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Published: Monday, 7/3/2006

No one benefits from maligning another's faith

Last week an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times caught my attention. It was about the formerly obscure and now well-known Syrian-American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan who had in February of this year renounced her Islamic faith on al-Jazeera television. She woke up to the realization that the religion she was born and raised in was an evil religion and that there was no hope of reforming the religion or its 1.2 billion followers, whom she called psychiatric patients. Since then she has become a minor celebrity and, along with Irshad Munji, a poster child for Islamophobes and Muslim bashers.

Recently Dr. Sultan was the featured speaker at a fund-raiser in Los Angeles for a Jewish organization that seeks to counteract anti-Israel disinformation and propaganda. In her remarks, she claimed to be a secular human being with no ties to any organized religion. Then she went on to broadside Islam and Muslims, to the delight of her cheering hosts. In that partisan crowd, however, there were a few voices of reason who were not blinded by her misplaced attacks on the entire edifice of the religion.

One was Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles and the other was Judea Pearl, father of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered in Karachi by terrorists in early 2002. Rabbi Stein was so outraged by Dr. Sultan's remarks and the jubilant response of the crowd that he wrote the piece for the Los Angeles Times.

According to the Rabbi Stein, her attacks on Islam and Muslims were on tenuous and superficial ground. For example, she said that since the Qur'an is in Arabic, it can only be understood by Arab Muslims. All others follow a mere interpretation of the Arabic text. Rabbi Stein draws an interesting parallel with the Jewish Bible (The Old Testament). To him the translation of the Hebrew Bible poses many more formidable translation problems than translation of the Arabic Qur'an. Are Christians and Jews who cannot read the Jewish Bible in Hebrew, asks the rabbi, ill equipped to understand its message?

Mr. Pearl took exception to Dr. Sultan's contention that the Qur'an contains only verses of evil and domination and suggested that there were verses advocating peace that followers uphold as the religion's true intent. To Mr. Pearl, the verses on war and brutality were nothing more than "cultural baggage" that can also be found in the Torah. Unfortunately, his words were drowned out, wrote Rabbi Stein, by the full-court press against Islam and Muslims.

In the same article the rabbi draws an interesting parallel between violent passages in the Qur'an and the Bible. What if down the street from this gathering, he muses, was a roomful of Muslims listening to a self-loathing Jew, cheering her on as she spoke of the evils inherent in the Torah, in which it is commanded that a child must be stoned to death if he insults his parent and in which Israelites are ordered by God to conquer cities and, in so doing, to kill all women and children. By doing that this imagined Jew would be completely ignoring all of what Judaism teaches.

Rabbi Stein also wrote about the wonderful relations Jews and Muslims have fostered in the Los Angeles area. He particularly mentioned the groundbreaking efforts of the Islamic Center of Southern California and the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in promoting interfaith understanding and accommodation. Groups of Jews, Christians, and Muslims have traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories as pilgrims. They visit each other's places of worship to pray together and the children are taught about the significance of other religious holidays in their respective schools. But despite being a resident of southern California, Dr. Sultan is apparently unaware of the nonviolent and non-evil work being done by Muslims under her very nose.

Religion is a matter of choice. There is no compulsion for anyone to follow any particular faith. But why would some Jewish groups think that they could raise money by maligning another faith? Why do the hateful and distorted speech of the Sultans and Munjis of this world resonate with them? Just imagine if the tables were turned, as in Rabbi Stein's what-if scenario. They would be screaming bloody murder and would not hesitate to label all cheering participants as anti-Semitic.



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