And I’m not even sure they traditionally eat curries in Indonesia…

For ease of reading, I’ll copy from the edited version of the interview here, but since this is really interesting, I’d ask you to read about the complete interview here.

New York’s largest mosque, the Islamic Cultural Center (ICC) on East 96th Street in Manhattan, is getting applause from an unexpected quarter — the city’s influential Jewish community.

Rabbis who’ve spoken there call it an open and welcoming community. The Jewish Theological Seminary and the ICC are planning a joint soup kitchen for the homeless. The mosque is organizing an inter-religious studies program for teenagers.

Much of the credit for the upbeat mood goes to Mohammad Shamsi Ali, the ICC’s Indonesian-born imam who arrived here only 12 years ago and has been rated by New York magazine as the city’s most influential Islamic leader.

“Westerners often wonder what they’re preaching in the mosques, and Jews particularly worry about that,” said Rabbi Burton Visotzky, who spoke at the ICC in April along with Ali.

[. . .]

The soft-spoken imam, 41, attributes his inter-faith success to New York’s ethnic and religious diversity and to the freedom Muslims enjoy in the United States despite what he calls “some interruptions due to security” after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“One of the blessings of living in New York is that we can do this very easily,” he told Reuters at the mosque, which was financed by Kuwait and other Muslim countries and opened in 1991. “Here in America, we feel easy practicing our religion.”

[. . .]

Ali has also been active in larger inter-faith initiatives such as the National Dialogue of Muslims and Catholics and Imams and Rabbis conferences in the United States and abroad.

Because of the Middle East conflict, being Indonesian rather than Arab may also help in relations with Jews, Ali admits.

But he says it’s more important that he separates politics from religion. He supports the idea of a Palestinian state, but adds: “It is unacceptable for me to say that Israel does not exist. How can we say there must only be one country?”

[. . .]

Open criticism has come from a handful of radicals called the Islamic Thinkers Society, which has attacked him as an “FBI mouthpiece” and a “moderate Uncle Sam Muslim.” Ali dismisses them as isolated, “ignorant and in need of an education.”

Schneier read Ali’s openness to working with Jews as a sign of a wider trend in Islam, citing a recent initiative of Muslim scholars for talks with Jews and comments by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah promoting Muslim-Jewish-Christian dialogue.

[. . .]

Soon afterwards, some of the Muslims expressed reservations about meeting Pope Benedict during his U.S. visit. Benedict angered Muslims around the world in 2006 with a lecture that implied Islam was a violent and irrational religion.

“I find it ironic that here in America, you have Islamic leaders who are more comfortable doing a project with rabbis than meeting the head of the Roman Catholic Church,” Schneier said. “You don’t find that anywhere else in the world.”

I’d like to add that some media (purposedly?) misquoted Benedict XVI on that speech by insinuating a quotation he had made in reference to a medieval source had been a sentiment by him. (Which leaves us to choose between poor comprehension or poor journalism in the aftermaths.)

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