Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges

‘A Pakistani Muslim and an Israeli Jew. One confined room. Many cameras. The name of the game: discuss each other’s stereotypes. There’s only one way this show can go, right? Wrong.’

By Lamees Hafeez, from Manchester (United Kingdom)

The MJC:

This year I had the unique opportunity to attend the ‘MJC’, an annual 5-day conference, taking place in different countries each year and providing a platform for real change in the interaction between young Muslim and Jewish communities. The Muslim Jewish Conference brings together a new generation of thinkers and upcoming opinion leaders who are connected by their joint belief in a new era of cooperation.

The 2nd Annual Muslim Jewish Conference was held in Kiev, a beautiful city in the Ukraine where Russian and Ukrainian are languages spoken by all, and English is spoken by few. Here, 70 students and young professionals from more than 25 countries, including Israel, Pakistan and Turkey came together to discuss, debate, understand and create. They hoped to bring to fruition what many assume to be an impossible dream: stepping beyond non-communication and mutual demonization to build a global movement of young Muslims and Jews committed to building a new language of mutual respect.

The 2011 Muslim Jewish Conference was a very exciting experience for me where Muslims and Jews freely exchanged views, ideas and opinions as well as exploring their common values. However, this was no hippy Kumbaya camp and many serious discussions were had with serious aims in mind. We wished to progress together as communities and come out of the conference with solid projects in mind that could take us forward. I’m glad to say in this we were successful and JaMGroupTherapy is just one of the amazing projects that came out of the conference and which I am proud to be involved with.

A little background:

In recent times, most Jewish and Muslim youth have had very little constructive contact with each other, so their opinions regarding one another are mainly based on stereotypes and prejudices dispersed both by their media and society. There is a considerable lack of motivation in recognizing and understanding the wishes, fears, problems, and hopes of their communities. The MJC helped many of us breach this divide through dialogue and we wanted to encourage others to do the same.

We also came to recognise that both our communities face much prejudice in modern day Europe in particular, and that recent years have seen a sharp increase in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic behaviour accompanied by the rise of the Far Right. We want to counter this by using our experiences and encouraging others to see past the media headlines and Far Right propaganda to the individuals involved.

The beginning of a movement:

JaMGroupTherapy came about as a result of young Jews and Muslims getting to know each other and sharing in each others’ experiences, therefore challenging their stereotypes and reaching a new understanding of the other. Thus, we were able to find a common ground where one would think none existed- between a Pakistani Muslim and an Israeli Jew, for example, who found that despite being worlds apart they shared the greatest understanding of what was often foremost in their minds, suicide attacks and the fear spawned by them. This led to the idea for a platform where others could also share their experiences, dispelling pre-formed ideas and helping us see how much we have in common.

JaMGroupTherapy is a grassroots initiative that strives to break down anti-Semitic and Islamophobic stereotypes through the use of written and video testimonials. This can only happen through the help of people on the ground, just the average you and me, who take the initiative to do something, to contribute.

Want to be involved?

We invite people of all faiths to contribute to JAMGroupTherapy. This initiative can only succeed through your help.

To share your story, please submit a written testimonial of a personal Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, or stereotype-breaking experience (see http://jamgrouptherapy.wordpress.com/). Testimonials can be up to 800 words long and sent to jamgrouptherapy@gmail.com.

Additionally, we welcome people to post video testimonials on our YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/JamGroupTherapy. These can be up to two minutes long and sent to the same address.

Please feel free to follow the movement on Twitter: @JaMGroupTherapy

Help us break through the barriers that separate us to reach a place of mutual respect and understanding.

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