The time for violence has come to an end, and the era of peace and dialogue between Muslims and Jews has begun - that was the message delivered by Maulana Jameel Ahmed Ilyasi, secretary-general of the All-India Association of Imams and Mosques, during an interview with Ynetnews.
Ilaysi's organization represents half a million imams, who are the main religious leaders of India's 200 million Muslims.
In an extraordinary visit to Israel, organized by the American Jewish Committee's (AJC) India office, Ilaysi arrived as part of a delegation of Indian Muslim leaders and journalists.
Asked to address Hamas's call for jihad to destroy Israel, Ilaysi said, "I believe in peace and this is the message I take. I don't believe in anything that destroys another country."
The religious leader also said the time had come for Pakistan to establish official relations with Israel. "This is the right thing to do," he added.
Ilaysi's arrival was not trouble-free, however, as a number of protests held by Indian Muslims were held in opposition to the visit.
"Indian Muslims do not have a very good impression of the Israelis. The protesters were saying, you are going to Israel, a country which humiliates the Muslims. That's the impression that they have," Ilaysi explained. He said the protests symbolized the natural opposition which arises to positive acts. "When you do good deeds, you are bound to have challenges and hurdles," he added.
"My impression was initially that the Israelis are certainly dominating Muslims out here. Once I came here, that impression completely changed," Ilaysi said. "I saw the reality on the ground, the mutual respect Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews have for each other. Constant conflict is not the reality here," Ilaysi said, describing his visit to the Israeli-Arab village of Abu Gosh, frequented by Israeli Jews.
'Muslims, Christians and Jews living side by side'
A visit to Jerusalem's holy sites only served to reinforce what Ilaysi described as his "pleasant surprise."
"I saw that Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side by side happily, not at each other's throat," he said.
Ilaysi added that the Indian government has lessons to learn from Israel on how to deal with Muslim minorities. "I was pleasantly surprised to know that Sharia (Islamic law) code is being supported by the Israeli government, whereas in India only local Muslims implement it. That is unique," he said.
"The Jews I have met here say that we are all children of Abraham, part of the same family. This is something I didn't hear in India. The Muslims in India should come and see things for themselves," Ilaysi said.
President Peres with Indian Muslim clerics (photo: Yisrael Noy)
The Indian sub-continent is no stranger to religious conflict between nations and ethnic groups. Within India, Muslims and Hindus have fought one another in bloody conflicts , while India and neighboring Muslim Pakistan have fought a series of wars spanning decades.
Ilaysi's message is simple: "The time has come to sit and resolve all problems by dialogue, and to completely abandon violent ways using guns and bombs. Islam never says you should fight with another person. This concept is wrong," he said.
Asked whether he was concerned by the prospect of a revolution by al-Qaeda sympathizers in Pakistan, a scenario which worries Western analysts, Ilaysi replied: "Pakistan will not fall in al-Qaeda's (hands) because people are sick and tired of violence, they want normalization. You do not see much support for violent activities in any part of world, esepcially in Pakistan."
Priya Pandon, the AJC's representative in India, said Ilaysis' visit forms a watershed in Muslim-Jewish relations.
"I think this is a landmark visit, it's unprecedented," she said, adding: "To take a message of peace to other countries is important. This organization (the All-India Association of Imams and Mosques) also has an influence on imams in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. India has good relationship with Arab countries, and it is a very close ally of Israel now. It's the right time."
Peres, Indian Muslim clerics meet in J'lem
In a meeting with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Sunday, Ilyasi said that "Islam does not give permission to kill, murder, or harm, and we want to sit together and talk."Peres told the members of the Muslim delegation, "If in the past the international effort was to separate religion and state, today we are all united in separating religions - all religions - from all kinds of terror."
The president stressed that "God is one, and respects human life indiscriminately and without murder and without hate. We are all the children of Abraham".
During the meeting Peres said that Jerusalem was a living example of coexistence of all the religions.
"The voice of the Muslim muezzin, the Christian church bells and the song of the Jewish cantor – all reach the sky together, unrestrained, unlimited, and with no need for visas," Peres said.
President Peres also noted India's struggle against terror and separatism.
Aviram Zino contributed to this report