Muslim and Jewish Young Leaders gathered on November 20th at the Washington D.C. JCC to have a unique discussion and dialogue centered on shared core beliefs and values between Muslim and Jewish faith toward mutual understanding and building greater unity in the community. Participants from a range of organizations, including JAM (Jews and Muslims), MPAC, Moishe House, and the Congressional Muslim and Congressional Jewish Staffers, opened with an ice breaker and then watched a 20 minute film with clips of young Muslim and Jewish leaders explaining how their faiths positively impacted their worldviews.
Many participants reacted that they noticed after watching our film that they had not know much about Orthodox Jews who were fighting injustice in their communities (such as Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz of the Uri L’ Tzedek organization featured in our film clip who travelled to Postville, Iowa to protest against a kosher chicken-packing plant that exploited Latino immigrants); having assumed, in line with the stereotype that there are few rifts within the Orthodox community. They also admired the character of Najah Bazzi, a Muslim nurse from Dearborn, Michigan featured in the film, who stood out in terms of the dignified way that she observed her faith in a professional setting while being true to herself and her religion.
Participants contended that the greatest challenge they face is fighting intolerance. Noting that Jewish and Muslim tenets such as “saving one life is like saving the world” are of great importance in both faiths, they argued that ultimately the religious, cultural, and ethnic distinctions between people must be trumped by our common humanity. Participants recognized that they feel ashamed of those who profess to observe our respective faiths, but, in reality, misuse or misunderstand them. If there is a terrorist attack, Muslims think, “Please don’t be Muslim.” If there is a scandal, Jews think “Please don’t be Jewish.” Both Muslim and Jewish participants in the discussion asserted that they want to spread positive notions and examples through their respective faiths but face similar challenges in terms of the less savory images of the two faiths being presented by some.
Participants made clear that witnessing each other’s struggles with their faith and religion was useful to them in coping with their own struggles. The event ended with the understanding that Jews and Muslims can join together effectively on behalf of social justice if they have concern, not only for each other, but for all people.