Imam Baghajati also referred to these concrete attempts to limit religious practice and immediately referred to the "rise of right-wing populists" across the continent. He pointed to the Alternative for Germany (AfD), far-right parties in Austria, Matteo Salvini and his League party in Italy, and Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands. Baghajati said such groups push Islamophobia, "mainly against refugees, but also against Muslims in general, as a political platform with populist overtones." He pointed out that although such sentiments were being peddled 20 years ago, some of the groups using them have now assumed governing power.

"That is why we are saying, 'nip it in the bud.' And who better to sound the alarm than Jews and Muslims," Baghajati said. "Together, we want to show that a liberal Europe, one of openness and with respect for human rights, is the right way forward."

Standing up against anti-Semitism

Another topic that leaders from the MJLC and others gathered in Matera discussed was the problem of anti-Semitism among refugees and migrants. "Instances of anti-Semitism among migrants is troubling," Granich said. "Unfortunately, we're hearing of such cases more frequently, on a weekly basis. Nevertheless, the Jewish community has many Muslim partners and friends across Europe who stand with us in opposition to it."

A Muslim and a Jew ride a tandem bicycle through Berlin (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Schreiber)
Tandem tour against hatred: with their bicycle demo in June 2018, rabbis and imams, accompanied by police and media, sent a joint signal against violence, mobbing and agitation against Jews and Muslims

Gronich said a number of "formal and informal" discussions aimed at tackling the problem have already taken place. He added that, "We cannot forget that there are a number of groups on the Muslim side that do not want to talk to us. It's not all rosy, and not everyone is willing to engage in dialogue. But we want to exchange ideas with those who are willing to talk, so that we can build a future together."

A role model for Europe

Of course, much dialogue happens beyond public view, such as last year, when a group of 30 rabbis visited Tunisia. In Berlin, rabbis and imams have worked together more publicly for years. And recently, religious leaders have taken to accompanying young Jews and Muslims on visits to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, a former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp located in what is today Poland, in order to foster understanding of the Holocaust.

Baghajati spoke of the "very positive experience" both sides have enjoyed in Austria. He said rabbis and imams have taken members of their communities along on trips together, and that the groups have stood in solidarity with one another when confronted with anti-Semitic or Islamophobic attacks. In his opinion, the relationship is "exemplary for Europe."

Another thing Baghajati finds remarkable is the fact that, "Imams and rabbis are coming together on their own, without third-party mediation – here in Europe, outside the Middle East. And that they're saying, we don't want anyone to tell us how relations between Jews and Muslims have to be. If intellectuals or religious dignitaries – imams and rabbis – on both sides don't do this, who will?" he added.

Christoph Strack

© Deutsche Welle 2019

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