Over the years, LEMA’AN ZION has published numerous stories about Arabs and Muslims who view the Jewish State positively and engage in efforts to improve relations with it on a political, economic or religious basis. One such person is Imam Mohammad Tawhidi.
My son Akiva and I met him this past May at the European Leadership Network (ELNET) International Policy Conference in Paris. We were invited by ELNET, which fosters close relations between Europe and Israel based on shared democratic values and strategic interests, as well as combats anti-Semitism through various awareness projects among government and business leaders.
To hear Tawhidi speak is a unique experience. He is an Iranian-born, ordained Shia imam (faith leader) who focused on Islamic studies at Iranian and Iraqi seminaries. He counts several Grand Ayatollahs in his lineage but does not currently have connection to any ayatollahs associated with the Iranian regime.
Quoting the Quran, he says the Land of Israel absolutely belongs to the Jews, that is all currently held Israeli territory, including Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem and, in fact, a lot more. The entire region is God-given to Israel.
Regarding the well-known Quranic reference to “the farthest mosque” (the al-Aqsa Mosque) to which Muhammad traveled on his night journey, Tawhidi admits that its meaning is disputed, but in his view does not refer to the Temple site in Jerusalem but rather to heaven.
Tawhidi unequivocally condemns terrorism, especially that committed by Islamists (e.g. the Shia Hizbullah or Iran) or justified in the name of Islam. He warns of inflammatory Islamist texts circulating in the West. He works with other similarly minded imams and Islamic scholars, as well as clergy of other faiths, to encourage peaceful co-existence. He speaks in mosques, churches and synagogues, and has provided testimony before government commissions.
He acknowledges Jewish suffering throughout history, especially during the Holocaust, and has visited the historical and memorial site at the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.
As recently as six years ago, Tawhidi held anti-Semitic views, he admits, a product of the traditional indoctrination regarding Jews and Israel to which he was exposed early on. Today, his views are very different and he attributes the change to God opening his eyes.
Tawhidi is vice-president of the Global Imams Council with a membership of about 1,500 imams and Islamic scholars. The Council has adopted the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism (see “The Oldest Hatred,” pg. 4).
It goes without saying the imam is not well-liked by all, especially those who don’t share his friendly views on Israel. He must take security precautions. Even Western media, which often adopt a leftist, anti-Israel and terror-apologetic slant, are not always respectful of the imam due to his contrary narrative.
Despite our theological differences, Tawhidi’s conciliatory message is a basis for continued positive engagement. Our ultimate hope is in the God of Israel (Jer. 31:17), but we can be grateful for Imam Tawhidi’s efforts for peace.