An interdenominational delegation from Israel will meet with a prominent Muslim preacher in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss ways to enhance understanding between the faiths.

A rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Druse kadi and a Beduin sheikh will spend three days with Adnan Oktar, known also as Harun Yahya, a philosopher and theologian with a large following in the Muslim world.

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Such encounters have taken place for a few years now, but this will be the second time the delegation will be headed by Ayoub Kara, Deputy Minister for Development of the Negev and Galilee. Kara has advocated the improvement of ties between Jerusalem and Ankara as a vital need for Israel.

The group will also meet with Mufti of Istanbul Prof. Mustafa Cagrici.

“We are trying, along with people of faith, to create a situation of dialogue, and resistance to extreme Islam and terror,” Mendi Safadi, Kara’s chief of staff, said earlier this week.

On the sidelines of the interfaith discussions, Kara will meet with a member of the Syrian opposition, to present him with a list of Jewish holy sites in Syria. Safadi would not disclose the name of the Syrian politician.

When regimes are overturned, he said, there is a risk of Jewish sites being looted and plundered. “This is a request that the Jewish sites be safeguarded by what might become the new regime in Syria,” Safadi said.

One of the delegates, Rabbi Yeshayahu Hollander of Petah Tikva, is an associate justice on the Jerusalem Rabbinic Court for Issues of Non-Jews. Hollander is active in interfaith relations, specifically with Muslims and Christians.

The connection between Adnan Oktar and Hollander, who is a member of the nascent Sanhedrin, began over three years ago when Oktar’s people asked the rabbi to come to Turkey to meet and talk. Hollander, who accepted the invitation, described Oktar as “a man of religion, a philosopher who tries to make the world a better place.” Oktar has an extremely influential television program, broadcasted daily and viewed by millions.

This is Hollander’s seventh visit to Turkey for interfaith dialogue. “If people like Oktar’s broadcast, I will definitely dedicate the time to them to encourage them,” he said, noting that Oktar speaks well of Israel and believes it should belong to the Jewish people.

Hollander was far from being sure that this encounter would set off a change in the attitude of the Muslim world toward the Jews.

“I'm not optimistic, but can't give up on the chance,” he said. “With the [Muslim] Arabs there is not much leeway, since they have [political] interests at hand, and I don't expect a breakthrough from them in the initial stage. But here is an opportunity to reach understandings with them through non-Arab Muslims.

If we succeed, there is a chance that [the message of moderate Islam will reach Muslims] in Europe and America, most of whom are emigrants in search of a better life, who do not want to appear to their surroundings as an aggressive group that came to usurp their lands.”

“If non-Arab Muslims are able to show the Europeans that the [extreme Islamic movements] Salafis and Wahabis are practically inventions that developed in the 20th century,” and do not represent Islam as a whole, “there will be a possibility for peace in Europe as well. And if the non- Arab Muslim world makes the strategic decision to live at peace with the Jews, that will undoubtedly influence the Arabs. Especially since the Koran endorses such an option,” Hollander said.

For second-time Beduin delegate Sheikh Atef al-Krenawi, such a meeting is important not only from the perspective of inter-religious dialogue, but also as an opportunity to show the Turkish regime and entire world that Israel is a peace-seeking entity that treats all its citizens well.

As an Israeli citizen, Krenawi feels that it’s his duty to take part in a dialogue that could promote good ties with the Muslim world and promote peace. “This initiative should come from Arab Israelis, who should be encouraged to volunteer for their state. Our religion instructs us to strive for proximity with the Jews,” he said.

He also noted that Jews are mentioned in the Koran as cousins.

“If only moderate Islam would influence the Arab world,” he said. “People from around the Middle East quietly tell me they are envious of life in Israel. But after the [current] revolutions, moderation will prosper. Once true democracy exists, we will begin hearing good news.

“Religious leaders – who have influence over their followers – must lead such dialogue for peace and for the people,” Krenawi said.

While the current state of interfaith relations was not necessarily encouraging, Krenawi said he believed in such efforts and was raising his hands in despair.

“We must continue to reach out our hand,” he said. “Eventually, a hand will be extended back.”

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