US interfaith initiative will include Mizrahi Jews

Jews and Muslims in the US have launched an interfaith  project which for the first time includes Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews in order to highlight positive aspects of a shared history. It is called the Mukhayriq project, named after a rabbi who laid down his life on behalf of the Prophet Muhammad. See my comment below. Report in JNS News:

Participants at an interfaith Iftar event co-hosted by the American Muslim and Multifaith Women's Empowerment Council, the Mukhayriq Initiative and the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). Credit: Anila Ali/Twitter.
Participants at an interfaith Iftar event co-hosted by the American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council, the Mukhayriq Initiative and the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). Photo: Anila Ali/Twitter.

Cohanim said previous efforts to bring Muslims and Jews together have had only tepid success and in some cases failed altogether as the people behind them were found to have connections to radical organizations. What sets this initiative apart is that it brings Jews from the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) into the project. “Surprisingly enough, Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews have been excluded from a lot of these efforts in the Jewish community in the past,” she said.

The timing of the initiative couldn’t be better, said Cohanim, noting that there is a new openness among Muslims in the MENA region to rediscover the “indigenous Jewish communities that existed in the region for thousands of years.” She said Muslims want to learn more about that history and even “to reach out to those former neighbors.” She noted that among Jews, there is also a “real excitement” to learn more about Islam and Muslim communities, not just in the MENA region but around the world.

The initiative’s first major project is an accelerator program, in which applicants submit project ideas that would bring Muslims and Jews together. Those selected will receive part of a $50,000 funding pool and work with board members to see their idea brought to fruition. A maximum of 20 applicants will be accepted.

My comment: While any initiative to increase understanding between Jews and Muslims is welcome, and the inclusion of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews long overdue,  the implication of Mukhayriq is that it is Jews who must sacrifice themselves to advance understanding. Just two years  after Mukhayrik’s sacrifice, Muhammad fought the Banu Qurayza Jewish tribe and had 600 of their men beheaded. Jews were ultimately defeated and banished from Arabia. From then on, they were subject to institutionalised antisemitism in the form of the dhimmi status.  It might have been more effective to name this project after a Muslim who saved Jews.

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  • Thank you Ian for giving us the detail on Mukhayriq’s story. If only the Jewish interfaithers knew the extent of his self-abnegation !

  • Lyn, your comment is dead-on. I have seen Mukhayriq used similarly by others (such as Allen S. Maller on the ToI Blogs), and the effort almost without fail lands Jews in the role of apologist for Islam.

    The story of Mukhayriq is mentioned mainly in Ibn Ishaq (Guillame’s translation, pp 239, 241, and 384), and Tab7.136, while he is mentioned in a positive light for not opposing Muhammad/Islam elsewhere. A composite version of the story goes like this:

    Mukhayriq was a Rabbi from the clan of Banu Tha’laba bin al-Fityaun. “He was a learned Rabbi owning much property in date palms. He recognized [Muhammad as] the apostle by his description and his own learning, and he felt a predilection for his religion so on the Day of Uhud (which fell on the Sabbath) he reminded the Jews that they were bound to help Muhammad. They objected that it was the Sabbath. He answered: “May you have no Sabbath” Or: “You have no Sabbath.” And with that, he took his weapons and joined Muhammad in Uhud. His parting testimony to his people was: “If I am killed today my property is to go to Muhammad to use as God shows him.” He was killed in the battle that followed. And Muhammad used to say: “Mukhayriq is the best of the Jews.” He took over his property and all the alms he distributed in Medina came from it. Mukhayriq was considered to have died a Muslim.

    So in praising this nefarious character, Jews agree that a good Rabbi, “the best of the Jews,” recognizes Muhammad as legitimate inheritor of our religious tradition (this is what is alluded to by ‘recognized him by his description and learning’), desecrates and publicly forsakes Shabbat, abandons and forsakes his family, leaves his religion, and dies a martyr for a cause that disrespects our ancestors and holy people without shame.

    Our role then should be one of subservience and self-negation. Such un-Jews as those organizing this effort, and any that publicly praise and hold Mukhayriq up as an exemplar really clearly have no clue what they are talking about – neither about Judaism nor Islam.


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