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Jordan's King Abdullah Meets Jewish Religious Leaders in Washington


Jordan's King Abdullah is stressing that Muslims and Jews have more in common than their current bitter rivalry in the Middle East would suggest. His efforts to reach out to the Jewish community included a meeting in Washington, with 70 American rabbis.

In recent decades, the hatred between many Jews and Muslims in the Middle East has been deep and intense.

But in his first-ever meeting with American Jewish religious leaders, King Abdullah pointed out that these two peoples share strong connections. Among these, he said, are a common ancestor, Abraham, and a belief in one god.

"Jews and Muslims are tied together by culture and history as well," he said. "For over a thousand years, both our peoples have contributed to the complex tapestry of Middle Eastern civilization. Throughout the Middle East, Jews and Muslims borrowed a great deal from each other in the areas of philosophy, science, mysticism and law."

The Jordanian monarch has spoken often of a moderate and traditional Islam, which values life and which he has advocated in the face of more fundamentalist and militant interpretations of the religion. Muslim extremists were behind the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

At the same time, though, King Abdullah pointed out that Jews face their own radicals, such as the man who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

"We face a common threat, extremist distortions of religion and the wanton acts of violence that derive therefrom," he reminded. "Such abominations have already divided us from without for far too long. We all too often fail to acknowledge that they also threaten to destroy us from within. This is not simply a matter of importance to Jews and Muslims. It is something that confronts and threatens the whole of humanity."

King Abdullah added that Muslims and Jews need to unite to defeat extremism.

"The only antidote is that we work together in the spirit of mutual co-operation and respect to defeat this common enemy," he said. "We must move beyond the language of mere tolerance toward true acceptance."

In the Washington meeting, King Abdullah's words were met with warm applause and four standing ovations.

One of the event coordinators, Rabbi Marc Gopin, of George Mason University, presented the Jordanian king with a special version of the Jewish holy book, the Torah.

"Gratitude is the foundation of the most ancient Jewish prayers, from the book of Psalms to our ancient prayer book. I want to thank you, Your Majesty, for every act of courage, every visionary gesture, that you and your family have offered the world. We stand in appreciation of your family's vision, courage and friendship to all, even to adversaries," he said.

The Jewish religious leader specifically applauded King Abdullah for setting what he called a hopeful example for Jordanians and for other Muslims around the world.

"I think the king is leading his people, and he is trying to set a direction that people can follow, in a very complicated world, in which there are very serious political conflicts, conflicts over territory, deep wounds of history," he said.

In his closing comments, the Jordanian monarch said he wants his message of reconciliation to have a wider audience than just the rabbis who attended the meeting.

"It is my hope that we, as children of Abraham, can go forth from this gathering with a common mission, to work together towards peace, justice and reconciliation," said King Abdullah. "The point on the religious calendar at which we find ourselves can inspire us in this endeavor. This year marks an unusual concurrence of the High Holy Days on the Jewish calendar and Ramadan on the Islamic calendar, each of which begins next month."

He pointed out that these religiously significant periods would provide perfect opportunities, not only for self-examination, reflection, repentance and atonement, but also for forgiveness and renewal.

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