Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Kashmir Page: The "Israeli Obama" takes on the Y | people

A young Muslim Israeli is set to make the Jerusalem YMCA financially sustainable and to transform the established meeting place for three faiths into a dynamic peace center.

"The more you give, the more you get, especially in being part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Forsan Hussein, the CEO of Jerusalem's YMCA.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that the happiest man is the one who never left the village. Forsan Hussein, dubbed the "Israeli Obama," left his village in Israel some time ago. But his roots in that village have helped him to grow into one of the most influential of Israel's young Arabs - a man whom Americans, Israelis and Palestinians believe represents the new generation of Middle East thinkers. His latest challenge is to take the helm at the Jerusalem International YMCA.

Hussein has worked as a spokesman for the Abraham Fund, a US-based organization that promotes dialogue and programs to further the Arab-Israeli peace process - and has obtained degrees at Brandeis University and John Hopkins - and an MBA from Harvard.

For the past eight months Hussein has been the CEO of the Jerusalem YMCA, one of the hottest addresses in the Middle East where international diplomats and activists from east and west Jerusalem meet for intimate tête-à-têtes in the Y's cafe, and also come together for bigger, more lavish functions.

Unlike usual Y establishments which Americans have come to know as cheap and simple places to sleep, and to go for a swim, the Y in Jerusalem is a real cut above. The beautiful old building, described as the most beautiful YMCA in the world, attracts an affluent crowd.

One of six children, Hussein was raised in the Israeli Muslim Arab village of Sha'ab, 15 minutes east of Acre in the Western Galilee, population 6,000. Although he completed high school with a near perfect score of 98 on his exams, Hussein couldn't afford university and went to work in an industrial park.

Hussein meets his fairy godfather?

He discovered an opportunity to study in the US on a scholarship after reconnecting with a friend he had made at age 10, when he attended the Shemesh interfaith peace camp - a summer camp program aimed at fostering friendships among children from his village and the neighboring Jewish communities.

Handpicked by the Abraham Fund's chairman, multimillionaire Jewish philanthropist Alan Slifka, to be the Arab recipient of a scholarship to study at Brandeis during the years 1996 to 2000 (an Arab and a Jew from Israel are chosen for each scholarship), Hussein's is something of a Cinderella story. However, he isn't entirely comfortable with the analogy, or with the Obama reference.

"I heard that, but I don't really get too much into these things. I hold Obama at a very high standard, and I am glad that [what I do] makes them react. They see a young CEO with the renewed energy to make this a better place for all of them," he tells ISRAEL21c.

Since his time at Brandeis, Hussein's work and studies have been dedicated to interfaith dialogue and coexistence projects. A resident of Jerusalem's Arab Abu Tor neighborhood, he believes that he is the first non-Christian to take on the job of managing the Jerusalem International YMCA, which embodies the unique cultural and religious aspects of Jerusalem. Hussein is also the first managing director (he changed the title to CEO) to be appointed by a local board.

Fitting in with and moving easily between life in America and life in Israel, including both the Tel Aviv nightlife scene and the small Arab village where he grew up, the soon-to-be-married Hussein is hoping to use all his life experience to turn the Jerusalem Y into something bigger than it already is.

Yes, together we can!

"I was born and raised as a Muslim. What sets me apart here is that my appointment is groundbreaking. I'm the first Muslim to head the Y since it was established," says Hussein, whose duty it will be to make sure that the Y, owned by the YMCA of the USA, will gain financial independence.

"My goals here are to make the Y financially sustainable and profitable, its programs relevant and excellent. What I can tell you for sure, is what we are trying to make the Y an example of what Jerusalem should be - a dynamic interfaith peace center," says Hussein.

"In our renewed vision we want to position it, and develop and empower its ethical values and moral citizenship. There will be many different activities tackling this," Hussein continues.

"We will try to capitalize on the diverse center of the Jerusalem community, what Jerusalem is and what this entire region can be, the way Lord Allenby described it," he says, citing Allenby's words from his dedication speech at the Jerusalem Center in 1933, now emblazoned on the wall at the Y: Here is a place whose atmosphere is peace, where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten and international unity fostered and developed.

"I come from a very modest place. I've honestly lived a life so far that I would not have imagined in my wildest dreams and I have been very pleased with these opportunities.

Like Lord of the Rings

"It's like the Lord of the Rings movies: With these great responsibilities come great powers. But I believe the more you give, the more you get, especially in being part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those who have given much have much to get back. My role as a moral citizen is to contribute to the well-being of my societal values of tikkum olam [repairing the world] in the three religions [Muslim, Jewish and Christian]."

Hussein calls himself a Palestinian Israeli, but says that the words don't matter much. "I am Palestinian in terms of nationality, or peoplehood. But I am also an Israeli, as a citizen, someone who is loyal to Israel, it being my only country.

"I've been given something by my community and now the privilege to serve this community of Jerusalemites of the west and the east," Hussein declares, hoping that he will usher people from all over the Middle East through the majestic doors of the center (the building resembles a palace). Let them come from Jordan, Iraq, wherever, he says, as long as there will be harmony between Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

Returning to the Gandhi quotation, Hussein says that he often reflects on his home village: "The village, the mountains, the olive trees planted by the Romans. Sometimes I enjoy hugging a tree, even. There is something grounded in that environment. It gives me an ability to relate to people and analyze situations. But I've also got my Israeli street smarts, plus the people in Israel are kind and willing to help," he concludes.

Kashmir Page: The "Israeli Obama" takes on the Y | people

Quranic Motivation for interfaith dialogue by Musharaf Hussain

Quranic Motivation for interfaith dialogue by Musharaf Hussain

Musharaf Hussain


In Islam rights are of two kinds: the Divine rights and the Human rights. Divine rights include strong faith in the Lord and worshipping Him. Humanity is described as “Allah’s family” and thereby Human rights are sacred. The Qur’an whilst repeatedly telling the believers to worship the Lord emphasis the respect for Human rights. In order to promote these rights and good relations The Qur’an teaches four principles: The Equality of mankind, mutual understanding, cooperation and friendship. These wonderful virtues should underpin relationships and interactions in particular Christian Muslim.

Here we will examine these principles to show how the Qur’an encourages Muslims to adopt them.


The glorious Quran says: “O men! We have created you all out of a male and female and have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another” (Hujarat: 13) The classical commentators interpret a “male” and a “female” as “we have created you from a mother and a father” “implying that this equality of biological origin is reflected in the equality of human dignity common to all” (M Asad: the Message of the Quran Pg. 904). The Quran also highlights the criterion for dignity as being piety the God consciousness and awareness of others rights. This concept of equality of mankind is given a legal status in another verse; “There is no compulsion in religion”. God has given mankind the freedom to choose his religion. Archbishop Carey very rightly asks “are we really ready to build our relations on equality? Are we willing to give others the right as we expect for ourselves?” Another interesting verse is this one: “Unto everyone of you we have given a different law and a way of life. And if God had so willed He could have made you all one single community”. (Maida: 48). This makes it absolutely clear that the different religions are part of the divine plan, who are we to object it? Within this diversity is human unity. This verse further highlights the inclusive nature of Islam.

Mutual understanding not disengagement

I think the following verse of Ale Imran is a clear invitation to understand about one another, it’s an invitation to discover our commonalities. “O people of the book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God, that we associate no partner with him, that we should not appoint from among ourselves lords and patrons other than God”. (Ale Imran: 64)

Professor Faruqi points out “ there can be no cooperative endeavour without consciousness of the common base and shared purpose. The general awareness of Muslims and Christians ought to be developed until the truthfulness of the common base and moral desirability are recognised”.

As far as Muslims understanding of Christians is concerned there are some misunderstandings for example like: Colonialism, Christian missionaries and Orientalists. Muslims must make distinction between excesses of these and Christianity, these western activities and Christianity are not the same thing. This will go a long way in helping Muslims better understand their Christian friends. Similarly, the Christians awareness of Muslim concepts of prophethood and Jihad, status and role of women will help Christians overcome the misunderstandings about Muslims.

Co-operation not conflict

The Qur’an lays down a principle with regards to this when it says “And co-operate in matters of righteousness and piety”. (Maida: 2) There are many fields of activity where Muslim and Christians can work together for example;

1. Provide spiritual guidance; reconnect humanity to their creator, develop God bound consciousness.

2. Promote development of moral values in the society at large

3. Support the family institution; Rejuvenate traditional marriage, re-educate young about the rights of parents, tackle problems of divorce and domestic violence.

4. Help modern man to cope with materialism and consumerism thus achieving a balance between worldliness and the thoughts of the hereafter.

5. Raise voice against the neo-colonialism and the wars it wages on humanity e.g. War on Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine etc.

6. Help in the relief of world poverty and development of sustainable societies particularly in Africa

7. Support the asylum seekers and the refugees
Muslims and Christians are best suited to helping the postmodern society. We as believers have the know-how, the tools and the teachings, which can guide mankind in these fields. The crucial question however is how? And who will bring this about?
Perhaps Christian- Muslim forum?

Friendship not Hatred

A friend is a person with whom one enjoys mutual affection and regard. There are many levels of friendship, from intimate friendship to mere acquaintance mere knowledge of someone. The four levels often used in Tafsir books are:
• Muwalat - Intimate and very close friendship

• Muwasat – sympathetic relationship

• Madarat – to show regard and courtesy

• Muamalat – purely economic or professional relationship
A verse that is often quoted as evidence against making friends with Christians and Jews is verse 51 of Surah Maida: “O believers do not take Jews and Christians for your allies”

Muhammad Asad says “ this prohibition of a ‘moral alliance’ with non Muslims does not constitute an injunction against normal, friendly relations with such of them as are well disposed towards Muslims”.

Remember these verses were revealed at a time when the nascent Muslim community was under enormous tensions with other people the Jews in particular. However in Surah Mumtahinah a much later madni Surah the Qur’an predicts “ it may well be that God will bring about mutual affection between you and some of those whom you now face as enemies; For God is infinite in his power and God is much forgiving a dispenser of grace”. (Mumtahinah: 7).

And how true was this prediction in later Islamic history when we see excellent relationships between Jews and Muslims and Christians and Muslims. As religious leaders it is imperative we develop friendship that grows beyond just a dialogue. This will send a positive message to the whole society. The Qur’an says “… You will find nearest in affection to (Muslims) are those who say, “ We are Christians” since amongst them are priests and monks who are not arrogant. When they listen to that which was revealed to the Messenger, you will see their eyes fill with tears as they recognise its truth” (Maida: 82)

This verse praises the Christian Priests and Monks and describes their friendly nature towards the Muslims. In conclusion the Quran is encouraging Muslims to develop these virtues so that they can build a harmonious and peaceful relations with others.

• The message of the Qur’an by Muhammad Asad, The book foundation, England

• The Holy Qur’an - Abdullah Yusuf Ali, King Fahd printing complex, Madina

• Ismail Al Faruqi by Ataullah Siddiqui, Islamic foundation.