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American Jews & Muslims Have More In Common Than You Think

American Jews & Muslims Have More In Common Than You Think

Jews and Muslims.pngIt's one little sentence that shouldn't be quite so shocking, but I'm sure that, to some, it is: "Jews and Muslims in America Have More in Common Than We Think," the Huffington Post headline reads.

Gasp! Can it be true?

It can, and it is.

As the 10-year anniversary of September 11 nears, Gallup has released a report titled "Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom and the Future." Summarizing the report, the Abu Dahbi Gallup Center writes, "American followers of Islam are optimistic about their future, and they embrace their country's civic institutions and religious pluralism."

The report actually makes direct comparisons between the social and political beliefs of Jewish and Muslim Americans, and it turns out that we do, indeed, seem to have quite a bit in common:

•Muslims and Jews agree that Muslim Americans can be - and are - loyal to their country, with 93% of Muslims claiming patriotism and 80% of Jews backing them. By comparison, only 56% of American Protestants believe Muslims are loyal to the U.S.

•Jews outnumber Muslims when asked whether Americans are prejudiced toward adherents of Islam. Sixty-six percent of Jews say Muslims experience significant discrimination in the U.S., while 60% of Muslims feel they do.

•Jews are among the least likely religious groups in the U.S. to believe that practicing Islam necessarily equals terrorism. Seventy percent of Jews believe the majority of Muslim Americans are not al Qaeda sympathizers; the only group that feels more strongly about this is Muslims themselves, at 92%.

•Perhaps most surprisingly, Muslims and Jews share similar views about how to best resolve the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Gallup reports that 81% of Muslims and 78% of Jews support a "two-state solution," in which an independent Palestinian state would coexist alongside Israel.

There are more commonalities: For starters, a majority of Muslims and Jews both call the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "a mistake," and both groups say they are prone to feeling disrespected when practicing their religions publicly. There are differences, too, of course: Muslim Americans are the religious group least likely to be registered to vote, whereas Jews are the most likely. Muslim Americans are also the religious group with the least confidence in the U.S. military, whereas 90% of Jews express assurance that the military is doing its job. But overall, the similarities far outweigh the difference.

What are we to take from these comparisons? It seems the Huffington Post was right; we have more in common with our Muslim American brethren than we may have thought. So what's next?

Together, Muslims and Jews are already doing great things. In Omaha, Neb., the Tri-Faith Initiative is breaking ground on 37 acres that will soon become a common campus for a synagogue, mosque and church. In 2007, the Reform Movement launched Children of Abraham, a Muslim-Jewish Dialogue initiative that has paired dozens of synagogues across North America with local mosques to learn about one another's faiths and start important conversations about rifts and similarities between the two groups. And the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, headed by celebrity Russell Simmons and "celebrity rabbi" Mark Schneier, is just one of many groups promoting tolerance and understanding between Jews and Muslims; FFEU's annual Weekend of Twinning, backed by the World Jewish Congress and the Islamic Society of North America, brings together synagogues, mosques, and Muslim and Jewish student groups in joint programs that foster communication and cooperation between the two religious groups.

As Jewish Americans, we have the opportunity to raise up these similarities and announce that Jews and Muslims are not two peoples at perpetual loggerheads, as society and the media would so often have us believe. Rather, we are two minority religious groups doing our best to thrive in a country that is not always welcoming. As Jews, a people who have historically experienced so much discrimination, we are in the unique position to provide support and compassion to our Muslim friends, who, since 9/11, have experienced considerable suspicion and inequity from their fellow Americans.

By taking to heart the commandment "Love thy neighbor," we demonstrate to critics and bigots that we won't be cowed by society's assumption that American Jews and Muslims are supposed to be in disagreement with one another. Recognizing that our two religious groups do, indeed, have much in common, we have the opportunity to set a positive example of partnership and cooperation to the rest of the country - and to the rest of the world.

Kate Bigam is a former Eisendrath Legislative Assistant and Press Secretary for the Religious Action Center and now serves as the Congregational Representative for the East District at the Union for Reform Judaism.

Published: 8/23/2011

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