New York’s largest mosque, the Islamic Cultural Center (ICC) on East 96th Street in Manhattan, is getting applause from an unexpected quarter — the city’s influential Jewish community.

Rabbis who’ve spoken there call it an open and welcoming community. The Jewish Theological Seminary and the ICC are planning a joint soup kitchen for the homeless. The mosque is organizing an inter-religious studies program for teenagers.

Much of the credit for the upbeat mood goes to Mohammad Shamsi Ali, the ICC’s Indonesian-born imam who arrived here only 12 years ago and has been rated by New York magazine as the city’s most influential Islamic leader.

“Westerners often wonder what they’re preaching in the mosques, and Jews particularly worry about that,” said Rabbi Burton Visotzky, who spoke at the ICC in April along with Ali.

“What I heard Shamsi Ali preach was as fine a sermon on brotherhood as has ever been preached,” said Visotzky, professor of midrash (scriptural interpretation) and inter-faith studies across town at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, who spoke at the ICC last year and invited Ali to speak to his New York Synagogue in midtown last month, said: “It was impressive when he spoke to the congregation about Israel’s territorial integrity and how suicide bombings are a perversion of the Koran and Islam.”

One community publication, The Jewish Week, portrayed Ali as a “charismatic and compassionate leader” who can “mesmerise listeners with sermons in fluent, lightly accented English.”


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