“Religion itself is not the problem, rather, political Islam that tries to create conflict between Jews and Muslims,” Imam Hassen Chalghoumi stated in Jerusalem.
By World Israel News Staff
President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the head of the Council of Imams in France and a delegation of young Muslim social activists from France and Belgium to Jerusalem on Sunday.
The delegation is visiting Israel at the initiative of ELNET (European Leadership Network), a self-described “non-partisan, non-profit organization strengthening relations between Europe and Israel based on shared democratic values and strategic interests.”
The delegation is headed by Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, whom the president met during his visit to Paris this year. Imam Chalghoumi been working for many years in France – along with Imams, social activists, local councilors, heads of student groups and journalists – to promote interfaith relations and tolerance.
The president noted that Jerusalem is holy to all religions and that Israel strongly supports freedom of religion and for all faiths. He also discussed the growing anti-Semitism around the world and the importance of interfaith work.
“We have to work together. We must fight anti-Semitism,” Rivlin stated.
“Judaism has never been at war with Islam,” he continued. “Judaism and Islam are sister religions, and we should relate to each other in this way. The Jewish people suffered for many years from racism and hatred. Moderation – religious, nationalist and cultural – is the true way to reach the hearts of people. That is the right way to live.”
Imam Chalghoumi thanked the Israeli head of state for his “modesty, openness and warm welcome.”
“We pray sincerely for the elevation of the soul of your wife,” he said. Nechama Rivlin passed away a week ago on Tuesday.
“I have visited Israel before, and every time I feel as if it is the first time,” the Muslim leader said. “Not only because of the sacred city, but also because of the diverse, modern population that lives in freedom despite the threats and challenges. It is wonderful to see each time.”
‘This delegation represents hope’
“Recently in Europe, people are being killed just because they are Jews. At Hyper-Cacher, at the museum in Brussels – innocent people were killed just because they are Jewish. This delegation represents the hope, the need and the possibility to build bridges of trust, the imam said.
“You yourself represent that hope,” he added. “Religion itself is not the problem, rather, political Islam that tries to create conflict between Jews and Muslims. States such as Iran, Qatar and Turkey who fund hatred through Hamas and Hezbollah. This is not religion; this is political Islam which we must fight against.”
A young Belgian Muslim woman in the delegation told the president that “before I came here, I had a terrible image of Israel. I saw Israelis as terrorist murderers.
“It touched my heart to see how people here…from different religions live together in peace, despite their difficult histories. This has been an adventure that has changed my perception of everything.
‘I supported BDS…and changed my mind’
“I supported BDS and boycotting Israel, and I can tell you honestly that I have changed my mind,” she said. “Israel has a right to exist. Human rights are respected here, and the people are generous and open-hearted. I did not know this because the picture portrayed in Europe is so totally different. I am happy to have come here and seen it with my own eyes.”