IT was distrust at first sight for Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali when they met in Manhattan in 2005.
They were both being interviewed by CBS about Pope John Paul II’s interfaith outreach, following his death. They looked at each other, shook hands and felt mutually uncomfortable in their interactions.
“I’d grown up in an environment as an Orthodox Jew where Muslims were the enemy, Muslims were to be denomized, Muslims were not to be trusted,” says Schneier, 55. “I clearly brought to the table many biases, prejudices, prejudgments.”
Ali, 46, says he reciprocated with his own quietly ignorant views, until Schneier reached out several months later with a phone call and an olive branch. “He called and said he wanted to meet,” says Ali. After acknowledging their awkward first meeting, they talked about what they could do to better understand each others’ faiths.
Years later, Ali says their “friendship has already impacted both communities worldwide.”
In their quest for mutual understanding between Muslims and Jews, Schneier and Ali orchestrated the first summit of rabbis and imams in New York in 2007. They started a process called “twinning,” in which Schneier visits Ali’s mosque to talk to his congregation, and Ali does the same at Schneier’s synagogue. Ali says rabbis and imams have adopted the process in Canada, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.