Let's try and get the most difficult issue out of the way first. I suspect that most British Muslims and British Jews are unlikely to
agree any time soon about the fundamental reasons behind the continuation of the long-running Israel-Palestine conflict. For the
record, the Muslim Council of Britain holds that the full implementation of all relevant UN Resolutions is key to securing a just and lasting
peace in the Holy Land.
Too often though, a failure to agree on this admittedly important issue is used as an excuse to stop talking about other areas - areas in which
both communities stand to benefit much through dialogue and cooperation.
Take the issue of faith schools. Currently, over 50% of Jewish schoolchildren in the UK attend Jewish faith schools, many of which are
state-funded. The desire to see one's children educated in a faith-based environment where they will be taught to value their heritage is
understandable and many of these Jewish schools are veritable centres of academic excellence.
Currently though, only 3% of Muslim children attend Islamic faith schools. There are only eight Muslim schools which have secured
grant-maintained status and these - like their Jewish equivalents - have gone on to become beacon schools. The rest of the over 140 Islamic
schools, however, are not supported by the state and run on often very meagre resources.
At a time when some secular groups are increasingly advocating the abolishment of faith-based schools, it surely makes sense for Muslims
and Jews to work together to uphold the right of parents to send their children to faith schools if they so wish and that they should be
It was heartening, a couple of years ago, to see representatives from both communities working to ensure that the recommendation from the Farm
and Animal Welfare Council to outlaw the ritual halal and schechita methods of slaughter did not become adopted by the government. What is
less well known is that most Muslims believe that it is permitted Islamically to eat kosher meat. Indeed, from my regular visits to my
local Sainsbury's in Newbury Park, I think it cannot belong before more Muslims buy Gilbert's kosher beef from them, than Jews.
Also, recent years have seen concerns in both communities that anti-semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise. Some Jewish groups
believe that anti-Jewish prejudice is being incited by Muslim extremists, while some Muslim groups believe that some Jewish columnists
and editors have been deliberately trying to foster an anti-Muslim climate in the UK.
For our part, Muslim communities must take more responsibility to ensure that criticism of some of Israel's policies does not slide into a kind
of a casual anti-semitism. Perhaps the best way to encourage this vigilance is to ensure that grassroots ties prosper between our communities.
Mention must be made here of the dedicated work of my local Rabbi David Hulbert of the Bet Tikvah synagogue in Newbury Park, but there are also
happily a growing number of other examples, including the Muslim Jewish Forum in Stoke Newington, 'Khawateen' a group of Muslim ladies who are
in their 4th year of working with the 'Rimon Interfaith Group' in North London, and even a joint Muslim-Jewish radio station in Bristol.
The MCB's Secretary-General, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, happens also to be the chair of the East London Mosque Trust in Whitechapel and the ELM has
for many years enjoyed a very cordial working relationship with the Fieldgate Street synagogue.
I do accept that some actions, including the MCB's continuing absence from the annual Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony - it has asked that the
name be changed to a more inclusive Genocide Memorial Day - have caused some misgivings and even distress among British Jews. It is worth noting
here that the MCB has decided to undertake a wider consultation of British Muslims about this issue and the position is currently under review.
A few months ago, the chair of the Jewish Racial Equality Council, Richard Stone, expressed to me his wish that the great era of
convivencia in Muslim Spain could be replicated here and that an improvement in ties between Muslims and Jews could perhaps one day lead
to Britain also being remembered for its own 'Golden Age.'
It was a good wish and the MCB stands ready to work with others in the Jewish community to help make it a reality.