01/06/2013 11:40 EST | Updated 03/07/2013 05:12 EST

Can We Use Religion for Justice -- Not Evil?

Palestinians wave a flag and a Quran as they celebrate their successful bid to win U.N. statehood recognition in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas returned home to a hero's welcome after winning a resounding endorsement for Palestinian independence at the United Nations. Israel on Sunday roundly rejected the United Nations' endorsement of an independent state of Palestine, announcing it would withhold more than $100 million collected for the Palestinian government to pay debts to Israeli companies. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Professor of religion Dr. Omid Safi expressed hope for the New Year that religious faith becomes a force for justice, since religion has been a divisive force in recent history.

Notwithstanding severe criticism, many Jewish people have shown how religious faith can indeed be a force for justice.

In her latest book, queer activist Judith Butler referenced thinkers like Primo Levi, who having survived Auschwitz, emphasized humanist values, empathized with the Palestinian people and criticized the justifying of Israeli occupation through remembering the Holocaust.

Her work compliments the efforts of many Jewish leaders who refuse to equate criticism of the Israeli state violence with anti-Semitism.

Recently, several American Rabbis, cantors and rabbinical students from a wide range of Jewish communities, wrote a letter to President Obama, urging him to strongly oppose the recent Israeli illegal settlements in the West Bank.

An Israeli blog piece indicated that many American Jews are distancing themselves from the Israeli government, which they find to be dismissive of Palestinian rights and larger Jewish concerns.

Likewise, a growing number of Israeli high-school youth refuse to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Israel-Gaza conflict

It is these brave Jewish voices that counter hateful messages from people like Moshe Feiglin, the 23rd ranked candidate for the Israel legislature, who has equated Arabs with monkeys and Muslims with thieves and liars.

Jingoistic rhetoric, which demonizes all Arabs and Muslims as Jew-haters, needs to be replaced with views conducive to peace between Israel, its Arab neighbors and the larger Muslim world.

Various polls from 2008 - 2011 indicated that 81% of Muslim Americans, 78% of Jewish Americans and 85% of British born Muslims support the co-existence of Israel and an independent Palestine. An overwhelming 99% of British born Muslims rejected the rhetoric that Israel be wiped off the world map.

In the aftermath of the November Israeli attack on Gaza, a prominent Islamic cleric in Gaza issued a 'fatwa' that it would be a sin to violate the cease fire between Israel and Hamas.

Rabbi Marc Schneier mentioned that despite the November Gaza conflict, the involvement of prominent Rabbis and Imams in the opening of the Saudi driven interfaith Centre bodes well for peace. He also favored a second look at the 2002 Saudi Peace Plan, which recognizes Israel's right to exist.

Recently, relations between several Arab states and Israel have been pursued on the basis of narrow business and political interests and perhaps at the expense of human dignity that was violated this November.

The U.A.E has been reported to have discreet ties with Israel for the protection of its oil fields and borders. Likewise, Jordan's King has viewed Israel as a key regional ally.

Qatar has twice offered to restore diplomatic ties with Israel and has indicated that Israel would be welcomed for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Moreover, Qatar's King has been allegedly reported to have served Israeli intelligence.

Based on wiki leaks, Bahrain's King has instructed officials to stop referring to Israel as a "Zionist entity" or as the "enemy", whereas the Bahraini foreign minister has stated that Palestinian refugees return to Palestine and not Israel.

Likewise, an Israeli TV channel welcomed the comment of an advisor to Egypt's President Morsi, who has been described as a brother by an Israeli newspaper, that every Egyptian had the right to return to Egypt irrespective of religion.

Last year, even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu mentioned that if the peace treaty is respected, he would work with an Islamist Egyptian President.

In the larger Muslim world, in 2011 Malaysia ranked as the 15th largest partner for trade with Israel. While, maintaining quiet trade, tourism and security relations, Indonesia has planned to unofficially upgrade its diplomatic relations with Israel.

Until recently, Turkey and Israel built a strategic partnership in trade, tourism and security. Even after the Gaza Flotilla incident that strained ties between the two, the Israeli government offered humanitarian assistance for the October 2011 earthquake in Turkey.

Based on WikiLeaks, in 2009, the chief of Pakistan's spy agency tipped off Israel on terror threats in India. Likewise, former Pakistani Prime Minister, the late Benazir Bhutto, intended to establish official ties with Israel and also sought protection from the Israeli spy agency, Mossad.

Would it have been possible to prevent human tragedies this November if relations between Israel, its Arab neighbors and the larger Muslim world were driven by human dignity and justice rather than business and political interests?

Both Judaism and Islam uphold human dignity and justice as supreme values that trump other considerations. The Qur'an clearly affirms justice even if it required going against one's kin.

Orthodox Rabbi Yanklowitz has stated that affirming a person's human dignity trumps shunning another for violating a Jewish injunction. Likewise, many Muslim jurists have expressed that a human being is honored even if his choices run contrary to Islamic teachings.

Religious faith that eschews literalism and upholds human dignity and justice has the potential to usher in peace.

Having lost three daughters and a niece to an Israeli Defense Force attack, Dr. Abu Al Aish mentioned in his book I Shall Not Hate that the Qur'an taught him to be patient and forgiving.

His faith empowered him to express the sanctity of every human being and the teaching affirmed by both Judaism and Islam -- whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.

Can such common values instead of business and politics form the basis of Israeli relations with Arabs and the larger Muslim world?