August 15, 2007 – New York – A senior delegation of Indian Muslim leaders arrived in Israel today for an unprecedented visit to advance interreligious dialogue and peace. The visit is sponsored by Project Interchange, an institute of the American Jewish Committee, in coordination with AIJAC (Australia Israel Jewish Affairs Council), an AJC international partner.
"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 Hazrat Maulana Jameel Ahmed Ilyasi, president of the All-India Association of Imams and Mosques, and 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 Muslim population lives. Interaction with both Palestinian and Jewish sisters and brothers and their religious leadership will lay a solid foundation for future engagement," Maulana llyasi said.
They will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and with Jewish and Muslim religious leaders. They will participate in an interreligious dialogue with a delegation of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and sign a joint declaration with the two Chief Rabbis.
“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 interreligious affairs. “Members of this delegation have direct influence on a wide cross section of some 200 million Muslims all over India.”
In addition, Rosen continued, in light of Israel's excellent relations with India, “we have developed an interreligious dialogue with the major Hindu leadership in India and this relationship with Indian Muslim leadership is no less important for these bilateral relations.”
The Israel visit follows on a trip to India earlier this year by Rabbi Rosen, along with Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger and a delegation of chief rabbis from around the world. Their meeting with the Muslim leaders led to a joint statement that drew criticism from extremist groups in India and Pakistan.
The joint declaration stated 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.”
Ilyasi decided, despite the criticism, to lead a reciprocal visit to Israel. The delegation is called The Indian Muslim Peace Delegation, and they will spend six days in Israel.