nation.

“Our society” has included Muslims for centuries. Islam came to these shores with the millions of Africans who were kidnapped from their homes, their lives, and their traditions and forced to build America with their blood, sweat, and tears.

Get rid of your siege mentality and understand that America is greater than your pathetic fears.


January 27th, 2011
7:47 pm

I find it disappointing but certainly not surprising that there is so much distrust and outright hate towards Muslims on this board. I also find myself not spending too much worrying about this small, vocal minority. Let’s not forget, these sentiments were once expressed about Jews, Irish, Italians, etc. Indeed, it’s not that long ago that Blacks were being lynched in the South. Yet today, one resides in the White House and serves as our President. Simply put, the slow but unmistakeable path of America has historically been one towards acceptance and brotherhood. I don’t expect that to change, regardless of how ugly the comments by some may become.


January 27th, 2011
7:48 pm

There was a double stoning today in Afghanistan. It was defended by the Taliban spokesman, who said:

‘Anyone who knows about Islam knows that stoning is in the Koran, and that it is Islamic law. There are people who call it inhuman – but in doing so they insult the Prophet. They want to bring foreign thinking to this country’

This is compatible with Judaism, or Christianity? Absolutely not!! It is barbaric, and it is supported by many Muslims. There can be no peace with a religion that promotes such horrific acts.

There is a sickness in GA

January 27th, 2011
8:11 pm

@Anon Did you hear that the in November 2010, the Westboro Baptist Church picketing a soldier’s funeral in Oklahoma.

I guess all Baptists hate America and her soldiers. If you weren’t so committed to hating Muslims, you would understand that Islam, like Protestantism, is not controlled by one central authority. The Taliban can say all it likes about Islamic law, that doesn’t mean that they are right or that the vast majority of Muslims agree with their interpretation.


January 27th, 2011
8:33 pm

I realize that picketing a funeral is in incredibly poor taste and extremely offensive, but I fail to see how it can possibly equate to stoning someone to death (and in the case of the woman stoned today, she was shot when she didn’t have the decency to die from the stoning).

Do you hear of “moderate” Muslims protesting the stonings, or other acts of murder performed in the name of allah and justified by the koran? Of course not. You do hear of people protesting the protesters, and of barricades set up to prevent them from getting close to the mourners, and laws passed and enforced to stop them.

Your argument is a FAIL.


January 27th, 2011
8:43 pm

@Mansour ” Jewish Americans have more loyalty to Israel than America..” Cousin, as an American Jew I take great offense at this statement and consider it tantamount to 21st century “blood libel” against my people…I am and always will be an American first, no exceptions. As a Jew I understand that, but for America, there would be no Israel and quite likely very few jews in this world. Jews owe America a debt of gratitude than cannot ever be measured. Only in this nation are we free to worship Judaism as we please without fear of pogroms and murder. Only in this nation are we free to pursue our dreams and aspirations in any avocation or profession without quotas or institutionalized discrimination. Only in this nation can a Jew live his or her life free from fear of genocide. To say we are more loyal to Israel than America only serves to feed those who harbor anti-semitism in the hearts. America is a work in progress but she remains true to her Constitution and ideals. I am forever proud to be American first and last. Nothing in the Old Testament or Talmud suggests loyalty to anything but our God. Unlike the Quran which elevates Islam over state Judaism has no such mandate. Join me, my fellow Christians and other peace loving people in celebrating the great experiment of America. Muslims have a place at the table, just quit thowing so many stones at everybody else…..Shalom and Salam.

Mansour Ansari

January 27th, 2011
9:26 pm

Dano, you’re right. I should have said that SOME or MANY Jews and Christian Zionists have dual loyalties. That would have been more accurate. Thanks for pointing that out. The thrust of my comment was in reaction to Rabbi Lewis’ assertion that, until Muslims cry when an American gets the gold medal at the Olympics, their loyalty to America is at question. I am from a military family in Boston and my panties get tangled when people question patriotic loyalties. Thanks again for your comments.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Clara Listensprechen, Park51 . Park51 said: "a night of polite" amongst #jews, #muslims & the occasional #christian in atlanta http://bit.ly/gCATrg #unity [...]


January 27th, 2011
10:39 pm

Islam is practiced and understood in a wide variety of ways, and in a wide variety of places. Yet, there is an underlying unity. The unity lies in striving to be in alignment with That Which Creates And Governs All via the message delivered through a beautiful soul that happened to be cast into an Arab body – Muhammad. Yet, today, the majority of the world’s Muslims are not of an Arab tribe, nor do we speak Arabic as a first language. So, the first thing that we can recommend is that you not paint 1.5 billion people with any simple brush but the two mentioned above. The second is that you not look at “the Arab world” only and think that you understand Muslims. It’s just not that simple.

What IS simple, though, is realizing that the news is a business. Violence and sensationalism lead the headlines, not rigorously checked facts placed into a holistic picture. Any claim that Muslims have commited more acts of violence than any other religious group must be checked, not by reference to Fox or CNN, or any other news outlet, but by the records of history. And that goes beyond the history written in the English language, European languages, and ideally beyond written history altogether. In short, such a claim cannot be substantiated if held to rigorous standards.

However, it is true that there have been Muslims who waged war against non-Muslims, and called it jihad (which does NOT mean holy war). Some even may have forced conversions. But for you to engage me as if their behavior should be our starting point would be like me engaging you with Charlemagne’s forced conversion of the Germans to Christianity on my mind. You are not him or his Christian knights. I am not them.

Even if you are not Christian, but you are American. I am African American. If I engage you assuming that you are prone to behaving like much of America’s non-Black citizenry behaved (committing atrocities, turning a blind eye to them, or living in places where your children would be oblivious to the existence of atrocities) even just 60 years ago, it would seem to you not right. You would be able to tell me about the complexity of White America. If I tell you to read Kinzer’s true account of America’s foreign policy in “Overthrow” or “All The Shah’s Men” you will tell me that those Americans were not like the rest. If I tell you to read “Lies My teacher Told me,” “American Apartheid,” “When Work Disappears,” “Privilege, power, and Difference” and other works that peel the layers back…you will tell me that things are more complicated than that.

And I will agree with you.

But when I say that what you see on the news is painting a picture so simple as to be false…that it does not reflect the complexity of Muslims and of Black Americans, you don’t want to listen. You think you already know.

And I will agree with you…you THINK that you already know.

Please note that this is not directed at those who work hard to be allies of the “other.” Those who know that the first step requires you to sit quietly in the midst of others and listen. You know that you must read the writings that speak to THEM, not the writings that are recommended to you by their opponents (not to be confused with enemies…only Satan is my enemy…his tools are my opponents). You know that it takes years of study just to gain some facility, and that you may well never gain mastery of the feelings, cultures, and [you name it] that are being rendered both salient and invisible at the same time. What’s salient is mostly deception. What’s invisible is mostly truth.

Lloyd Oestreicher

January 28th, 2011
4:30 pm

A lively debate and a joy that it took place in America and Atlanta. We are obliged to live together. We are luckyto be able to do so. We should count our blessings that we are able to practice our religions and beliefs without fear of violence. Of course this is not always the case, but the minority of bigots who protest military funerals and funerals of children are despised by rational thinking individuals who rejoice in Americas beliefs of acceptance and tolerance. A sense of humor helps, nobody is perfect. Thank you for the opportunity of adding my two-cents

Lloyd Oestreicher

January 28th, 2011
4:30 pm

Enter your comments here


January 28th, 2011
6:16 pm

I’ve attended many of these interfaith attempts and this was typical. The Muslims dissembled, and the non-Mulim speakers did their best to ignore or paper over the problems with Islam. The Koranic verses about hating and killing Jews and Christians are not confined to “a specific time”; they are regarded by many Muslims, if not most, as a continuing instruction. Jihad does not refer to personal improvement; it means war against non-Muslims to impose Islam on every inch of the globe, and there are hundreds of Koran verses to that effect. Mohammed’s marriage to a 6-year-old and his continuing rape of her starting when she was 9 needs to be repudiated by today’s Islam but it is not, since Md is considered the perfect man and nothing of his behavior can be questioned. That is what Muslims point to when forced marriage, child rape etc. are questioned by others or even critics within their own faith. I’d like to see forums like this also demand straight answers from Muslims about whether people have as much right to leave Islam as to convert to it, and whether our First Amendment free speech rights allow us to criticize or mock Islam and Muslims shouldn’t murder or threaten people who do so. There’s a lot more, but events like this are harmful rather than helpful. The appropriate people sitting across from Muslims and their apologists should be those speaking honestly and plainly, but people like that are never invited to speak.