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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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Muslim and Jewish Women come together for International Women’s Day

On the grey morning of Sunday 5th March 2017 I left my family still snuggled in their beds to attend the inaugural Nisa-Nashim Muslim Jewish Women’s Network event at the university of Westminster. I made the solitary walk up to the station in the drizzling rain and wondered whether this was a conference relevant to me. Did I belong amongst this group of women? What would the day entail? I went with no expectations other than the hope it would be a valuable experience for me. I felt the desire to be surprised, to be challenged, to gain an insight into the flowering of a movement of diverse individuals uniting to develop a positive narrative for their communities in Britain.

I arrived and found myself drawn to the beaming faces of the attendees lining up to register for the day’s activities. I instantly felt this was going to be a day of welcome from all the women attending towards one another. Over a quick coffee I saw the room fill with women of both faiths engaged in conversations – a loud gathering of passionate women ready for a day of interfaith engagement.

The Nisa-Nashim network was created by Laura Marks and Julie Siddiqi with the aim of promoting dialogue between the British Jewish and Muslim communities. The emphasis is on Muslim and Jewish women coming to the forefront of their communities and bridging divisions armed with friendship. It was a pleasure and inspiring to listen to the personal stories of both Julie and Laura. We were urged to think of the 2017 international women’s day motto “be bold for change” as we seek to break the mistrust perpetuated by an often negative cycle of information spread across the general media landscape permeating into our daily lives. The words of Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin were a great addition and uplifting “…my story is your story…and your story is mine…”.

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We heard from the representatives of CST and Tell MAMA who illustrated the increasing level of hate crimes and the often debilitating impact on the victims. The discussion highlighted interesting points such as the majority of hate crimes seem to be committed by white males which opens up many more questions and concerns. The message of “be upstanders not bystanders” was a very powerful and emotive one. This was a sobering and serious discussion about the challenges to personal security Jewish, Muslim and many other fellow minority communities face.

A host of talented women and organisations had put together a diverse programme of workshops such as community organising, yoga/self awareness, and faith in the media. I chose the workshop about interfaith marriage and human sexuality. A lively, illuminating, strong discussion occurred in which I found myself opening up and sharing my experiences too. This was a brilliant workshop and I am grateful to the stories, wisdom shared by women of both faiths. I was intrigued by the title ‘Scriptural Reasoning’ and found myself reading through corresponding passages from the Torah and the Quran with instructors to guide us along. It was fascinating finding the Jewish perspective enhancing the Islamic perspective of the story of Prophet Moses and vice versa. An interest in the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions was rekindled for me and I look forward to meeting up for further reflections.

I went to the Nisa-Nashim inaugural event not knowing what to expect. It turned out to be a revelatory experience. I was inspired by the passion the speakers displayed for the work they do in their communities to promote peace. I was delighted by the strength of the friendships that exist between the women who are behind the project but also the new relationships that were forged that day. Many like me went with tentative, shy voices but left further  emboldened to believe in a vision of strength in solidarity between our communities.

By Nazia

@25Nazia

Nazia is  a mother of three children. She has a degree in History (focus on modern Europe, Russia, Ottoman Empire, Origins of Islam, Mughal Empire, Middle East) from School of Oriental and African Studies London.

Image courtesy of @NisaNashim

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