Opinion: Jerusalem matters to Muslims and Middle East peace

I am neither Israeli nor Palestinian, yet the conflict there matters dearly to me. As a human being, of course, I cannot but be pained by the oppression and murder of innocents. As an American, I am outraged that my taxes fund the dispossession and occupation of a people. As a person of recent Pakistani ancestry, the fact that (settler) colonialism continues today is deeply distressing.

But Palestine, and especially, Jerusalem, matter to me for still another reason. I am Muslim. And like all Muslims, I have religious obligations to the land – and its inhabitants. 

While media coverage of the recent escalation in the conflict has markedly improved, not only because of social media but also because of the (long overdue) inclusion of minority voices into our mainstream conversation, still something is missing. There is precious little consideration for why so many Muslims are so invested in Jerusalem and its environs. https://1c37660632489a73670e102a5e3211cd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Indeed, it might not be too much to argue that hundreds of innocent lives could have been saved had we been aware of the force of these religious convictions, shared by nearly one-quarter of humanity, and how they intersect with and are amplified by 70-some years of ethnic cleansing, systemic discrimination and even apartheid.

While it is popularly, if only vaguely, understood that Jerusalem is sacred to Islam, the third holiest city in the world’s second-largest, and arguably fastest-growing, faith community, the fact is that the entire region is blessed. The Prophet Muhammad himself counseled his followers – my co-religionists and I – to visit the Aqsa Mosque and, if we could not, to gift oil to light its lanterns, an imperative I have always interpreted to mean that the upkeep and safety of the mosque and its worshippers are a religious commandment. 


American Jews and Muslim interfaith groups resume efforts after Gaza battles

(RNS) — Palestinians and Israelis have begun to clear the rubble and rebuild in the aftermath of the most recent conflict. Meanwhile, in the United States, many Muslim and Jewish groups are seeking to once again rebuild interfaith networks and resume efforts put on pause during the hostilities.

Multiple faith leaders who spoke to Religion News Service admitted that such efforts were strained by the latest battles in the Holy Land. Yet, Muslim and Jewish leaders in the United States have vowed to continue the efforts despite complications imposed by the geopolitics of the Middle East.

“While some in our American Muslim and Jewish communities wish to close down partnerships and see the other side as only an ally or adversary,” said Ari Gordon, American Jewish Committee director of Muslim-Jewish relations, “those who sit at the dialogue table are opening channels to express mourning over the loss of innocent life, lower tensions and help our communities better understand the other. “

Gordon said despite the conflict, such efforts were “firing on all cylinders.”


Muslim Americans on finding love as third-culture-kids-turned-adults

“Some Muslims are looking for that magical middle. How can you … find that halal love and have everything our society tells us — that it’s full of passion and you’ll find your soulmate?” one chaplain said.

May 28, 2021, 3:53 PM EDTBy Sakshi Venkatraman

When Mariam Mokhtar, 21, started taking karate classes for fun with her little brothers, she expected to get exercise and learn self-defense, not to meet her future husband. Mokhtar and Rai Shaw were both in high school at the time, and they became friends through the class.

“We were doing karate for years,” she said. “We’d see each other like every week, and, you know, it starts off as nothing, and then you become friends because you see them all the time. And then yeah, things just developed from there.”

A year after they met, he knew he wanted to marry her. She wasn’t so sure. 

“One day he was like, ‘I love you,’” Mokhtar said. “And I was like, ‘Uhhhh.’”

As a young woman hoping to find a partner one day, Mokhtar said she had always been searching for a middle ground between the traditions of their parents’ Muslim culture and the world of her non-Muslim peers. Western media and even Bollywood portray romance one way, but Muslim American couples and chaplains say the way they often meet, fall in love and eventually decide to get married are usually misunderstood or not told at all. 

“A lot of young Muslims are trying to navigate their story of love between traditional cultures that their parents may come from and their newly found American culture,” Imam Sohaib Sultan, a longtime chaplain at Princeton University who died in April, told NBC Asian America in February.

That made it hard for Mokhtar to be sure of what she wanted. Though she loved him too, they were so young and still had college ahead of them. And because of her faith, she didn’t really want to date in the way her non-Muslim peers did. 


Suit seeks to limit anti-Muslim speech on Facebook but roots of Islamophobia run far deeper

A civil rights group is suing Facebook and its top executives in federal court over the company’s failure to crack down on hate speech against Muslims.

Muslim Advocates, a Washington, D.C.-based organization focused on discrimination against American Muslims, alleges in the suit that Facebook has violated a series of local and federal consumer protection laws. The suit points out that the company itself, in a July 2020 internal audit, found that “Facebook has created an atmosphere where ‘Muslims feel under siege’” on the platform.

I am a scholar who tracks anti-Muslim activity such as violence, harassment, public speeches, property crimes and policies that target Muslims. This suit is right that many Muslims in the United States feel under siege – and have for quite some time.

But I am cautious about assigning too much blame to Facebook for the staggering magnitude and breadth of anti-Muslim activity in the U.S. As the author of “Fear in Our Hearts: What Islamophobia Tells Us about America,” I argue that this could be a convenient distraction – with limited overall effect – from the deeper histories and realities of white supremacy that require sustained attention.


Suburban Muslims, Christians rally in Wheaton (Illinois) for Palestinians

Suburban religious leaders gathered Sunday at the Islamic Center of Wheaton to express support for the Palestinian people.

They included a mix of Muslims and Christians.

 Among those in the audience was Mustaque Ali of Glendale Heights, who is from Bangladesh but said his heart is “right in the center of Jerusalem.”

Omer Haqqani of Bartlett said he is not Palestinian, but “we have a connection to Palestine from a religious perspective, as being one of the three most holiest places in Islam.”

Also on hand were members of the Amos Project, the social justice ministry from the First Church of Lombard UCC.

The group included Jeri Shaw of Villa Park, who said, “We stand for peace wherever it can happen. Peace is not happening in Gaza or the West Bank.”

However, she said believes peace is a possibility amid a cease-fire between Israeli forces and members of the Hamas militant group. Fighting there has killed at least 248 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel.


Al-Aqsa mosque taken from prayer to violence: Divergent photos from one of Islam’s holiest sites

In the waning days of Ramadan, Islam’s third holiest site has become one of injury and violence, with hundreds of Palestinians sent to Jerusalem hospitals after Israeli police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Palestinians hurling rocks in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Monday.

Al-Aqsa is behind only the mosques in Mecca and Medina – the Kaaba and the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque) – in terms of its importance in Islam, and is believed to be where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. 

United Nations envoys called on Israeli authorities to avoid escalating the situation during Muslim holy days: “We call on all sides to uphold and respect the status quo at the holy sites.”

Since then, Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, has fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli targets, and Israel unleashed airstrikes Tuesday. At least 26 Palestinians and two Israelis have been killed. The call for Palestinians to be evicted from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah has been a particular spark in the escalating tensions.


China’s persecuted Muslims find haven in the US

A family was reunited in Texas after fleeing persecution in China.

In January, 7-year-old Bayan Auelkhan landed at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport with her parents. She found herself over 7,000 miles away from her home in Kazakhstan, and her family does not know if or when they’ll return.

But she doesn’t mind the travel or even living in a strange, new place, now that Bayan is back with her mother after being separated for much of her life.

“I miss my mommy,” she says in the video.

Gulzira Auelkhan and her family are ethnic Kazakh and she is originally from Xinjiang. She went on what she thought would be a round trip from Kazakhstan back to China in 2017, but instead she says she was stopped by Chinese authorities and imprisoned.


Apartheid in Palestine and a Christ who stands on the other side of the wall

Today, the Holy Land burns. The latest round of evictions of Palestinians from their homes in favor of the illegal Israeli settlement of the Occupied Territories predictably has led to violence which has, equally predictably, spiraled into death and destruction with no end to the violence, or the escalation, in sight.

These events have some thinking back to 2014 and the violence that wracked Gaza then. My thoughts turn even further back in time.

As a white college Republican enjoying the cramped comfort of a University of Georgia dorm room in the mid-1980s, I was blissfully unconcerned about apartheid. When I thought about it at all, my thoughts quickly dissolved into platitudes about the need to stand with the South African government against communist encroachments, or they were displaced by dispassionate musings about the role of human rights concerns in formulating American foreign policy. Then I heard the words. Really heard them: “The man is dead. The man is dead.”

I had discovered Peter Gabriel and his haunting anti-apartheid anthem, “Biko,” and had been inspired to learn more about Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid activist who was butchered by the South African government as part of “business as usual in Police Room six-one-nine.” As I listened and read, a sense of visceral horror awakened in me at the reality of a government and society in which the murder of a Black man for daring to demand to be treated like a human being could be viewed as casual. As ordinary. As mundanely routine. 

Standing with the ‘other’

I since have learned to listen to other voices appealing not just to my humanity, but to my faith, demanding from me a commitment never again to stand silent in the face of such dehumanizing brutality. Listening still, I am now beginning to more fully appreciate the reality of a Christ whose entire life and ministry were marked by solidarity with the marginalized and the oppressed.



Until recently, this spring had been a time of religious celebration in Israel and Palestine. Last month Jewish Israelis finished observing Passover just as Palestinian Protestants and Catholics celebrated Easter, followed later by Orthodox Christian Easter celebrations in early May. Muslims’ month-long Ramadan fast has been underway, and both Western and Orthodox Christians are in Eastertide, the period of remembering the paschal promises of forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope.

But these celebrations in Jerusalem were interrupted when attempts to evict several Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood escalated into violence. In early May, the Jerusalem District Court decided to displace several Palestinian families and turn their homes over to Israeli settlers, the conclusion to a decades-long legal battle. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and solidarity activists protested. On May 7, Israeli police confronted Muslims worshipping at Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan; Palestinians threw rocks, and Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades. These confrontations at Al-Aqsa continued on May 10, during Jerusalem Day events. As tensions escalated, Hamas fired rockets into Israel and the Israeli military bombed Gaza.

By May 14, reports indicated that at least 122 Palestinians, including 31 minors, had been killed and more than 900 wounded since May 10. In Israel, at least seven people were killed, including one child. While the immediate violence must be brought to an end, the realities of the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine cannot be ignored.

We both lead Christian organizations with deep connections to Palestine and Israel. Joyce is Palestinian and lived most of her life in Ramallah under Israeli occupation. She now lives in the U.S., where she leads the American Friends Service Committee. Mae is the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace and previously lived in Jerusalem. She has spent decades working with both Palestinians and Israelis. As violence escalates, it is our belief that violence will only truly end when the root causes of injustice are addressed.


Prominent Israeli rabbi: ‘al-Aqsa mosque is the heart of the deadly hostilities—nobody really gets it’

Respect for religious sites and religions—not military might—is the only way forward, he says

A prominent Israeli orthodox rabbi has charged that the deadly violence sweeping Israel and Gaza will not be resolved by military might because the core of the unrest is over Jerusalem’s ancient mosque and ultimately respect for religion.

“People around the world don’t understand; commentators think we can ‘win’, but this is about al-Aqsa,” says Rabbi Michael Melchior, a former deputy foreign minister who works with regional Jewish, Islamic and Christian leaders on rights, nonviolence and conflict resolution.

“When Israeli police trample into al-Aqsa with boots and stop one of the holiest prayers, it is one of the gravest transgressions of Islam,” Melchior says. “This you don’t do.”

Roughly three billion Muslims worldwide, including around seven million in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza revere al-Aqsa, one of Islam’s holiest sites. The seventh-century mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City sits on a plateau that Muslims call Haram al Sharif and Jews venerate as The Temple Mount.

Melchior, whose proposed bill in 2007 to protect Muslim and Christian holy sites did not pass, spoke to The Art Newspaper as Hamas rockets fell across Israel in the background, sending families racing to bomb shelters, and as Israeli air strikes devastated Gaza, where there are no shelters.

“We can only solve it through religious peace.” RABBI MICHAEL MELCHIOR

By this morning, at least 119 Palestinians were killed, including 31 minors; and at least seven Israelis had been killed, including two children, one a Bedouin Muslim. Jewish and Palestinian citizens across Israel have also been attacking each other and each other’s property. One Arab citizen was killed in riots. Synagogues and a Muslim cemetery in Lod were damaged, and the Lod Mosaic Museum and several historic buildings in the Unesco recognised Old City of Akko, including the International Conservation Center built with support of the Italian government, were also damaged by mobs.