A tribute to religious tolerance

Sunday 19/06/2016

As the world prepared for more conflict, war and other associated acts of madness, an unusual event recently took place in the United States. This was a peaceful event, quite appropriate for a man who led a turbulent life but inwardly never stopped looking for peace.
In what way was it unusual? It was a gathering to say goodbye to one of the legends of our time, Muhammad Ali, the great boxing champion. Ali, of course, was much more than a boxer and I leave it to others who knew him far better to eulogise him. However, I want to point out one manner in which Ali’s spirit reaches out.
To begin with, one of the keynote speakers at the funeral of a prominent member of the Muslim community was a member of the Jewish community and then there were the contents of his discourse.
Wait a minute! A rabbi speaking at the memorial service for a Muslim?
Yes, and not just any rabbi but Rabbi Michael Lerner, a liberal rabbi from Berkeley, California.
Lerner used his platform, where a slew of dignitaries had gathered, to call for peace between communities and for greater equality between those who have and those who have not. He asked the powers that be to introduce a plethora of social changes.
What is the world coming to when traditional bigotry and hatred are interrupted by the likes of Rabbi Lerner, who promote interfaith dialogue and respect of each other? When an American Jew calls for an ending of drone warfare and the ending of Israeli West Bank occupation? What kind of world is this when the leader of a Jewish community calls on Israel to respect Palestinians? And calls on the Turks to respect the Kurds and on the United States to become the most loved country on Earth, not just the most powerful?
What you get is the opposite of Donald Trump’s narrow-minded views and limited scope of life and politics. What you get is the opposite of what fanatical Islamists such as members of the Islamic State want. What you get is hope that there exists some sanity among us.
Regretfully, the likes of Muhammad Ali and Michael Lerner are rare. What Lerner called for is almost utopic, only a dream, a political reverie, a minute oasis of sanity among vast oceans of madness, violence growing political, social and economic instability.
With people like these you get a chance for a better world.
The rabbi began his unusual diatribe by saying he was representing the Jewish community in the United States but does he really? Certainly he can count on many supporters but, then again, so can Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who stands at the other end of Lerner’s political spectrum.
Lerner is no doubt a very learned man who understands the complexities of politics far better than some of the candidates running for the US presidency.
Alas, his talk is destined to be a good, provocative speech delivered in front of an impressive audience but that, regrettably, will soon be forgotten. Many people listened to the words of wisdom, applauded the man who delivered them, as well as the man in whose honour those words of wisdom were delivered.
Yet how many will have the courage to follow in his footsteps? Those were very big shoes Muhammad Ali left behind.