Muslim and Jewish Students Debate Islamophobia and anti-Semitism

Toronto, Canada – When I told people that I wanted to organise a speech competition for youth on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the most common reaction I received was, “That would be hard.” However in late April 2012, 16 students from Muslim and Jewish schools, as well as public schools, in Toronto came together at the North American Muslim Foundation to participate in the 10th occasion of this annual event.

Despite some initial discouragement, I felt the connections between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were important. These two issues are often dealt with separately by Muslim and Jewish communities in Canada, but both groups have a great deal to offer each other as they work to overcome prejudice.

As such, my colleagues at the North American Muslim Foundation and I brought together a group of interested young people to address the question: do Jews and Muslims face the same challenges and do these challenges present opportunities for joint solutions?

Many of the participating students talked about personal experiences, such as their synagogues being vandalised with graffiti, or facing increased scrutiny at airports in the post-9/11 era.

Though the experiences were different, many felt that they were speaking with the same voice, only from different religious and cultural perspectives.

One young Muslim competitor described how she came to see criticism for wearing the hijab, or headscarf, in school as an act by one person and not an entire group. A Jewish student agreed, saying that when his synagogue was vandalised with graffiti it wasn’t a statement from the entire community, but a crime by one individual against a community.

A Jewish student reminded an audience of Jews, Christians and Muslims that working for harmony and standing up for religious freedom is every person’s duty.

Another Muslim student, whose experience of Judaism had previously consisted only of negative stereotypes, acknowledged that this speech competition changed her mind. As she reflected on the ways that both communities have struggled with stereotypes, she found common ground in the struggle to overcome them.

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