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MJC – striving to bridge a religious, cultural divide

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DANI HOVSHA

The Muslim Jewish Conference (MJC) had its beginnings five years ago with the aim of facilitating communication between these two religions that have, of late, been divided politically and as a result also socially.

As a member of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), I had the opportunity to participate in this event, which took place over an intensive and inspiring seven days. Two of us, myself and a Muslim girl from the University of the Witwatersrand  represented South Africa, to explain to our fellow participants the unique situation we have been experiencing both on and off campus and to understand the varying circumstances across the globe.

SAUJS - Vienna


RIGHT: Dani Hovsha and Nadia Randera


In order to ensure that every one of the participants, who at times risk their security to attend the MJC, can contribute to the best of their abilities, the conference is divided into smaller committees. This way every person can focus on an area they are interested in and learn from others who share similar interests.

I was a part of the “Power and Religion” group, which focused mainly on issues of politics and religious law and how these were amalgamated in modern states. We discussed the implementation of sharia law in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, as well as how halacha works in Israel.

The MJC kept focus away from the conflict in the Middle East, choosing instead to engage on shared experiences, from Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism, to culture and arts and historical narratives.

As such, we could learn from and about each other and discuss the challenges we face together, rather than those that drive us apart. This was solidified through our trip to Mauthaussen concentration camp, where over 200 000 Jews and prisoners of war lost their lives to the Nazis.

It was my first time at a camp; it was a difficult trip, but one made all the more important in being able to share it with a group of people who had no historic ties to this tragedy, but who felt it with me all the same.

We held a group prayer at the site, where we recited Kaddish as well as a passage from the Qur’an. It was deeply moving.

Overall, learning about Islam was probably the greatest part of the experience, understanding its laws, but also the modern-day applications of practising in a Western secular world. The similarities were striking.

I was also privileged to discuss the means through which people in other countries had created interfaith dialogues. Interestingly, when talking about South Africa with staff from the MJC, the consensus seemed to be that our context was one of the most hostile environments for Jews and Muslims.

However, the MJC has pledged support to South Africa and there has been discussion about seeing if we can mirror the conference or even bring it here at some point.

I think an interfaith connection between the three major monolithic religions will be the best approach: It will open a religious platform from which we can hopefully move forward and attempt to alter a paradigm which at present is making life on campus difficult for Jews and Muslims alike.

I would like to thank the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and Steve Lurie for making this trip possible.

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