Senior Religious Leadership
In January 2002, at the height of the violent events of the second intifada, influential religious leaders – Jews, Muslims and Christians – convened in Alexandria, Egypt, in a joint interreligious effort for peace. These leaders assembled in order to lay the groundwork for establishing a coalition of a moderate religious leadership.
Their urgent mission was to prevent a holy war between the religions and to oppose violence and extremism in the Muslim, Jewish and Christian world. In “The Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders in the Holy Land” that was signed at this summit, the leaders called to put an end to incitement against the other and to bloodshed in the name of religion. Following the principles of the Alexandria Declaration, we worked with widening circles of participants and with deepening trust, to voice a Jewish-Muslim message for peace and to garner support for it in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the Arab region.
Eventually, the Religious Peace Initiative was established in order to shift the emphasis of action from the official leaders deep into the circles of religious opinion makers, including – or chiefly – the radicals . More and more of the leading rabbis and sheikhs in the land between the river and the sea are taking part in the senior religious leadership program, and demanding of themselves to deal courageously and jointly with the religious challenges of peace. Recent years saw a number of substantial breakthroughs, when senior adjudicators in the wider Arab world expressed support for the coalition and its path and joined its activities, and many leaders are increasingly willing to come out from behind the curtain and publish their participation in the meetings and their insights.
Young religious leaders
The confusion and grievance of young generations throughout the Middle East, and particularly in the religious communities in Israel and the Palestinian territories, give rise to distrust of traditional leadership. The once hierarchical nature of societies is fractured, and the “old establishment” of religious leaders is often seems as failing to deliver on its promises.
Although the senior leaders still carry a great influence, and remain the main opinion makers, they sometimes struggle to convey their message to the youth. In order to effectively combat religious-driven extremism within both societies, we identify young upcoming religious leaders that can potentially teach and operate in accordance to the teachings and worldview of the Religious Peace Initiative.
Those young Rabbis and Sheikhs are given guidance and the opportunity to dive into the religious challenges for peace and develop ways to address them. They, in turn, have the ears of the young generation and are able to appeal to them and appease their frustration and disappointment from the lack of political prospects.
A Women’s Coalition
An analysis of the influence of the ties between Jewish and Muslim religious leadership shows that the positive conclusions seep down mainly to the men in both communities. Religious Muslim women come into contact with Jews far less than their male counterparts, and women’s religious leadership is often more secluded than the masculine one. One of the cornerstones of the Initiative’s activity is the establishment of a parallel women’s coalition, in which frequent meeting are held in a small group of Muslim and Jewish religious leaders for whom this is their first contact with the other side, as well as the first dealing with policy and politics that within their society are considered to be men’s affairs.
The goal of the Women’s Coalition is to bring together Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, who will discuss together ways to achieve peace between the peoples, recognizing the crucial place of religion in the process and solution. The activity enables religious women who are prominent in their community to deal with these challenges from their life experiences and based on their beliefs, and to give room to the female voice in a conversation were it is rarely heard. Growing communities of women in religious and traditional societies live the reality of the conflict, but are not sufficiently involved in frank and open discussion of the possibilities of resolving it. The women’s coalition allows them to find out in their own language, and on the basis of their own faith, how peace between Jews and Muslims may be realized.
Religious challenges for peace – Halacha, Fiqh and Thought
A widespread notion in western societies Views Islamic tradition and politics as a homogeneous, unchanging cultural phenomenon, comprised of intolerance and radicalism. Those are the only facets of Islam that are widely mediated to western audiences.
Meanwhile, Judaism is perceived in the Islamic world as a religious foundation for what they see as an inherently oppressive and xenophobic force. No profound Jewish thought and deliberation on the matter is accessible to the public in the Arab world.
To counter those distorted premises, The Religious Peace Initiative is building a database of religious writings, revolving around a series of religious challenges for peace and the ways they are dealt with. The database will include translations, summaries, and words of explanation and context, to make the inner Muslim discussion accessible to Jews and vice versa. In that way, we will provide easy access to the variety of Jewish and Islamic perspectives and interpretations of both scripture and reality
The efforts of religious leaders to consolidate the details and justifications of a possible peace agreement, through scholarly work and through dialogue, must be made known to the general public of the other side. Publicizing the Significant processes of reflection and interpretation by the religious leaders, Muslims in Palestinian society as well as from the wider Islamic world, along with Jews from Israel, may vitiate the presumption that an insurmountable religious barrier renders all the diplomatic efforts futile.