Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali. Sons of Abraham: A candid conversation about the issues that divide and unite Jews and Muslims. Forward by President Bill Clinton; introduction by Samuel G. Freedman. Boston: Beacon Press, 2013. Pp. xvi, 220.
In his forward, President Clinton gives us the global context for this work. The desire for peace cannot be met without a dialogue between religions, especially among the Abrahamic faiths. The more local context for the book is expressed by Samuel Freedman in the introduction: the attack on the WorldTradeCenter in New York on September 11, 2001, shook the complacency of the people of the United States with a realization that the safety and security of the USA was threatened by terrorism without borders. No longer an isolated act, this terrorist attack was a threat to peace and security at home by Al Qaida, an international terrorist organization.
Who We Are (Part One)
Rabbi Schneier admits interfaith dialogue was not a matter of high priority before 9/11. As an Orthodox Jew his
concerns were more concentrated on his ministry which joined that of his father, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, at Park East Synagogue in Manhattan, NY.
Imam Ali also had not had much exposure to interfaith dialogue, though his preparation for Muslim ministry had included university studies in Pakistan and an invitation to serve at the Islamic and CulturalCenter on East 96th Street in Manhattan, NY. He and Rabbi Marc Schneier were invited to the Interfaith Memorial Service at Ground Zero which followed 9/11. They met at similar interfaith services, and became friends, colleagues and eventually co-authors of Sons of Abraham. Through this friendship and collaboration they found common cause in the need to understand each other and share their experiences beyond their separate religious venues. The dialogue revealed the common roots in Abraham, their common ancestor through Isaac and Ishmael.
This section of the book emphasizes what Rabbi Schneier calls “empathetic imagination” (chapter 4), an openness through compassion to the suffering and pain which comes from misunderstandings and differences that are both religious and ethnic. Imam Ali stresses the need for trust which must be developed to replace or counteract any suspicion which underlies prejudice of any kind.
What We Believe (Part Two)
The second part of the book considers points of convergence and difference between Judaism and Islam. For example in what sense do Jews and Muslims consider themselves to be the Chosen People? Are these inclusive or exclusive concepts? Each of the authors stresses the importance of exegesis and the tradition of inclusivity in their tradition. A narrow and literal interpretation of the Bible or the Qur’an would see these terms as excluding other faiths. A more inclusive reading and understanding would support an understanding that God is the creator and savior of all people. Excluding those who follow their conscience and live moral lives would be contrary to the texts and millennial tradition of both Judaism and Islam.
Our Shared Future (Part Three)
Anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia are both condemned. Palestinians deserve equal justice uner the law. Many have to live deprived of their land, houses and livelihood. Some extremists deny the very existence of the holocaust. Muslims continue to suffer from the extremist attack on the WorldTradeCenter.
In the end, Jews and Muslims share a common origin in Abraham. Both are monotheistic and share many things together (and distinct from Christians). They have much to gain in the area of peace and social justice by coming to know each other and the faith in God they share together.