To Reach Out Or Not?
Jewish organizations' support of PBS documentary on Muhammad
heartens some, riles others in the Jewish community.
he Detroit Jewish community's latest out-
reach to the local Arab community has
stirred both support and outrage.
On Dec. 16, about 100 members of
the Jewish community attended a private interfaith
screening of the upcoming PBS documentary,
Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, which will air on
WTVS-Channel 56, the local Public Broadcasting
System affiliate, at 9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22.
Coordinated by Eide Alawan, a Dearborn
Muslim, the screening drew about 800 to the Ford
Community and Performing Arts Center in
The Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan
Detroit was a listed sponsor; the American Jewish
Committee assisted by
providing volunteers who
acted as greeters.
According to printed
invitations from both
Jewish groups to select
members, the two-hour
the biography of
Muhammad, who lived
in the 7th century, with
profiles of American
Muslims who are living
in the 21st century,
inspired and guided by
The Council's invita-
tion noted the goal of the
evening was "to bring
people together for an
evening of interfaith discussion and understanding."
The film was funded by the taxpayer-supported
Corporation for Public Broadcasting as well as foun-
dations, family trusts and individuals.
While some viewed the event as another step in a
positive outreach process, others feel it overlooks the
Arab community's silence in condemning radical
Islamic acts of terrorism against Jews worldwide.
John Levin of Bloomfield Township, an
AJCommittee past board member, attended the screen-
ing. He said the film showed "the principal affinity
between Judaism and the Moslem faith in two signifi-
cant aspects — monotheism and ethical conduct.
"Those are shared principles, and they carne to these
two groups through different people," Levin said. "I
don't have a problem seeing Mohammad as a prophet."
He did say that some Jews he talked to afterward
felt the film had a "Disneyland-like quality to it."
Although she didn't attend the screening, Linda
Brenners of Farmington Hills said she was "very dis-
tressed" about it.
"Based on the invitation, the film highlighted a
handful of unsung Arab American model citizens,
which is all fine and good," she said, "but it skews
the picture and distorts reality because it doesn't
speak to the other side of Arab America that is a real
threat to Jews.
"We can't have this collective amnesia when Arabs
are being arrested for ties to terrorism," said
Brenners, who has been a Council volunteer and has
attended AJCommittee functions.
Through their affiliation with the event, she
believes, the JCCouncil and AJCommittee have
already endorsed the film and tied the hands of the
"There's such anti-
Semitism and anti-
Zionism incited by Arab
Americans, I feel that the
Council and the AJC
really didn't act to repre-
sent the Jewish concern,
nor the Jewish voice," she
"I know that there are
American citizens who
do their utmost to repre-
sent this country and all
the noble ideals that this
country was founded on;
however, there is a seri-
— Linda Brenners ous problem and we can't
ignore it. and make it go
away by always putting
the sugar-coated topping on it."
Jewish Community Council board member Allen
Olender of West Bloomfield said he also disagrees
with the Council's event sponsorship "when inno-
cent Israelis are being targeted, and the Arab com-
munity has remained silent."
"The film highlighted a hand-
ful of unsung Arab American
model citizens, which is all fine
and good, but it skews the
picture and distorts reality
because it doesn't speak to the
other side of Arab America
that is a real threat to Jews."
Reaction To Prescreening
David Gad-Hart, the Council's executive director,
said. Council members carefully screened the film
before the event and found nothing objectionable.
"We found it to be a constructive contribution to
understanding about Islam and about Muslims in
America," he said. "We also wanted to make sure
that we were collaborating with groups that were
known to us and friendly. We thought that this pro-
gram would be an important way to bring religious
groups together and to learn about Islam."
Gad-Harf said he understands the criticism "as a
consequence of a horrible period in which we are
"It leads many to feel that we should have little or
no contact with people in the Arab or Muslim com-
munity," he said.
"We are serving the Jewish
community precisely by being
involved in a project like this
because in a time like this,
there could be tension and
conflict locally that would
make Jews feel even less
secure," he said.
"It is part of our mission to
build relationships with those
people locally that we consider
Sharona Shapiro, Michigan
area director of the AJCom-
mittee, said the program
matched well with her organi-
zation's mission "to reach out
to other faiths."
Also, a segment of
Muhammad: Legacy of a
Prophet featured Dr. Reuven
Firestone, a rabbi and profes-
sor of Medieval Judaism and
Islam at the Hebrew Union
College-Jewish Institute of
Religion in Los Angeles. He
co-authored a book for the
Muslims about Judaism, she
To critics, Jewish outreach to
Arab groups might be consid-
ered a one-way street, but to
Shapiro, "the Arab community
is not the same as our commu-
"They're much younger [as a
community] and they're much
more vulnerable. They're entirely inter-dependent
on each other," she said. "They have a group of
organizations that are dealing with self-preservation,
with civil rights issues. As they eventually develop ...
they will understand how crucial it is to eventually
evolve into taking care of everyone's rights," she said.
"But to hurry groups along because we're uncom-
fortable or unhappy — they have to go through
their process." Cl