By Imam Mohammad Shamsi Ali
and Rabbi Marc Schneier
American Jews and Muslims can defeat a common enemy by working together. That common enemy is prejudice - and if one needed statistical evidence for it, stark proof was revealed this week.
A Gallup poll found that 43 percent of Americans admit to at least "a little" prejudice against Muslims, and that such self-reported feelings are strongly linked to the respondent's views on Jews. Remarkably, those who say they feel "a great deal" of prejudice toward Jews are about 32 times more likely to report feeling a "great deal" of prejudice toward Muslims, according to the polling company.
Such numbers should serve as a call to action for both the Jewish and Muslim communities: We must work together as individuals on the grass-roots level to promote tolerance and reduce anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Barriers start to crumble when rabbis, imams and the members of their houses of worship take the time to learn about each other -- and then show the rest of the country that they share a common value system.
Of course, Jews and Muslims don't agree on everything, but there are many more areas of agreement. Gallup also noted this week that compared with other religious groups in the United States, Muslim Americans and Jewish Americans are most similar in terms of political ideology, education and political party identification, according to previous research. And a poll of Israelis earlier this month found a plurality of voters in Israel would oppose a ban on the construction of minarets on mosques built in Israel. The poll was taken after Swiss voters approved a resolution banning the construction of minarets late last year.
Jews and Muslims can use such common interests to forge and strengthen relationships and build an agenda that works for the betterment of a society as a whole. Sharing common roots as children of Abraham, Jews and Muslims can talk about their similarities in theology, as well as the times during history when their two peoples co-existed successfully. And they can forge bonds by talking about their similar interests in such issues as saving the environment, fighting poverty and reforming the U.S. immigration system.
For example, last November, Jews and Muslims in Buffalo turned those views into action. Doctors and dentists worked together to provide joint health screenings for people without health insurance in their community, and the success of that program has encouraged other mosques and synagogues to put similar programs together. Such a project not only builds relationships among Jews and Muslims, but also shows those who may still harbor some bias toward the two faiths that our similarities override our differences.