Shared pain can bond, not break, relations

The Muslim-Jewish Conference, held this year in Sarajevo, was an extraordinary opportunity to bridge the worlds of young people who are Jewish or Muslim in any sense of the word. My main motivation for applying was to try and find a way to connect my university’s Jewish and Islamic societies, who, I feel, remain polarised by tensions in the Middle East. For example, over the last four years there has been an attempted ban on the sale of Israeli goods and products on campus, as well as various protests in response to conflicts in Gaza. If today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders, one wonders how things will ever change if we choose to deteriorate rather than develop relations.

The reaction of many friends and family members was typically, ‘you had to go all the way to Bosnia to meet Muslims?’, and my answer is, quite honestly, yes. Having lived in England since 2000, I haven’t once been to a mosque or engaged in open and honest dialogue with young Muslims. Although I have very good British-Pakistani friends, breaking down cultural barriers occurred after years of working in the same environment rather than a week of laying our cards on the table. In fact, the first time I met one of my British-Pakistani colleagues and said that I came from a Jewish family, her response was: ‘Oh, I didn’t know there were any left’. I think it’s important to say that this statement is not a reflection on the individual, but truly illustrates that a) the United Kingdom is not as multi-cultural as she likes to think, and b) the British-Jewish and -Muslim communities are dangerously divided and unaware of each other’s narratives.

The most poignant aspect of the conference was visiting Srebrenica, a tranquil and green space that is scarred by genocide and enveloped in pain. As we walked through the former UN compound, a space that embodies despair and betrayal, and then towards the cemetery where the names of endless victims are carved in stone, I couldn’t help but think “haven’t we seen this before?” Having visited Auschwitz-Birkenau earlier this year for Yom HaShoah, I felt the same cut as I walked into a room of suitcases and irrationally searched for the case etched with my own family name. One can’t help but wonder, if they weren’t Jews or if they weren’t Muslims then would this have happened in Europe? What I always find striking about these genocides is that the rest of the ‘civilised’ world looked on, they didn’t listen to our people’s pleas and they didn’t act upon their prayers.

But has anything really changed? Never again has happened and it continues to happen and once again, now in Syria, the world remains silent. The bus ride to Sarajevo left me to contemplate one question, when will the world learn from the Shoah and when will it learn from Srebrenica? This is not to compare the atrocities of the Shoah with those of Srebrenica, but to show how the ways in which youths remember and reflect over the deaths of Jews and Muslims can actually give rise to new life.

As I write this article almost a month from the beginning of the conference, I have finally realised how extraordinary pain is when shared – it is a feeling and emotion that can bond rather than break relations. As I think deeper about how the world betrayed and forgot both the Jewish and Muslim people, it becomes so clear that our futures are inextricable. The MJC epitomises that Jews and Muslims can do more than coexist, because we can quite easily coexist but live apart, instead, our voices are stronger and our communities are richer if we can gain other’s support and respect once more. By starting with small steps and running with the tagline of the Conference, “we talk to each other not about each other”, I hope to sow a seed of change at my university and nurture Muslim and Jewish dialogue on campus. If we start talking to each other then perhaps we can learn to live together – Inshallah – as my new Muslim friends say.

Photo Courtesy: Daniel Shaked

MJC does not support any political agenda and would like to emphasize that these posts reflect personal views of participants that wrote about their individual experience at an MJC conference.