Change of Pace

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Ari Alexander is guest blogging (via Blackberry) from the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, organized by the Muslim World League under the patronage of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

After spending the first 24 hours as a participant observer, I decided it was time to jump in. For me that meant being part of the shmoozing around coffee tables and the lobby.

It meant getting over my hesitation and even sense of being overwhelmed (a very significant rabbi told me he was feeling overwhelmed here, so I felt like that gave me the right to share that sense) – and approach people with a clear goal of getting connected to Saudis in a position to discuss possible partnerships with our work.

In addition to making my way to several exciting work-related contacts, I finally found out how I got here in the first place.

Muzammil Siddiqi, a former president of the Islamic Society of North America, wrote a personal letter on my behalf to the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League recommending that he invite me. I had spoken at the ISNA conference nearly two years ago and had no idea that my relationship with him could lead to such an unprecedented gesture of support.

On the topic of leaders in Muslim America, it’s also worth mentioning here that Sayyid Syeed, the current secretary-general of ISNA, made an incredible gesture of support in his own right – with much larger consequences – when he decided to tell the conference organizers that not only would many Jewish participants refuse to come, but that he too would not come to this conference if the invitation to Rabbi Yisroel D. Weiss, spokesman for Neturei Karta, was not rescinded.

In response to this mobilization, Rabbi Weiss was dis-invited. When I personally marvelled at his courage and conviction, he told me ‘you have to stand up for what you believe in.’

I have long known that the substance and content of these conferences are as valuable as the informal interactions one has. Today – day 2 – made this trip worthwhile. When details, B”H unfold in the months and years to come, today will always be remembered as the day of the planting of the first seeds.

Posted on July 17, 2008
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