For Muslims and Jews in the United States this is a time of reconnoitering, of anxious probing, cautious testing. One of intense mutual curiosity mingled with deep apprehension. For the huge Christian majority, the moment constitutes a unique vantage point from which to observe the incipient American encounter of two communities laden with the heavy weight of historical antagonism and the baggage of suspicion stemming from conflicts in faraway lands. For Americans outside the fascinating and traditionally fractious Abrahamic family of Jews, Christians and Muslims—whether they belong to other faiths or to none—it is a time to watch how Jews and Muslims begin to interrelate and speculate how their embryonic relationship will ultimately impact the greater national life. In some respects these are gloomy times for Jewish-Muslim relations. The conflict in the Middle East between Arabs, chiefly Muslim, and Israelis, chiefly Jewish, has heightened precisely when, for the first time, these two sets of "Children of Abraham" live together in America in substantial numbers and have an opportunity to interrelate. The conflict casts a long shadow and inevitably clouds mutual perceptions, especially those of American Jews and Arab Americans. How far it conditions the outlook of the largest segment of American Muslims, those who emigrated from the Subcontinent (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), is harder to gauge.
In other respects the times are, at least, relatively hopeful: some American Muslims and some American Jews have begun to build positive relationships. These twin books are one of the more formal and visible signs of the good intentions shown among a small but growing set of thinkers and leaders within both peoples, and the "ordinary folk," often neighbors, are also showing affirmative signs. They want to get along, keep foreign feuds and ancient rivalries outside the American equation, minimize conflict among each other in the United States, learn about each other, and make contributions together to a national life that had been so often identified simply with Christianity.
These books are not only signs of the intention to do so, but helpful and encouraging evidences that the learning can go on, indeed, that it is going on.
By and large, American religious leadership is not only adjusting intellectually to the new terrain, but it is also beginning to traverse it. The phrase "Judeo-Christian," which only recently became the semiofficial usage to characterize America’s religious culture—and represented an advance over an older Christian triumphalism embodied in language that described America as a "Christian nation"—is, in turn, losing its capacity to encompass a far more diverse and complicated religious landscape.
In community after community formal dialogue goes on and "trialogue" becomes increasingly common. I was involved in a recent Muslim-Christian encounter in Houston, where the basketball star Hakim Olajuwon, a knowledgeable Muslim, hosted a presentation by a scholar of Islam and me. There was an overflow audience. The atmosphere was cordial. The questions were challenging. There was no superficial "feel good" interfaith blather about how "nice" everyone was. Instead, people spoke frankly, and thus there was a genuine chance that progress might result.
In interfaith meetings in Detroit and Milwaukee, I saw Christians and Jews now in open relation to Muslims. Many of the Christians and Jews were surprised to learn of the varieties of Islam and of the differences within the Muslim community. Too often Muslims are perceived as a monolithic bloc who agree not only on Qur’an—which they do—but also on politics and economics—which they do not—or, as their enemies charge, as united in common support of terrorism.
As Khalid Durán’s book convincingly demonstrates, it is Islamic nations and governments that are most threatened by radical Islamists. He also shows a very different and very accurate picture of an infinitely more expansive and inspiring Islam than one learns of in the popular media or in the folklore of the suspicious. As his book underscores, a great many non-Muslims in America and elsewhere confuse the political ideologies of the radical Islamic fundamentalists with the religion of Islam. His book permits us to encounter Islam the way most Muslims understand it—not as it is understood by the radical extremists whose perverted concept of Islam is widely reported in the media, causing widespread hostility towards and fear of Islam.
Jews in the United States, loyal to Israel though they may be, are also hardly monolithic in their attitudes. Nor do they line up automatically in defense of policies many Muslims regard as not only anti-Arab but also as anti-Islamic. On the contrary, American Jews have multiple agendas, including the need for the Jewish community to live in harmony with the Islamic children of Abraham as they has done in recent decades with their Christian counterparts. Indeed, Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, sponsor of these books, largely pioneered the field of human relations in the United States, working to foster democratic pluralism and mutual respect and understanding among religious, racial and ethnic groups. It has also gone on record as strongly opposing discrimination against Arab-Americans.
Both books of the Children of Abraham are serious, friendly, accurate, and helpful presentations of the history and practices of the two faiths. It is my earnest hope that they get used in schools, synagogues, mosques, and churches, as clear and fair-minded introductions to subjects too often still treated prejudicially. I end this Foreword with words of applause. These books will greatly benefit our nation, one in which Muslims and Jews share space and place, time and energies, policies and hope. They are a timely, thoughtful response to an urgent need.
Martin E. Marty
Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service
The University of Chicago