On a lovely Sunday morning, we sat eating our breakfast, overlooking the beautiful mountains of Sarajevo, far from our Atlanta home.
Each year, the conference convenes 120 young Jews and Muslims from over 40 countries to eat, pray, share personal stories and discuss issues facing our communities. In groups of 20 we spent the week discussing topics such as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, gender-religion intersectionality, and projects to take back to our home communities.
People who had never met listened to one another openly and carefully. We shared prayers and religious rituals. We cried and laughed, agreed and disagreed. Acceptance was the common language spoken.
The Muslim Jewish Conference is truly international with a combination of cultures from all over the world. We had Jews and Muslims from North and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and the Middle East.
The participants from both groups ranged from extremely observant to completely secular. Often the individuals most relatable to us were those from our home region, regardless of their religion. Each of us learned an incredible amount, not just about the other religion, but also about how our own religion is practiced differently around the world.
Meeting in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was especially meaningful. This city has been a bastion of interfaith cooperation for hundreds of years and yet was the location of one of the world’s most recent genocides just 25 years ago. Visiting the Genocide Memorial was a stark reminder of the need for us to stand up for each other.
Our experience at the conference made it clear that extremist elements from both of our religions perpetuate the notion of animosity between us. Extremist voices are often the loudest voices, which can lead some to believe that they are the most numerous voices.
We, as the mainstream, need to take clear actions to make our voices heard. We need to show that cooperation, mutual respect and support for each other are the values held by the majority of both of our communities.
The MJC is creating a worldwide network of Muslims and Jews who will continue to work together. We will stand up and be counted. We will raise our voices.
As human beings, we have witnessed the atrocities that result from hate and lack of understanding of the other. Yet we will not desist from our task. With our common goal of showing our mutual respect, we will create a world where justice and human dignity reside.