” Open letter to Interfaith Jews: Choose your partners wisely.”

Written by the team from Jews Down Under.

Temple Beth Israel recently held a concert, billed as a “Sacred Music Concert”, “bringing together performers and communities from Melbourne’s Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Indigenous traditions”.

What the audience wasn’t told was that the second half of the concert would feature the Muslim call to prayer, and a recital of the 55th Surah of the Koran (describing how Muslim men will enjoy deflowering virgins in paradise) by Abdul Aziz al Mathkour and Brother Waseem Razvi of the Islamic research Education Academy (IREA)

The Australian Jewish News featured an article about the concert on page 8 of their 20 June edition – Music Bridges Faith Tradition praising the concert and reporting the recitation of the Koranic verse with apparent approval. In addition, the concert was given extra prominence by a full page of colour pictures on page 12.

One would expect that at least some members of the community would feel strongly enough to write in to the Australian Jewish News expressing disquiet at this event. Yet it seems that Temple Beth’s presentation of a ‘Sacred’ concert, without forewarning that it would feature the Islamic Call to Prayer, plus an offensive Koranic verse, has elicited not a single response from the readers of the Australian Jewish News.

Read more HERE including a video:

Maybe Jews have imbibed the message of the now retired Rabbi Fred Morgan, who, in an address to the Council of Christians and Jews (Vic) in 2009, recommended applying a non-judgmental approach to interfaith,

“starting from the assumption that, when people say they believe something, as peculiar and uncongenial as I personally may find their belief, it is meaningful to them.” He berated the mainstream Jewish community for retaining “a ghetto mentality”, concerned only “about anti-Semitism, the integrity of the land of Israel and the inviolability of the State of Israel – all matters bearing on security and safety for Jews in Australia, Israel and world-wide.” and “never having moved beyond seeking security through interfaith engagement…” He cited the Gaza conflict, where “because some from the Christian and Muslim communities who are active in interfaith work were one-sidedly critical of Israel, the AJN published letters and articles questioning the value of interfaith dialogue”. Morgan concluded that this attitude revealed “the insularity of the Jewish world”.

Progressive Judaism AustraliaIf, according to the Progressive Jewish view, caring about Israel and innocent Jews being killed makes us insular, then many Jews are guilty as charged. Indeed, all who believe in human rights should care about the security of a sovereign state and the vicious assault on a vulnerable minority.

It’s hard to get a handle on this bizarre Progressive mindset. Is it now the case that to be left-of-centre in religious matters automatically means that Progressive Jews must be left-of-centre on issues involving the welfare and survival of Israel?

Surely not all Progressive Jews believe that?

Or have those of robust Zionist principles voted with their feet and left the movement?

Indeed, in the Australian Jewish News of 4 July, amid a slew of messages from local Jewish figures deploring the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenage boys, the one by the Executive Director of the Union for Progressive Judaism, Steve Denenberg, stood out for its mealy-mouthed politically-charged even-handedness; he even included a gratuitous reference to Muslims (though Christians were not similarly honoured), and in contrast to other message-writers, he studiously avoided condemning Islamic terrorism or Hamas by name, using instead the amorphous expression, “victims of blind hatred.”

We understand that TBI has received communications from individuals unhappy with the inclusion of the unannounced Muslim component of the concert, yet has, so far as we are aware, lacked the courtesy of replying to them to address their concerns.

During a recent Friday evening service, TBI’s current senior rabbi read out one email that criticised the participation in forthright terms, condemning it as an example of the “hate mail” received.

It is unfortunate that TBI has taken this dismissive, seemingly contemptuous, attitude: it leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth of those who are genuinely distressed at TBI’s naïvety in inviting to the concert the representatives of a group actively involved in the conversion of non-Muslims (more on that below) and who uttered a Surah expressing Islamic supremacy and which is insulting to the gender equality that TBI (which after all was founded by a woman!) has – at least until now – upheld.

We doubt that TBI, in a spirit of ecumenism, would tolerate an Orthodox Jewish leader reciting in its sanctuary the traditional prayer, viewed as abhorrent by Progressive Jews, thanking G-d “for not making me a woman”. Yet paradoxically, they have no qualms about allowing Muslims to recite an obscenely sexist Surah.

What is TBI’s explanation for the latter?

Were they aware or were they ignorant of what the man was going to recite?

In either case, surely they are not too proud to admit to making, in this instance, an error of judgment, and to acknowledge that there should be no repeat?


The Muslim group, IREA – part of an international dawah (converting non Muslims to Islam) organization – was triumphant about its successful incursion into a Jewish sacred space. On its Facebook page there is a photo of Waseem Razvi and three colleagues en route to TBI for the concert; the photo is captioned “Dae’es [i.e. missionaries] from IREA heading for interfaith event at a SYNAGOGUE”

That caption implies that the quartet was not appearing at TBI in a spirit of honest interfaith dialogue, which emphasises there must be no attempt to convert,but for the purpose of proselytisation. Furthermore, there is this boast on the IREA’s Facebook page:


Firstly we thank Allah swt for giving us the opportunity to represent Islam in a country like Australia where there are only 2% muslims. Secondly we thank and appreciate the invitation from Cantor Michael Laloum and his initiative to work with Muslim Community. We also would like to thank Rabbi Gersh [Lazarow] and the Jewish Temple Beth Israel for their warm welcome. We hope & pray the doors of communication and mutual understanding are always open in order to achieve & fulfil the purpose of our lives i.e. to be obedient to the One & Only Lord Allah swt. As Allah swt says in the Quran ‘Say: O people of the Book (Jews & Christians)! Let us come to Common Terms as between us & you…..’ {AL Quran 3:64}

Several things are perturbing about these words. Firstly, it would seem the Jews are being asked to agree to a mutual understanding that we both worship Allah, who of course is different from the G-d of the bible. In addition the words “Common Terms” are capitalised, implying that they have a particular meaning in Islamic dawah. Dr Mark Durie, an expert on Islam, gave a critique of this meaning: http://acommonword.blogspot.com.au/2008/02/notes-for-christians-on-understanding.html

The key points are summarised below:

A 2007 letter, “A Common Word Between Us and You” addressed to the Pope, and other Christian leaders throughout the world by 138 Muslim scholars, is an attempt to Islamicise Christian-Muslim dialogue: the ‘common word’ theme is associated with a declaration of war against the Byzantines, and is part of an anti-Christian polemic in the Qur’an.

The introductory summary to the letter concludes with the words ‘…in obedience to the Holy Qur’an, we as Muslims invite Christians to come together with us…’

This formal opening to the letter declares that A Common Word is a call (ada‘wa) for Christians to come to Allah’s way, i.e. to Islam.

The authors of A Common Word take pains to cite this verse, and point out that, according to this teaching, Muhammad’s message must be the same as the message of the Bible. So from the Islamic point of view, it is entirely legitimate to regard Muhammad’s message of monotheism as the foundational message of both Jesus Christ and Moses. To call Christians (and Jews) to accept Islamic monotheism is in fact to invite them back to their own religion, and to the faith of their own prophets.

This is the orthodox Islamic position on Christianity and Judaism, that they are derivatives of the Islam of Christ and Moses. The Qur’an presents it as the duty of Muslims to call Christians and Jews back to their original faith. Thus the ‘common ground’ shared by Islam and Christianity is Islam itself.

The theme verse for the whole letter, Sura 3:64 is most problematic.:

Say: ‘O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah.’ If then they turn back, say ye: ‘Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah’s Will).’

This hadith is included in the Book of Jihad because it illustrates Muhammad’s principle that, before attacking non-Muslims, it was necessary first to invite them to embrace Islam.

Durie concludes

“Although A Common Word is presented as an invitation, it contains a warning of devastating conflict if the invitation is rejected. This is reminiscent of Muhammad’s approach to da‘wa, and should be evaluated in the light of his example”.

In the light of this explanation by an acknowledged expert on Islam, it is clear Temple Beth Israel made a grave error in inviting representatives of an overt conversionist group to TBI to exemplify Islam to an audience which could hardly have expected that the billed event would have such sting in the tail”

We call on the organizers of the concert to find the courage to acknowledge their error, which has the potential to compromise not only them, but the wider Jewish community. Such acknowledgment could act as a salutary lesson to all of us not to rush into inviting conversionist, supremacist Islamic groups to appear on our premises, under the false guise of interfaith, whereby they are enabled to recite passages starkly at odds with Jewish ethics.

Incidentally, in a recent Press Release, the Islamic Council of Victoria (with whom IREA are affiliated) condemns Israel as the aggressors, failing to even mention the Hamas terrorist group’s constant attacks on Israeli citizens. Here are just some of the calumnies, which amount to a blood libel:

The Islamic Council of Victoria is appalled and horrified at the wanton attack on the Palestinian people, homes and civil institutions. The loss of life, particularly those of children and unarmed civilians, is an indictment on the state of Israel and all nations that remain silent in the face of such abhorrent actions.
The ICV draws attention to the fact that Israel is an illegal occupier of Palestinian land… that in recent days has been indiscriminately murdering Palestinians without any reasonable excuse or justification.

In the light of this revelatory press release, can TBI in all conscience continue an interfaith ‘dialogue’ with ICV and invite into their sanctuary those who harbour such hatred towards the Jewish State?

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  1. The answer is no.

    Until the west understands that there is a massive difference between the teaching and core values of the Koran and all other religions and/or philosophies the Islamic problem world wide will never be resolved.

    Until we understand/except Islam as the problem, we the people of the world, will never be able to help these poor lost soles from being able to throw off their chains and move forward in having other options in life.

  2. Your argument is so full of fallacies I do not know where to start. Firstly I took the trouble to Google the quoted Sura and you have distorted it. The argument that because part of this Sura was then quoted in a Haddith on Jihad it is a suspicious statement would fail you the logic question in a VCE English exam.

    Then you criticise Rabbi Morgan for recommending “applying a non-judgmental approach to interfaith”. Surely this is this is a correct scholarly view to the understanding of other faiths?

    The well attended evening was advertised as a joint venture between Jews Christians and Muslims. The Muslims did not respond in time for their contribution to be included in the program. The Muslim contribution was well received by a musically sophisticated audience.

    It appears you don’t like Progressive Judaism, I suggest your panel find something about it. Attend a Parashat session or two with Progressive Rabbis before making these superficial judgements. And do your own research before going to press, try to do better than the world media in their biased reporting of Israel.

    It is a pity that you attack those working to establish better relations with the moderate section of the Islamic world. You should be concentrating on the true and vital issues of Islamist terrorism which is destroying the lives of millions of Muslims as well as Christians and Jews

    The Progressive movement is a great supporter of Israel and that includes all their Rabbis. This even despite the despicable refusal of The State of Israel to recognise it.

    • Jews Down Under

      Thanks to this abusive comment which I will let stand for now, everyone will suffer, I now have all comments moderated.

      I have no idea what the authors personal views of progressive Judaism are. What I will say it is not Judaism and I hope the day never comes when Israel recognises it.

      Seems to me the very fact that this temple, I won’t dignify this with a capital letter, hosted people from IREA, which is part of an international dawah organisation, alarm bells should be ringing in you head. This is a group which does nothing but proselytising.

      By the way, I gather you haven’t bothered looking at the FB page of this group. Hopefully the comments haven’t been removed from a month or so back

    • Peter, your efforts to defend the indefensible do you no favours. Just because you are a progressive Jew doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything they do, no matter how reprehensible. We Jews are given free will, and you could have exercised your free will in order to think for yourself, instead of exhibiting a slavish loyalty to every word that Rabbi Morgan and the Temple leaders utter.

      For your information, Dr Mark Durie is an eminent academic, human rights advocate and an expert on Islam. Are you presuming to know more than he does about the words Common Terms (note the capitals) and the ominous meaning? How can you say in all honesty that the information about Sura 55 has been distorted when it is there for all to read.? Dr Durie has written several books about Islam, whereas you, by your own admission, have just done a google search.

      The article never made the claim that “because part of this Sura was then quoted in a Haddith on Jihad it is a suspicious statement”.

      You attack the article for criticising Rabbi Morgan, but in Judaism, Rabbis do not have the status of demigods or intermediaries between a person and his/her deity. They are just human beings, and often fallible like the rest of us. Excellent Rabbis might earn respect, but those that show poor judgment must be open to criticism, just like the rest of us. Surely if you find an ideology “peculiar and uncongenial”, you would exercise your discretion and refuse to engage in interfaith with that ideology? For instance, if a religious group supported Hamas, an acknowledged terrorist group that aimed to kill all Jews – yes, even progressive Jews! – a wise rabbi would think twice about doing interfaith with such a group? Otherwise, to follow Morgan’s argument about being non judgmental to its logical conclusion, there would be no problem in engaging with groups that practiced voodoo or satanism.

      The excuse that “The Muslims did not respond in time for their contribution to be included in the program” rings hollow, in view of the fact that it was a widely advertised and well organised concert. Why are you covering up for someone else’s appalling mistake? As for your comment that “the Muslim contribution was well received by a musically sophisticated audience”, are you honestly suggesting that it shows sophistication to ignore an obvious threat to convert to Islam or else? Try telling that to the Christians in Mosul, who have also been ‘invited’ to Islam!

      Peter, this has nothing to do with liking Progressive Judaism, but everything to do with the Temple making an appalling error of judgment and refusing to acknowledge their mistake. Surely humility is part of being a good Jew and a decent human being, yet the progressives here show extreme arrogance. I can’t understand why you are defending them, as I know you are an intelligent person and are capable of better than this.

      Most Jews yearn to establish better relations with the moderate section of the Islamic world, but the Muslims chosen to appear at this concert were anything but moderate, as even a cursory look at their literature would soon establish.

      If the Progressive movement is truly a great supporter of Israel, surely they should object strongly to their interfaith parrtner, the ICV, rusihing to condemn Israel for defending herself against a genocidal enemy.

    • peter, i’m a pretty progressive kinda guy, i like my herbs man and dig love and peace like any wise druid but these islamic nut jobs will cut your head off because you are not them! be proud that you are not a sheep but don’t walk through the door into the abattoir under the banner of tolerance, look what’s going down in progressive multicultural romantic paris.

  3. Geoff Dickson

    It is important for everyone to reflect on history. In 622AD when Mohammed moved to Medina, he was taken in by the Jewish tribes. When they did not accept his message Mohammed attacked all the tribes and killed Jews who opposed his message. Before Mohammed died, he told his supporters to rid the Arabian peninsula of all Jews and they did. This is the example that all Muslims must emulate. As Mark Durie explains, first people are invited to accept Islam (soft Jihad) and after that comes the hard Jihad where fighting is allowed to forcibly convert people to Islam or they are killed. We now have 1400 years of this practice.
    IREA through Raseem Ravzi have invited Muslim Brotherhood hate preachers to Australia as have the ICV.
    It should be noted that the Grand Mufti of Australia visited Gaza in December 2012 and offered praise and support for Hamas against Israel. No condemnation from the Islamic community in Australia meant that Australian Muslims support Hamas. The largest Islamic relief fund in Australia, Islamic Relief Australia is an arm of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) which is the largest world-wide charity for Islam. IRW has been proven to fund Hamas and funded bomb making at Gaza university. The Hamas charter states that their mission is to destroy Israel.

    So we have a problem.
    The Grand Mufti of Australia, the IREA, the ICV and Islamic Relief Australia all support Hamas whose mission is to destroy Israel. In this context any Interfaith with these Islamic groups is pure hypocrisy.

    • Geoff, I believe there are many moderate Muslims, who just want to live a peaceful life. Unfortunately, they are often too intimidated to stand up and be counted, so the only partners available for interfaith are the Hamas-supporting variety.

      Personally, I think it’s preferable not to do interfaith at all, rather than try and engage with those who support our enemies who want to destroy Israel and kill all Jews everywhere, as Hamas does.

      • pam, and where are they? i’ve yet to see a group of moderates say they support israelis right to exist and be a jewish state. i have seen a few within israel where the last thing most of the se guys want is to return to a barbaric society where they loose the privilege of democracy.

        • Gary, unfortuantely any moderates who came out in support of Israel would probably be dead moderates. But I think we in the West are partly to blame, as in an effort to be ‘culturally sensitive’ we rush to defend the radicals, which empowers them. We should instead be supporting the moderates and protecting those that do have the courage to speak out.

          I remember during the Salman Rushdie affair, many of the elites in the UK, including prominent people, rushed to condemn Rushdie instead of defending his right to free speech.

          Political correctness will destroy free societies.

  4. I know that Peter knows a great deal about music, and like him I am a member of the Progressive wing of Judaism. Peter makes the point that “The Muslim contribution was enthusiastically received by a musically sophisticated audience.” The point is, though, that the audience was almost certainly blissfully unaware of what was being chanted and, perhaps more crucially, that the Muslims present came not as bona fide exemplars of interfaith but as missionaries for Islam. The Temple organisers of the concert deserve great praise for a splendid event, but they badly erred in failing to check (at least I am assuming they failed to check) the credentials of IREA.

  5. Dimmi comes to mind when reading about the fools at TBI and other Progressives.

    Moderate Muslims?? whats a Moderate Muslim one that doesn’t openly call for death to Jews but sits shtum and plays good cop bad cop ?

  6. In the present instance Progressive Jews acted like babes in the wood. But please don’t assume that all Progressive Jews are politically naive. I would prefer this discussion to focus on the stupidity of inviting Islamic proselytisers to TBI rather than become a stick with which to beat Progressive Judaism. I am a Progressive Jew and I am a lifelong Zionist. To insult the Temple qua Temple is to insult those staunch Zionists and great men Rabbis Sanger and Levi.

    • Hilary, I don’t think the members of the progressive community can be blamed for this. Most Jews I know who are members would not subscirbe to this at all and would view the call to prayer as abhorrent and a breach of the principles of interfaith dialogue. The blame must be laid firmly on those who organised the concert and the Temple leadership.

      As an ex-member of a progressive community, I left when I realised that the new leadership had a political agenda, which was quite at odds with Jewish ethics, which separates religion and politics. Frighteningly, the modern rabbis had a totalitarian mindset, with sermons being highly politicised and any polite request to discuss issues angrily denied. Many members enjoy the social aspects of being part of the community, so keep quiet about what is going on.

      My conclusion: there is nothing progressive about progressives, who don’t believe in freedom of speech or thought, but demand a rigid conformity.

      • Believe me, Pam, I am very wary these days of the Progressive movement’s tendency to jump on every leftist bandwagon, and I deplore it. But I know that many Progressive Jews deplore it too, especially when it goes against the true interests of Australia and the West in general.

        • Hilary, I totally agree with you. I think it’s the leaders of the movement who are the big problem, not the members themselves.

          However, the members could be more proactive in communicating their feelings to the rabbis. If enough members made it clear they were voting with their feet, these far left rabbis would have to rein in their intermperate views. Otherwise they would have no congregation.

      • Most Jews I know who are members would not subscirbe (sic) to this at all and would view the call to prayer as abhorrent and a breach of the principles of interfaith dialogue.
        I also don’t think progressives have a clue about islam.
        A little education is a dangerous thing……

    • please don’t assume that all Progressive Jews are politically naive.

      And just why is it an assumption to define how we see ‘progressive’ Jews?
      Overall, you do harm.
      The rest is details.

      • Hilary:
        I wanted to amend my comment.
        Since you self describe as a politically (and islam?) astute progressive Zionist Jew, why are so many progressives politically naive?
        Do you have any insights?

        I have not made any progress with ‘progressive’ friends and family.
        They seem to have no interest in engaging in honest dialogue
        and seem quite happy the way they are.

        And: inviting Islamic proselytisers

        Why are we calling them ‘friendly’ muzlims proselytisers?
        (Cause that’s what they do)

        This type of event would seem like the proper time to initiate conversations about islam.
        As mentioned above, this is difficult to do with progressives.
        Is it ‘simply’ :’All religions are equal’?

        But they do love their interfaith!

      • This article has NOTHING to do with bashing ‘progressive’ Jews, it is about the naivety of the so-called leaders of the .

  7. I fear those naive types probably see the world as they would like it to be rather than how it is, Zaba.