MUSLIM-JEWISH TWINNING EVENT IN MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

(submitted by Walter Ruby)

Leila-Miriam Rahimi, a graduate student at the University of Melbourne, is the unofficial Weekend of Twinning role model of the year.
A budding documentary filmmaker with a passion for interfaith relations, Rahimi came from Australia to New York last summer and did an internship with the ASMA Society, Pax Christi, and the Muslim Consultative Network, working with an Afghan women’s organization in Queens. She returned home in August determined to organize a Jewish-Muslim twinning event in Melbourne, but quickly found out that it was difficult to find Muslim and Jewish communal organizations; either at the university or in the larger society, who were willing to step forward and embrace the idea. While Rahimi soon found Jewish and Muslim students who were willing to participate in such an event, she had no organizations to co-sponsor the event and no physical space in which to hold it.

Then, several weeks before the Weekend of Twinning, Leila e-mailed me to say, “I am gung-ho to have a twinning, even if I have to hold it in my own apartment.Would that be OK?” Well, I myself had been trying without success for at least three years from far-off New Jersey to convince Australian synagogues and mosques and various communal organizations to take a chance on holding a twinning event. The time was not yet ripe I had been told; we need to wait a few more years.” And suddenly a young woman steps forward and says; “Hey, I can hold it in my apartment.” Of course it was OK!

Leila already had a promise from a Muslim leader, Dr. Abdullah Saeed, professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Melborne, to lecture on Islam at her event. At the last minute, she managed to locate an Orthodox rabbi who was ready to come to speak about Judaism, Rabbi Dovid Gutnick of the historic Melbourne City Synagogue, built in 1857 and the oldest in the city.
In a brief report after the cozy twinning event in her apartment attended by a small but enthusiastic coterie of Muslim and Jewish students from the University of Melbourne, Rahimi reported, “The twinning was awesome. Both speakers were wonderful. Prof Saeed was very knowledgeable and humble. The students loved him. Rabbi Gutnick was also very knowledgeble and made his presence felt with a great sense of humor….We mainly discussed the similarities between Islam and Judaism – which both the Muslim and Jewish students found astonishing. Who knew that we both pray 3-times a day, fast, consider Fridays ‘holy’, have similar dietary restricting (kosher/halal)…and that we even have similar religious rules around such questions as facial hair, circumcision and female modesty? People were amazed by the similarities.”

Rahimi added, “The feedback from the students was amazing. Everyone seemed to love the event and found it very informative and would definitely want to do it again. Both Professor Saeed and Rabbi Gutnick indicated they’re both very interested in partaking in this event properly next year in a setting where we can bring together a larger group. Still, it may be the case that at this stage, a ‘twinning in Oz (slang for Australia) is more likely to happen in an informal setting than an institutional one. There is still little trust between the communities, so to get things started we need to improvise a bit. The twinning wasn’t perfect, but overall, I think we made a good start.”

Congratulations, mabruk and yashar koach to Leila-Miriam Rahimi, Rabbi Dovid Gutnick, Prof. Abdullah Saeed and the Jewish and Muslim students who took part in the first-ever Jewish-Muslim Weekend of Twinning in Australia. Against all odds, they came together and made a start.”

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