Indian Muslim clerics to work for Israeli-Palestinian peace

By Faraz Ahmad, IANS

New Delhi : A group of Muslim clerics from India have called upon “the children of Abraham (Muslims, Christians and Jews)” to shun violence against each other and have undertaken to promote peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

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An eight-member delegation led by four Muslim clerics from India visited Israel Aug 15-21. The visit was marked by the Indian maulanas and the Israeli rabbis by the signing of a joint peace accord, which asked the “Children of Abraham” to shun violence against each other.

It also stated that: “We call for the review of all educational materials to ensure that these do not contain any expressions of hate or incitement towards others; and if such appear, to eliminate them accordingly.”

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) promoted the idea and also organised the seven-day tour, said Priya Tandon, the India representative of AJC, who accompanied the delegation.

The group included Maulana Omar Ahmed Ilyasi, general secretary All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques; Maulana Qari Hifzurr Ehnian Merathi, vice president of the Imams’ organisation; Maulana Khwaja Afzal, chief imam of the Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and Khwaja Ahmed, founder president of Inter-Faith Harmony Foundation.

The president of the All India Imams’ Organisation Maulana Jamil Ilyasi had also set out for Tel Aviv, but returned from Mumbai after the local newspapers carried the news of his visit to Israel prominently. Eventually his son Omar Ahmed Ilyasi led the delegation.

Three Urdu-language journalists were also part of the eight-member delegation.

In their seven-day tour the delegates met Israeli president Shimon Peres, visited Ramallah and interacted with the Palestinian people, observed the proceedings of the Israeli parliament, visited the Knesset, went to Jerusalem as also to the Al Aqsa masjid – also called Haram Al Sharif – and offered prayers there and observed a Sharia court in Israel.

They also met the chief rabbis of Israel, Shlomo Moshe Amar and Yona Metzger, at an interaction with the chief rabbinate council where they held an inter-faith dialogue with the rabbis. That is where they signed this “peace accord”.

This was the first ever all-Muslim group taken by the AJC anywhere and in particular to Israel.

Tandon told IANS: “We have occasionally been taking delegations to the US, to Australia and to Europe. But this is the first time in the history of AJC that a Muslim-only group was escorted. That is why this is historic. It was very well received in Israel.”

She also explained why AJC made a considered decision in favour of Indian Muslims.

“We have high expectations of Indian Muslims to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together. India has never had a tradition of anti-Semitism. We have the second largest Muslim population globally. Muslims and Jews have lived in harmony in India. We have a tradition of democracy and co-existence. It is our tradition that we don’t discriminate on the basis of religion, caste or race.”

A copy of the ‘peace accord’ sent to IANS is on the All India Imams’ Organisation letterhead. It bears no signature and mentions the presence of Jamil Ilyasi in this meeting.

Sources explained it away by saying that “This was prepared by Jamil Ilyasi in Delhi in anticipation of the visit. But when he suddenly developed cold feet he handed this to his son Omar. No corrections could be made in this typed sheet last minute in Mumbai. It does not bear any signatures.”

Omar however said he had a copy of the signed document. “This one has my signature and the signatures of Rabbi Metzger and Rabbi Amar. It is on the letterhead of the chief rabbinate,” he said, adding, “Maybe there is some confusion. Maybe you did not get the right document.”

The AJC invitation was extended at a luncheon meeting of the maulanas and members of Khwaja Ahmed’s Inter-Faith Harmony Foundation with the rabbis, organised by Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani at his residence here, Tandon said.