When the same God created us all, when He chose for us all to reside on the very same earth, how is it possible that He wouldn’t want us all to live together in peace and harmony? This is not just a statement. It is something I witnessed transforming into reality, during the week I spent at the Muslim Jewish Conference, where 80 participants arriving from 35 different countries did not want to say goodbye.
Just before arriving I tried to visualize what it would be like to attend this conference, and if you ask me now, what I imagined was nothing like what I ended up experiencing. It was a week of learning from each other and realizing that the differences that exist amongst us are far outnumbered by the similarities that do. But it wasn’t just that – it was in fact a week of developing relationships so strong that we chose to call ourselves “Jewslims” or “JewMus” instead.
We started off with our very first session of breaking down stereotypes, where each of the religious communities listed stereotypes that they understood existed about them, across the world. We moved on to form groups of both communities in order to discuss those stereotypes, allowing us a platform to exchange views on such sensitive issues openly and honestly. This exercise provided us with an opportunity to educate one another and possibly resolve those stereotypes or misconceptions that may have existed. We developed a safe space, where our candid beliefs and experiences were comfortably brought forward: a forum that was constantly open for us to discuss various political and social issues which acted as barriers amongst us, including the Israel-Palestine conflict. What was even more fascinating was that no matter how heated or intense our discussions grew, we always managed to reach common grounds.
Our activities were, however, in no way limited to debates and discussions. We visited an Islamic center and a synagogue, where we watched each other pray. We asked questions to find out more about each other’s religious practices and most of all, we listened. It was these visits that were a truly significant part of the conference for me. The most heartwarming experience for me was when all our friends gathered around, asked about and then listened to us talk about a wall hanging which displayed the 99 names of Allah and what religious significance they held. Later on, we helped them try on hijabs and we tried on kipas, and posed for some memorable photographs.
Most importantly, over this span of time, we began to share personal stories and instances, which allowed us to empathize with each other or even laugh together, and, as one of my fellow participants pointed out, this sharing of personal stories in itself reflected how strong the trust that had developed between us was.
From heated debates, to laughing together, to listening to each other, I grew close to so many incredible people from various religious and cultural backgrounds. The experiences that each one of us takes back would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the MJC Team. You made it possible for the Jewslims to realize that peaceful co-existence is not only possible, it’s almost inevitable!
Basmah Zaidi, Riyadh