Shortly after the latest cease-fire expired in Gaza on Friday, Jacob Bender gingerly climbed the steps of the mimbar, the pulpit at the Islamic Society of Delaware here. A Jew in a mosque, his hands palpably quivering but his reedy voice steady, he read some brief comments to close the afternoon’s worship service, called Juma’a. Mr. Bender offered both hope and censure, twinned: Muslims and Jews could still be “partners for peace and justice,” he said. Israel and Hamas bore shared responsibility for the current carnage, he added, and more hatred would lead to more violence, while love would lead to reconciliation.
CAIR-PA In the News
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is the “most pre-eminent and largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the country,” according to the Philadelphia chapter’s executive director, Jacob Bender. It began 20 years ago and now has 30 chapters across the country, about half of which have attorneys on staff. The Philadelphia chapter started in 1994. The council has a two-pronged mission, as Bender described it: One, legal protection of civil rights; and two, advocating for and educating the public about the Muslim community.
Although it might seem unusual for a Jew to lead a Muslim organization, it was a natural next step for Jacob Bender. In October, he became executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Philadelphia chapter — and the first non-Muslim to head up any of the 30 chapters. The organization focuses on civil rights protection for Muslims and counteracting negative stereotypes about Islam through education and advocacy. Continue reading (subscription required) …
Starting Saturday, Osama Al-Qasem and his wife, Manal Shurafa, started letting go of worldly concerns and focused on spiritual renewal. The Northampton couple weren’t alone. Muslims all over Bucks County are doing the same during Ramadan, the season during which the practice of prayer and sacrifice is intensified. The annual tradition, which lasts for 30 days, marks what Muslims believe was the time before the message of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.
Non-Muslims often view the holy month of Ramadan as another manifestation of an oppressive religion. Like many misinterpretations of Islam, this is way off the mark, for at its heart, Ramadan is imbued with thankfulness, joy, and compassion. Through fasting and self-denial, Muslims are reminded of all they have by temporarily living the life of those who have not.
As the director of “Out of Córdoba,” a documentary film about the religious coexistence of medieval Muslim Spain and Catholic Spain, I had the privilege of filming for several hours in the Great Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba when it was empty of tourists. It was a transcendent experience, and walking among its forest of columns and under its canopy of arches, one is easily transported back to a time when Muslim Córdoba was the most advanced city in all Europe, and visitors referred to the city as “the ornament of the world.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomes Brandeis University’s cancellation of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an activist with a long record of vicious anti-Islam statements, some of which are quoted in your article. Honoring Ms. Hirsi Ali would have been an insult to the legacy of Justice Louis D. Brandeis and his great defense of religious freedom and civil liberties.
The essence of xenophobia is to extend to an entire group the actions of the few. Prof. Ira Sharkansky of Hebrew University, in his article “Muslims, Jews, See the World Differently” (San Diego Jewish World, Feb. 24) follows this simplistic and bigoted line of discourse to conclude that valuing “human life” and opposing “bloodshed as a means of settling disputes” are just not “Muslim ways or perspectives.”
“No one can predict how people react to suffering or the knowledge of suffering,” he said. “So some Jews who came out of World War II and their children understand the Holocaust as meaning that everyone in the world was and will continue to hate the Jews.” He added: “Being called a Jewish Nazi-lover is not the nicest thing. But it speaks more about the intolerance of those making the charges than it does about CAIR.”
Talk to Jacob Bender for five minutes and you’ll get a sense that if bridges can be built between Muslims and other faith groups, he’s certainly the guy for the job. In October, the award-winning documentary filmmaker and interfaith activist was tapped to head the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). His appointment to the Muslim advocacy group, which protects civil liberties of Muslim Americans and aims to increase public understanding of Islam, might have passed under the radar had his own religious faith — Judaism — not become the focus of his new gig.