Rabbi calls for Islam to ‘soften’ to other faiths

WA’s chief rabbi Dovid Freilich has spoken against Islamic fundamentalism, saying Islam should soften and its leaders formally accept other faiths in the wake of Perth’s first prayer shared by both Catholics and Jews at a synagogue last week.

The Menora-based rabbi says it will make a “world of difference” if Islamic leaders take on a similar tact to the Catholics in cracking down on religious hate and adopt a version of the “Nostra Aetate”.

The Nostra Aetate is a Catholic document formally acknowledging non-Catholic faiths which was adopted 50 years ago last month. It was the focus of a 600-strong service at Perth Hebrew Congregation on Wednesday last week, with the mostly Catholic and Jewish participants showing it’s being successful in slowly mended the 2000-year-old conflict between those faiths.

“It would be wonderful…if they [Islamic leaders] came out with such a statement like Nostra Aetate that actually said, ‘we have our religion, and we have respect and love for all other religions and beliefs, and they’re allowed to practice their religion without any persecution from us because we believe every religion is equally accepted in the eyes of God’,” rabbi Freilich told the Voice.

• Rabbi Freilich. Photo by Matthew Dwyer

• Rabbi Freilich. Photo by Matthew Dwyer

“If they were to do that, you’d have a situation here where you wouldn’t have a venue big enough—you couldn’t hold another celebration here at the synagogue because you wouldn’t be able to fit the people in,” he laughs.

“I’m telling you straight out: I pray to God,” he says as his mood changes and tears start welling, “I don’t want to see any violence.

“The truth is I would welcome and pray to God that they would do that because I hate to see [non-fundamentalist Muslims] vilified as I hate to see anyone vilified.”

Asked by the Voice why he thinks it hasn’t happened yet, he replies: “Because sadly you do have fundamentalists, and I can’t speak on behalf of my muslim brethren…[But] maybe they fear themselves to come out with such a statement because they don’t know what terrorism could prevail upon them.”

Last week’s service came just days after terror attacks in Paris and Beirut, among others.

Coolbinia man Sharon Pelach says the timing made it more emotional.

“It was a very powerful, emotional service and you could see there was a genuine friendship and bond between the leaders,” Mr Pelach says, commenting on Perth archbishop Timothy Costelloe’s presence.

“To cap it all off, for me personally, to have people of different denominations sitting together with a common direction, especially with what’s happened with recent terrorist attacks, was very moving.”

“I thought, ‘wow this is the direction we should all be on’.”

Emotions were particularly high when the Shema—one of the central Jewish prayers—was sung by everyone, and led by Catholics.

The English translation from Hebrew reads: “Hear, oh Israel, the lord, our God, the lord is one.”

Islamic Council of WA president Rateb Jneid did not directly address the idea of an Islamic version of the Nostra Aetate.

But says: “I am happy to work with anyone seeking peace and social and religious cohesion in our beautiful state [in WA].”

“Muslims believe in the same God that Jews and Christians’ honour, although we differ about particular theological points that define him.

“Muslims regularly interact with people of other faiths positively and have always concerned ourselves with the preservation of the right of others to maintain their churches and synagogues.”

He would not say whether he would campaign for Islamic leaders, across Australia as well as the globe, to formerly stamp out extremism.

Christian writer Maureen Fiedller, from the National Catholic Reporter, wrote last month the Catholic/Jewish relationship was an example that religions can change.

State Liberal MP for Mt Lawley Michael Sutherland—a presbyterian—attended the Menora event and says it’s clear “shackles of the past—the haunted past—relationships have now largely been broken”.

“Suspicion and lack of trust have been replaced by understanding and common purpose.”

by EMMIE DOWLING

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