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Creating a Better World, Together

Creating a Better World, Together

"I am involved with the work that I do because I'm a Muslim and because I'm an American."

These words stuck in my mind as I watched the excellent short video (after the jump) produced by Young Muslim American Voices, a project of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. I was certainly not surprised or incredulous of the sentiments expressed by the articulate and passionate young men and women in this film. Quite the opposite: I heard myself and my values in their words. On any given day, I might very well describe my day-to-day experience as a Legislative Assistant at the RAC in just this manner:

"I am involved with the work that I do because I'm a Jew and because I'm an American."

The imperative to repair the world and work for social justice is strong in both Judaism and Islam. In Children of Abraham: Jews and Muslims in Conversation, the synagogue-mosque dialogue curriculum produced by the Union for Reform Judaism and our partners, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), we learn about the parallels between Zakat and Tzedakah:

Zakat: Derived from the Arabic root word Z-K-W, the word zakat literally means purification, increase and growth...The meaning reflects the Islamic philosophy that one puries and increases his or her wealth by donating a portion of it to the needy through zakat...
Tzedakah: The Hebrew word tzedakah contains the same root letters as tzedek, "righteousness," and is most accurately translated as "righteous giving..." Tzedakah is a social obligation incumbent upon everyone.

The commitment to these values in both of our communities is most recently evident in our powerful responses to the crisis in Haiti. According to Rabbi Marla Feldman, Director of Development for the URJ, Reform Movement has raised more than $750,000 in just one week for Haiti disaster relief efforts following the January 12, 2010 earthquake. At our L'taken seminar in Washington, D.C. this past week, I was inspired when the 250 high school students in attendance donated over $500 toward Haiti relief.

Last week, ISNA President Dr. Ingrid Mattson wrote a powerful message with a similar call to action for Haiti:
"...we must help those who are suffering. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, reported in a Sacred Hadith that if we want to be close to God, we should visit the sick and feed the needy... Helping the Haitians in this time of need is certainly a sign of religious sincerity."

The lesson on tzedakah and zakat in Children of Abraham concludes: "As a community of Muslims and Jews, we have the religious obligation to provide for those in need...Whether this be through financial means or through community service, we can come together through our joint mission to create a better world."

We can and should come together to create a better world. As people of faith, we move our traditions into the modern world by seeking righteous, ethical solutions to poverty, environmental degradation, and civil and social inequality. We can do more to join our efforts as active faith communities, and much of this can be done by working together in our communities on the local synagogue-mosque level.

Further, as Imam Mohammad Shamsi Ali and Rabbi Marc Schneier wrote recently in the Washington Post's On Faith blog, "American Jews and Muslims can defeat a common enemy by working together. That common enemy is prejudice...[as] a Gallup poll found that 43 percent of Americans admit to at least "a little" prejudice against Muslims, and that such self-reported feelings are strongly linked to the respondent's views on Jews."

While the entire Young Muslim American Voices video resonated with my own sense of faith-based social activism, I look toward a day when Jews and Muslims will speak these final words of the film in unison:

"I'm involved in the work that I do because of the shared values to which all faiths adhere."

Published: 1/27/2010

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