The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Judeo-Muslim heritage

An association of imams and rabbis will be creating an institute for inter-religious and inter-cultural diplomacy in Fes, the old Moroccan imperial capital:

The creation of a permanent institute for inter-religious and inter-cultural diplomacy will be announced next June in Fes, during the Sacred Music Festival, held every year in this Moroccan central town.

The announcement was made by Faouzi Skalli, president of the Fes festival, on the occasion of the first congress of "imams and rabbis for peace," wound up Thursday in the Belgian capital city.

The projected institute will develop inter-religious diplomacy through reflection and interpretation of sacred texts to contribute to find a way out to political conflicts, Skalli said. Religious chiefs have an important role in promoting awareness among their communities of the judeo-moslem heritage, Skalli said.

This is an interesting development, especially since as far as I know there aren't many initiatives by religious leaders to resolve regional conflicts. Perhaps the most prominent is a program by the Church of England (it was started by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, but I don't know if the current one has given it the same attention) to get Palestinian imams and Israeli rabbis to meet and discuss. I remember attending one such meeting in Cairo last year, meeting some interesting rabbis involved in politics such as Michael Melchior. The various religious leaders' argument was that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was essentially a religious one and that therefore the solution should be religious. I can't say I agree with that, but no wrong can come from better inter-religious relations.

Looking at the Moroccan side of things, it's good that there will be a public institution based there that will look at these issues. I remember being shocked by the Pew Global Attitudes survey a couple of years ago that showed that over 90% of Moroccans has a negative impression of Jews. I think that this is particularly regrettable in a country with a historical Jewish minority that until the creation of Israel was relatively well-integrated. Morocco lost a lot from the mass immigration of Jews in the 1950s and 1960s: there are currently over 650,000 Moroccan Jews worldwide, mostly in North America, but less than two thousand in Morocco itself. The city of Fes itself -- generally considered one of the most religious in the country -- once had an important Jewish population and it is generally believed that there was a lot of inter-marriage (and the occasional campaign of forced conversion). This, according to lore, is why Fassis (people from Fes) are pale-skinned.