NEW YORK — Muslims pride themselves on their faith's steadfast stand against prejudice and the Koran's proclamation that "We have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other."
Compare this with the ubiquity of anti-Jewish bigotry among some Muslims today, and you'll find yourself wondering why the everyday reality has departed so far from the stated ideal.
When I lived in Amman, Jordan, last year, the anti-Jewish diatribes that usually followed the calls for justice for Palestinians during Friday sermons disturbed me a great deal. Out of disgust, I eventually stopped going to the congregational prayers there. Sadly, I encountered much of the same at mosques throughout the Arab world.
For many Muslims today, the government of Israel has become synonymous with the Jewish people. And the daily scenes of Palestinian suffering and despair seen on Arab and Muslim media, combined with a prevailing feeling of helplessness, fuel a growing hostility toward Israel.
This phenomenon is complicated by the fact that Israel invites this association by calling itself a "Jewish" state and often justifying its actions against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories as being in the best interests of the Jewish people.
But as Tariq Ramadan, European Muslim scholar and grandson of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan El Banna, states, "There is nothing in Islam that gives legitimization to Judeophobia, xenophobia and the rejection of any human being because of his religion or the group to which he belongs."
Israel is as much of a "Jewish" state as Iran is an "Islamic" state, and just as thousands of Iranians are calling for more freedoms, scores of Israelis are actively demanding an end to their government's occupation of Palestinian lands.
Muslim-Americans, especially, face a critical challenge that demands an unequivocal stand against the trap of ignorance and bigotry. In the current chilling political climate of racial profiling, secret detentions, and the mainstream acceptance of anti-Muslim bigotry, we have much to learn from the Jewish experience in Europe and North America. The Jewish stories of tragic pain, oppression, resistance, and renewal are especially relevant to us today.
Earlier this year, when I cofounded MuslimWakeUp.com, a progressive online Muslim-American magazine, my project partner and I began a feature called "Hug-a-Jew" where we interview Jewish Americans about their work in support of civil liberties and social justice, and then we proceed to give them great big bear hugs. We then display the hug photos prominently within the articles. We use this feature to show, in a lighthearted way, that standing for justice for the Palestinian people and showing a loving spirit toward Jews are not mutually exclusive.
After our first interview, with Liat Weingart, an activist with A Jewish Voice for Peace, some Muslims, most of whom seemed to reside in Arab countries, condemned us. One angry reader wrote, "This is shameful. How would you like it if your daughters hugged Jewish men for kicks." We even received some mail from Jews telling us that we weren't hugging the "right" Jews.
But the vast majority of our readers, Muslims and non-Muslims, were overjoyed. The Hug-a-Jew articles have quickly become the most popular feature on our website. We are constantly hearing from Muslim-Americans suggesting new Jews to hug. And Jewish-American readers have written us saying they wish their organizations would begin a "Hug-a-Muslim" campaign.
A person's value in front of God, the Koran teaches, is measured according to that individual's piety and good works, not by the color of his or her skin, or by national origin.
Muslim-Americans need to take practical steps to make this Islamic ideal a reality in their daily lives. Confronting the contradictions within our own communities is never easy, but it is necessary. Muslims must speak out forcefully against anti-Jewish hate speech in our institutions and mosques. Only when we are true to our stated beliefs will we be able to speak with moral authority on the issues that we hold dear.
• Ahmed Nassef, a writer, activist, and marketing management consultant, is editor in chief of MuslimWakeUp.com