A Mensch's Guide to Campus Activism


Jewish and Muslim students can build friendships, talk about important issues

 Lauren Mangurten 
By Lauren Mangurten

Jewish and Muslim women at Loyola University bonded over “Grey’s Anatomy,” their classes, favorite movies and other interests at an event called “Tea, Taboo and Fondue.”

The event was one of the many activities sponsored by Hillel and the Muslim Students Association (MSA) at Loyola to bring Jewish and Muslim students together. Patti Ray, director of Hillel at Loyola, said other past events included “Breaking the Fast, Building the Peace,” a dinner after a shared day of fast, and “A Bright Idea! - Lightbulb Exchange,” a chance for students across the campus to replace their incandescent light bulbs with longer lasting, more energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). She said the Jewish and Muslim students have also sponsored a dialogue on the Middle East for the past two years.

“Tea, Taboo and Fondue,” featured teas from around the world, the Taboo game and chocolate fondue with fruit and candy, Ray said.

“The most valuable thing is getting us to sit down and talk to each other,” said Lisette Zaid, a recent Loyola graduate and former president of the Hillel at Loyola. “I don’t mean about the conflict or about religion but getting us to spend time to bond.”

Sukaina Hussain, a recent Loyola graduate and former campus liaison for the MSA, said that students at other campuses who want to build relationships between Jewish and Muslim students should start small.

“Once you develop friendships, it is very easy to discuss more complicated issues,” Hussain said.

When it comes to the more complicated issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jews and Muslims often misunderstand each other, Zaid said. Forging friendships helps the students at Loyola look beyond the generalizations to learn about each other’s religions.

“It really humanizes the other faith and helps you open up to who they are and what they believe by focusing on an individual rather than on a population,” Hussain said.

Hussain said that for the “Dialogue on the Middle East,” Hillel and the MSA chose a topic to discuss every two weeks, such as security, violence, personal experiences, history and peace agreements.

“I liked the debates because they allowed us to clear up some stereotypes,” Hussain said. “They allowed us to present personal stories to each other and bring up important topics that are usually hush hush. We were able to do it in a respectful way.”

In addition, making friends helped the Jewish and Muslim students at Loyola see that they are passionate about some of the same causes.

For example, Zaid said she and one of her Muslim friends realized they shared a similar passion for the environment.

This shared value lead to Hillel and the MSA co-sponsoring “A Bright Idea! - Lightbulb Exchange.” Zaid said a charitable local organization donated $1000 in CFLs and Loyola donated another $1000 in the bulbs. Students could exchange up to three incandescent light bulbs for CFLs, she said.

“It was beautiful,” she said.

Another successful event was the “Breaking the Fast, Building the Peace” dinner, sponsored by Jewish, Muslim and Hindu students last fall. Ray said the dinner took place on Tzom Gedaliah, the Fast of Gedaliah, which occurs the day after Rosh Hashanah. The date of Tzom Gedaliah was at the beginning of Ramadan, which is the Islamic month of fasting, she said, and it was also the day after a Hindu fast.

The students joined together to break the fast at the end of the day, Ray said.

The event gave students the opportunity to partake in one another’s cultures, Zaid said.

“If you want to look at the symbolism of all this, everything was kosher, everything was vegetarian, everything was halal,” she said.

Hindu scriptures recommend vegetarian food, while halal food is acceptable under Islamic law.

“I thought it was a great way for us to connect with each other, not just on a personal or friendship level but on a spiritual level,” Hussain said.

The dinner allowed the attendees to discuss what peace meant in all of their religions, she added.

“A lot of people showed up and did fast on that day, showing that people on campus do want peace between religions and cultures,” said Ajay Patel, a senior at Loyola and president of the Hindu Students Organization.

Zaid said that students at Hillels on other campuses that want to build relationships with the other religious organizations should be the first to trust.

“Once you learn to have some trust you have that open line to see what you have to say,” she said. “It is no longer being afraid of what the other person has to say but rather listening to what the other person says and reconciling the differences rather than polarizing ourselves.”

Her positive experience with multiculturalism influenced her job choice after college, Zaid said. She is the Midwest campus coordinator at StandWithUs, a grassroots Israel advocacy organization.

“My experience at Loyola has inspired me to take this job,” Zaid said. “It has let me know that peace is possible and that campus is the first place that we’re going to find it.”

Posted: 10/18/2007 05:37:42 AM

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