The Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement (CMJE), a partnership between Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Omar Ibn Al-Khattab Foundation, and USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, represents the leading edge of academic and educational efforts to address the complex nexus of issues underlying Jewish-Muslim relations. This groundbreaking collaborative was inspired by USC President Steven B. Sample’s vision of increasing collaboration between neighboring institutions in order to benefit both the university and the surrounding community.
The Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement is a realization of this vision: three institutions within a one mile radius of one another collaborating on a project of mutual interest and community importance. CMJE began through the friendship of Mr. Dafer Dakhil of the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation, Dr. Donald Miller and Ms. Brie Loskota of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture and Professor Rabbi Reuven Firestone of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Since 2002, these foundational figures have collaborated informally to develop programs and approaches to improve Jewish-Muslim understanding, primarily in the area of dialogue. Through this collaboration, not only was a deep and lasting friendship developed but the need for a formal partnership to enhance the state of Muslim and Jewish relations established.
Since 2005, together with the staff and directors at USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture and the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, Mr. Dakhil, Dr. Miller, Ms. Loskota and Dr. Firestone have facilitated two international conferences, taught visiting Muslim scholars under the auspices of the United States State Department and the International Visitors Bureau, hosted talks with prominent Muslim and Jewish scholars, including Professor Khaled Abu Fadl (UCLA School of Law) and Professor Howard Wettstein (University of California, Riverside) and bolstered religious understanding by bringing USC and HUC-JIR students to Masjid Omar at the Omar Foundation and USC students to HUC-JIR.
Before the formal establishment of CMJE in 2008, our international initiative had already been up and running, helping to establish the first significant library holdings in Judaic Studies at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh among other projects. Domestically, CMJE has been functioning “virtually” by conducting, among other activities, a national study of Jewish-Muslim dialogue published by the University of London and consulting on such projects as the Religious Action Committee (RAC) and the Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA) Jewish-Muslim initiative. Additionally, dozens of Jewish and Muslim leaders and congregations have contacted the Omar Foundation and HUC-JIR to request guidance to initiate dialogue programs or improve existing programs.
Through such work, the need for an academic institution focused specifically on Muslim and Jewish history, culture, collaboration, and theology came to the fore. It is from this history of collaborative work, friendship, and partnership that the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement was founded to respond to the challenges and needs of these specific communities. Today, the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement stands as the only institution of its kind in North America: an academic think tank, community resource, and international actor focused narrowly on the unique nexus of issues related to Muslim and Jewish engagement. Through engagement, communities can move beyond partnerships based solely on dialogue or conversations toward collaborative action.
Through CMJE, Muslims and Jews are laying foundations for the future by finding commonalities in their two traditions while also striving to move beyond commonalities to a moment where even the most profound differences are respected. Through our work, CMJE celebrates the unique histories and sacred heritage of Islam and Judaism and works to ensure that these two communities come together in the spirit of humanity regardless of mutual needs or aspirations but based solely on the sacred principles we all hold in common.