An exploration of their socio-historic and theological roots and similarities
More than 120 Jewish and Muslim students, academics and members of the public attended the Foundation’s second annual international conference on Tuesday 10th November at Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, SOAS, University of London.
The conference was organised by the Joseph Interfaith Foundation in association with Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter and the Centre for Jewish Studies at SOAS, University of London and was supported by the Fulbright Commission.
The Foundation’s work is directed towards creating realistic and sustained areas of interactions between the Jewish and Muslim communities in Britain, especially focusing on young people, and educating the public.
Speakers at the conference included heads of departments and senior lecturers from the universities of Oxford, London, Exeter, Birkbeck College, Westminster, UCL, Royal Holloway, Leo Baeck College and Kentucky USA.
The session on “Theological Roots and Comparisons” was chaired by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action, Conservative Party.
The conference was the first to approach the topic in Britain. While there have been many conferences on anti-Semitism or Islamophobia exclusively, this is the first time that the two concepts are being studied side by side and with emphasis on their similarities and common roots.
For the first time the Jewish and Muslim students from Union of Jewish Students and Federation of Students Islamic Societies shared a panel and shook hands with each other. The Foundation works closely with university students. We are very proud of our reputation as an honest broker with no political agenda, which helped bring the two sides together.
Mehri Niknam MBE the Executive Director of the Foundation said in her opening remarks: “Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are two sides of the same abhorrent coin of racism and xenophobia. If we want a cohesive and inclusive society, we must learn to cooperate with each other; to empower our young people, to educate our communities, to encourage our religious leaders, and to publicly demonstrate our joint efforts. This conference is such a joint public demonstration of cooperation and we are delighted to be spearheading it.”
The participants’ responses were extremely positive. They expressed their interest in the continuity of such high calibre conferences. One participant wrote: “You must be congratulated for putting on a conference of this kind and creating a wonderful space in which these discussions can take place without prejudice or fear but in an atmosphere of mutual respect and self reflection.”
The Foundation aims to publish the conference papers in 2010.