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Charles: Jewish and Muslim community members work to bridge cultural gaps



Last Tuesday, Jan. 30, the Oregon Hillel Foundation and the Muslim Student Association held a joint dialogue panel about Judaism and Islam. The panel is called Manzil Midrash and has been a recurring event for the last couple of years. The topic on Tuesday was about important figures in history and the purpose was to highlight those in each respective religion who achieved status for having an honorable character. Figures we discussed were Saladin, Malcolm X, Jake Tapper, Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Ruth Ginsburg. Everyone quietly got some free food that was offered at the event and listened to the presenters discuss the material. Several people lamented how infrequently good Muslim behavior is spoken of in the media. I personally benefited a lot from this specific discussion — it was nice to hear more about Malcolm X’s story. I hadn’t realized how much he mobilized POC in this country to become activists themselves.

Manzil Midrash is an effort to bridge the gap between two religious groups that are often portrayed in the media as inherently hostile toward each other. Both groups choose topics that they believe will generate feedback and engagement with the audience. Occasionally, the discussions are challenging — there have been heated moments during previous panels about the occupation of Palestine. Some participants are Israeli while some are Palestinian. The heated moments remind the audience of the human cost of the conflict and does not reduce the matter to mere statistics and geography. For those who are only familiar with the conflict from the media, this serves as a firsthand account by people who discuss their experiences. More often than not, people leave the events feeling more informed than frustrated.

Some discussions have been oriented around similarities between Judaism and Islam. For instance, both faiths are strictly monotheistic and Abrahamic and have legalistic traditions with varying interpretations. For many, religious identities simply serve as a means of social cohesion and preserving tradition. It can be difficult for international and out-of-state students in particular to find their community with like-minded individuals.

Holy sites that pertain to Judaism are often clustered around holy sites that are valuable to Muslims, such as the Dome of the Rock. These sites, by their very nature, are responsible for generating bitter dissension. A primary example would be Trump’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plan to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This sparked massive protests across Muslim communities and those who support the Palestinian cause in defense of “Al Quds,” which is the Arabic word for Jerusalem.

I do not project these conflicts will be solved any time soon; but dialogue offers opportunities for those committed to the cause and is beneficial to the greater community. Conflict resolution is deeper than simply talking about issues from a personal point of view; skills learned while approaching difficult topics can be useful elsewhere. Sometimes individuals leave with more questions than answers, and that’s okay. Hillel and the Muslim Student Association have close ties to each other, and outside of these dialogue sessions, members interact with one another regularly. If an individual can emerge from these panels with a deeper understanding of the inherent complexities of conflict and faith, then the dialogue was successful.

Future meetings will be on the following dates:

  1. Tuesday, February 13, 6-8pm, Mills International Center

Violence: Wars in Israel/Palestine & The Impact of Terrorism on Muslims and Jews

  1.    Tuesday, February 27, Diamond Lake Room

The Conflict’s Impact on the Environment

Here is a link to the Facebook event page if you would like to follow it.

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Melody Charles

Melody Charles