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Muslim & Jewish Women are going above and beyond to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’

The power of going beyond our limited thinking to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’. Mehatma Gandhi

At this time of uncertainty it’s easy to take our fearful thinking seriously and not question it. We can either retreat into ourselves and/or become more fearful of others. 

We may not realise it but our thoughts create our experience of life whether consciously (like when we are thinking about what we are going to say to someone) or unconsciously (like when we automatically make a cup of tea and are not aware of the thoughts that instruct us to do it).

But since thoughts are constantly flowing through us, often at great speed and ever changing, how trustworthy are they? 

When our thoughts look real, we live in a world of suffering. When they look subjective, we live in a world of choice. When they look arbitrary, we live in a world of possibility. And when we see them as illusory, we wake up inside a world of dreams.” – Michael Neill (2013), taken from ‘The Inside-out Revolution: The Only Thing You Need to Know to Change Your Life Forever.’

We are constantly, and innocently, making judgements about other people then acting out of that thinking; often without even realising we are doing this. It’s easy to make judgements about people but what are these judgements based on? How reliable are they? How much do we really know about the people we are judging? 

I was reminded of this recently when I had dealings with someone who I judged unfairly. I later found out that what I had interpreted as being pushy was in fact a passion for what they do as a result of them personally overcoming adversity that had a profound impact on them. Until I understood this I had interpreted their enthusiasm as something quite different. Needless to say I felt very remorseful but glad to have been retaught this lesson. 

We often think that our experience of life comes from what other people do and our circumstances rather than how we are viewing those other people and our circumstances in any given moment, a view that can change with our mood, how we are feeling, fresh thinking we have etc.

An example of this was when I was contracting at work and my contract was coming up for renewal.  I came into work one day feeling a bit insecure and no one spoke to me. I started to think maybe I had done something wrong and maybe my contract wouldn’t get renewed, so I started to feel even more insecure. Then I noticed that everyone was just working really hard and were up against it because of a deadline they had to meet and I realised they weren’t talking to me because they were busy and it had nothing to do with me. In that moment of realisation that my insecurity was coming from me and not from them it disappeared just like that. If I hadn’t noticed this I could have innocently acted out of my insecurity and done something that could have put me in not such a good light. 

Sometimes in life we need to step outside our comfort zone and go beyond the limitations that we and what we perceive others think is possible. A few months ago I did just that by passing my driving test at the age of 44. Something I and I everyone else I knew never thought I could do. How was I able to do this I hear you ask? Well partly I had a good reason that helped to motivate me beyond my fearful and self limiting beliefs (that I couldn’t do it, that I didn’t have good spatial awareness, that all other drivers were scary etc.). But also I had the understanding that fearful and self limiting beliefs were just thoughts like any other that ebb and flow. So when this thinking crept up on me, which it often did when I was attempting to drive, for the most part I was able to see beyond them and concentrate on the here and now of driving rather than the noise in my head. 

What I’m learning is that when see our thinking for what it is we start to see our thoughts as arbitrary which liberates us to go beyond their limitations and opens us up to people and possibilities in the world far beyond what we would have thought possible. 

In less than a month’s time an organisation that I am very passionate about – Nisa Nashim, the Jewish Muslim Women’s Network – will bring together Muslim and Jewish women from around the UK, who are bucking the trend of fear and separation and what they think is possible to come together for a one day conference on “Faith and Friendship: Shaping the future together”. We’ll explore what it means to view cross-community friendship as an engine of social transformation. We’ll ask, what does it mean to practice friendship as a form of social action? What role does friendship play in unlocking women’s leadership? What can our faith traditions teach us about being better friends and changemakers?

As Jo Cox so poignantly said in her maiden speech to parliament “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” The programme for the day reflects this with a wide range of sessions on issues that affect both Muslim and Jewish women such as Islamophobia and Antisemitism, campaigning and advocacy, and caring from the environment. It features a range of high profile women each courageous in their own way, including Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Cressida Dick, MP Naz Shah, Countdown presenter Rachel Riley, Deputy Mayor Debbie Weekes-Bernard and Annette Lawson OBE, the all-female team from Solutions Not Sides.  

So why not go beyond what you see is possible, “be the change you want to see in the world” and join us on Sunday 7 April

By George Halfin

George Halfin is on the steering committee for the Nisa Nashim Conference. She is an Innate Health coach and author of the blog Confessions of An Overthinker. She is also a Project Manager for Terrence Higgins Trust where she is currently working on a series of interactive films called ‘Their Story, Your Choice’ that aims to challenge people’s views and perceptions about HIV. 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Preventing and Addressing Rising Religious Bigotry and Anti-Semitism

Getty images

Image from Getty Images, London 2014

 

In the 1670’s, my maternal grandfather’s family arrived in London from Holland, having come to Amsterdam as refugees fleeing the inquisition in Spain. I am still asked which of my parents or grandparents immigrated to the UK (they were all born in the East End or Leeds!).

18 years ago, in my first Religious Studies Seminar at University, I was told I would burn in hell. Perhaps even worse was the time I met a chap who felt sorry for me, the only thing he knew about the Jews was Auschwitz. Neither of them had ever met Jews, unsurprising when we are a community of 270,000, the majority of whom are in Barnet. But this kind of casual, sociable anti-Semitism continues at dinner parties, and in Universities, often rooted in ancient tropes around Christ, child killers, money, big noses and so on.

Since meeting my husband (who wears a kippah/skull cap) I have experienced a new kind of anti-Semitism. Cans thrown out of white vans, Hitler salutes when walking past pubs watching football matches. Like Hijabis, religious Jewish men are more easily identifiable as Jewish and so receive the brunt of street violence.

And more recently there is Twitter… I have been called a child abuser (presumably because of circumcision though this wasn’t clarified) and of course child killer (probably because of the Gaza wars but possibly again playing on ancient anti-Semitic tropes and blood libels).
Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism also comfortably come together. The following were just a sample of responses to a smiling photo of Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner and the new Mayor Sadiq Khan:

 

Bigoted tweets

Screenshot of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic tweets

We know that anti-Semitic incidents in the UK and across Europe rise at times of conflict in Israel-Palestine, and that what happens there affects both our communities here.

Six years ago, attending an Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism conference, I was struck that at no point did we discuss our own communities’ problems with each other. We need to be able to put our hands up and say ‘the Jewish community has a problem with Islamaphobia’ and that ‘the Muslim community has a problem with anti-Semitism’. We have to be honest about this and try to challenge it where we can.

Believe it or not, it’s unusual for me to be talking about anti-Semitism. It isn’t a part of my Jewish identity or practice. Jews are often the first to deny the reality of anti-Semitism, and I do believe that majority of it is down to ignorance and lack of encounter.

But even with many Jews still uncomfortable to acknowledge the reality of anti-Semitism, there is now a sense that things have spiralled out of control to a place of discomfort. Particularly when it is the echelons of power from which it is being heard, and not just outside the pub. Until the last few months most Jews felt the government would protect them and that any prejudice faced was not institutional. There is now growing discomfort about what (hopefully a small minority of) politicians are saying.

I don’t believe this is true for just Jews. Muslim friends are spat at on trains and battered by the media. Gay friends are on the receiving end of violent attacks. Disabled friends tell me that they used to be attacked as ‘spas’s’ and now they are beaten up and called ‘scroungers’. It seems casual violence and hatred has become a far more common experience in 21st Century Britain than we would like to think.
How do we address all of this?
Simply put we must all challenge what and when we can. We must be up standers and not bystanders, for whoever is attacked and abused. Intellectual debate and disagreement is one thing. Hating one another over that difference is another.
I believe our education system has a huge role to play here. Faith schools, whether you love them or hate them, are not going anywhere. They bring with them potential problems of separating communities from one another. This can be tackled through linking and relationship building, not as one-off events but continual long term connections between schools. So much more is needed.

Religious studies have in the last decade received less and less investment. This is heart-breaking. It has been written off by many schools, but could sit at the heart of curricula. It needs to be about encounter, dialogue, and enabling students to hear different opinions while being encouraged to express their own views without feeling threatened by other’s differences.

We need to find what we have in common as a society, but we also have to create a generation that is comfortable with differences – we aren’t all the same and this is a great thing! For us to become a nation that embraces those who arrive on our shore and makes them a part of our story.

Britain needs to not only find its own story, but to show that it is proud of its beautiful diversity, and willing to be a society that embraces debate, difference, and diversity as a wonderful human trait, as celebrated by the Torah, New Testament, Quran and the Talmud.

This is an edited speech that was given by Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, at  a Christian Muslim Forum event, the House of Lords on 16 May 2016.

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers is the Community Educator at the Movement for Reform Judaism. She has a degree in Comparative Religion from Lancaster University and is a Buber Fellow from Paideia Centre for Jewish Studies Stockholm. She has been actively engaged in Interfaith Dialogue since her teens and currently teaches World Religions and Encounter at Leo Baeck College, as well as contributing to the interfaith training of Christian clergy at Queens Ecumenical College Birmingham. She spent 4 years as part of the Rabbinic Team at West London Synagogue before taking up her current post. She is a writer and regular radio broadcaster on Pause for Thought and BBC London. She is married to an active member of the Orthodox Sephardi community and has just returned from her second maternity leave. You can follow her @Rabbi_Debbie

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.