A Civil Confrontation Greets Visiting Imams

March 7, 2007

Author: Charles A. Radin

Source: The Boston Globe


SHARON -- It was the critical moment in an unprecedented encounter between Muslim leaders from the Middle East and the religiously diverse residents of this small suburb south of Boston.

After the introductions, Fred Calm, a middle-aged man wearing the head covering of an observant Jew, asked the eight imams from Jordan, Egypt, and Syria why he hears so many reports of vicious anti-Semitism in their countries.

In Egypt, he said, "a researcher recently concluded that Jews use the blood of Arab children to make matzo" for Passover, a revival of a centuries-old blood libel long used to stoke anti-Semitism in Europe. Faces reddened and torsos shifted uneasily among the imams and the local residents packing the main reading room of the Sharon Public Library on Monday night. Awkward moments also occurred when discussion turned to the place of women in Muslim societies, and, earlier in the day, when the imams told Charlestown High School students how firmly Islam forbids sex out of wedlock. Last night at a Boston Public Library forum, women's rights were raised briefly, anti-Semitism was not mentioned, and more time was spent on the ethics of interest-free Islamic banking than anything else.

These were attempts at a peaceful, yet substantive conversation between Muslim religious leaders and ordinary American citizens. They neither dodged the burning issues between Islam and the West nor descended into shouting matches, fulfilling the hope of the US State Department funders and the local sponsors of the exchanges.