The definition of being Jewish or Muslim is tricky. This is especially the case when your own understanding of identities gets into conflict with the collective notion. Regardless of the number of times you pray a day, the language you speak or the way you dress, your identity above all is a decision. Not only is it shaped by historical narratives, states and societies as a whole, but also by every individual’s struggle with his or her surroundings.
The ultimate choice of believing in the narratives of “us” versus “them” – or challenging this perception – lies with us.
Bring 100 Jews and Muslims from 38 countries together, and you will see that the idea of being Jewish or Muslim is nothing but a simplification of a complex diversity. The annual Muslim Jewish Conference (MJC) is a space where the very presence of individuals already questions the concept of clear distinction. Different languages, cultures, beliefs and phenotypical appearances within an imagined group itself show the senselessness of simplistic categorization.
In many cases, participants at the 5th MJC could hardly tell whether the person they were talking to was Jewish or Muslim. In addition, the differences within a group – that is generally believed to be homogenous – challenged stereotypes and clichés.
The diversity of Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Mizrachim, Reform and Orthodox Judaism or Shia, Sunni, Arab, Malaysian, Turkish, Moroccan among Muslims highlighted what the Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie referred to in her enlightening TED Talk, in which she talked about “the danger of a single story”. Listening to many different narratives is the means to break away from stereotypes and to foster mutual understanding instead.
It may seem like a utopian ideal, but face-to-face dialogue has the potential to bring about positive changes among all parties involved. It is not about denying differences, but about seeing similarities as well and learning from one another.
Judaism and Islam have a long history of peaceful coexistence. Both the religions share common Abrahamic roots, traditions and rites. Praying Kabballah, Shabbat and Juma’ah, learning about Kashrut and Halal, visiting synagogues and mosques is all part of the MJC experience. It comes along with political and social discussions, cultural exchanges and building friendships. This is how interfaith dialogue, mutual trust and respect redefine the concept of “them” versus “us” into “we”.
Muslim Jewish Conference 2014