CAIRO - Distancing themselves from the Middle East conflict, Muslim and Jewish leaders in metro Detroit are sponsoring a series of events to promote harmony between followers of the two Abrahamic faiths.
"Interfaith relations are absolutely necessary," Basheer Alim, 61, a Muslim Commerce Township resident, told the Detroit Free Press."There has to be a concerted effort to reach out."
As part of the events, Jews will visit mosques and Muslims visit synagogue in an effort to promote understanding between followers of the two faiths.
The efforts were organized by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a New York City-based group that is behind similar events this weekend across the United States.
This Friday, about 15 Jews visited the Muslim Center of Detroit during prayers.
More events are planned at local community and religious institutions in Dearborn Heights, Detroit, West Bloomfield and Bloomfield Hills.
"We have to relate to each other beyond politics and religion," Nick Mazzola, 44, a Jewish resident of Riverview, said after the Muslim prayers.
The inter-faith efforts come against the backdrop of continuing Israeli attacks on Gaza, which have left more than 40 Palestinians, including eight children, dead and hundreds injured in four days. Three Israelis were also killed in Palestinian rocket attacks.
"We're fellow human beings sharing a common space, Mazzola said.
It's about understanding other people ... metro Detroit is truly a global world now."
Though there are no official figures, America is believed to be home to nearly eight million Muslims.
A 2010 report of the North American Jewish Data Bank puts the number of Jews in the US at around 6.5 million.
Despite being thousands of miles away from Gaza, Detroit Muslims and Jews hope that their efforts will impact the peacemaking in the Middle East.
"Hopefully this can serve as a paradigm that could impact the state of relations between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East," said Rabbi Marc Schneier, founder and president of the group, whose chairman is hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.
Imam Abdullah El-Amin, who heads the Muslim Center and has been an interfaith leader for decades, also praised Muslim-Jewish relations.
"People think we're supposed to be war all the time and be antagonistic, he said.
But we see each other as brothers and sisters.
Interfaith ties between American Muslim and Jewish leaders have a history of successes.
Founded in 1989, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding has worked for years to improve black-Jewish relations as well as Latino-Jewish relations.
In recent years, the group has focused on Jewish-Muslim relations, planning a series of efforts to promote understanding.
The group has launched an initiative titled Twinning Mosques and Synagogues to promote ethnic harmony and build inter-group grassroots ties.
Since the initiative began in 2008, it brought together 50 Jewish and 50 Muslim congregations across the United States and Canada at one-on-one programs.A group of high-profile Muslim and Jewish organizations participate in the initiative, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM).