Islam paid a visit to Baltimore's Orthodox Jews last night.
At an invitation-only gathering at the Shomrei Emunah synagogue in Mount Washington, an aide to the leader of the largest movement of African-American Muslims spoke on the similarities between Islam and Judaism and the need for warmth and understanding.
By doing so, E. Abdulmalik Mohammed tried to make distinct the differences between the religious aims of traditional Islam and the militant Nation of Islam movement led by Louis Farrakhan, whose speeches often contain anti-Semitic remarks.
"If the authority of God says you are to seek relationships with other people of faith, although it may be painful, still we must seek that relationship. . . . Muslims have to be respectful of good, common sense. It makes good sense to make friends, and not enemies," said Mr. Mohammed, 29, spokesman for Wallace D. Mohammed, spiritual leader of the majority of Muslims in the United States.
Wallace D. Mohammed, whose following is estimated to be about 2.5 million, is scheduled to visit Baltimore on Aug. 9.
In introducing E. Abdulmalik Mohammed, Shomrei Emunah's Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb said:
"Frankly, the Orthodox Jewish community is a bit ignorant of the African-American community in general and the African-American Muslim community particularly. But one thing we are good about is learning. We're eager to learn more about you . . . what you represent, and what we can do to work together."
Waiting to hear the answers was a crowd of about 25 people, made up of Orthodox rabbis, other Jewish leaders, curious lay people and local Muslims who helped organize the event with the Baltimore Jewish Council.
Initial questions sought a basic definition of what Muslims believe and were followed by more complicated questions about Islam's role in a society where the majority of African-Americans are Christian.
"Islam is a religion of conscience and a conscious awareness of behavior," said Mr. Mohammed, who has been a Muslim religious leader for more than a decade. ". . . In our religion, conscience seeks authority. For us, the one immutable authority is the Creator, God. Religious leaders in our midst are to call obedience to that authority."
He said that Muslims do not eat pork, believe "in the oneness of God," and pray every day at specific times.
It might well have been a rabbi speaking, except for the subject of what it is like to be black in America. On that topic, he asked for patience.
"You have to allow the African-American people to embrace an identity for themselves that they're comfortable with," he said.
"The Muslims have an identity they're comfortable with, but it's going to take some time for African-Americans to feel comfortable with people outside of their community. Some people think they should have done so by now, but the effects of slavery on the African-American psyche are still strong. It's going to take awhile."