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.
CAIR-PA In the News
Jeffrey A. Reising, a supervisory special agent with the FBI announced during an interfaith prayer service tonight that three juveniles have been arrested and charged with criminal mischief. Leaders at the mosque expressed gratitude for an “overwhelming” response of support from the community – police, religious leaders and elected officials. The president of the Islamic Society of Delaware said the incident showed the power of a community to push back against intolerance. “We can make our town … our state … a better place,” he said.
CAIR-Philadelphia Executive Director Jacob Bender appeared this morning on The Marc Steiner Show (WEAA 88.9 AM Baltimore). Jacob discussed his appointment and the reactions to it, and answered questions about CAIR’s mission and activities, the perception of Muslims and Islam in American society, as well as commenting upon his own background promoting interfaith understanding between Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
There’s a new leader of the Philadelphia chapter of the country’s largest Muslim advocacy group, and he’s Jewish. Jacob Bender, a documentary filmmaker and writer, has been appointed Executive Director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. Bender, who introduces himself via a lengthy letter on the CAIR Philadelphia site, cites his extensive background in “Muslim-West relations,” including writing op-eds for magazines and newspapers and giving speeches at mosques, conferences and universities around the world.
“Many Muslims face daily suspicion, not unlike other immigrant groups throughout history,” said Bender, explaining that he felt people had a responsibility to confront bigotry. “When one group of Americans is attacked, it lessens the quality of democracy for all of us.” Bender acknowledged it will be challenging to represent Muslims as a non-Muslim, but said his Jewish background had some advantages. “As part of a community that has historically faced persecution in Europe and the United States as well, I hope that I would bring a certain amount of sensitivity.”
Jacob Bender is set to be the voice of Philadelphia-area Muslims, to take on discrimination they encounter in workplace and in the public sphere, and to fight expressions of hate. And his Jewish faith, Bender believes, can only help him do the job effectively. “The Muslim community is under attack from Islamophobic forces, and it is the obligation and responsibility of people of good will to stand up and say this is a bigoted attack,” Bender said. “This is fully in keeping with my life goals.”
“Ramadan is a blessed time for Muslims to not only strengthen our faith through fasting, but it provides an opportunity to help others in the larger community by feeding those in need and distributing prescribed charity,” said chairperson the CAIR PA Board of Directors and a member of the CAIR PA Philadelphia Chapter Executive Committee Iftekar Hussain. “I encourage Muslims, Jews and Christians to reach out to each other during this period of the year.