The past year has seen numerous attempts to create and entrench divisions in society, especially between those of different faith groups and ethnicities. The most recent example of this is the attack in Westminster just a month ago;
but many are still feeling the impact of the Brexit vote and the fallout from the election of Donald Trump in the United States too. Whilst the majority of people refused to engage in the polarisation of society, there were those who responded with hostility to those different from themselves.
Likewise, at NUS Conference and more broadly in the student movement, Jewish and Muslim students have previously found themselves in opposite corners of the room, particularly on issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yet people of faith, especially women of faith, have far more in common than what divides them. This was the message of the address by Laura Marks OBE and Julie Siddiqi, titled ‘Friendship, Faith and Feminism’, to 120 delegates to NUS Conference at UJS’ annual fringe event.
Laura and Julie are co-founders of Nisa-Nashim, an organisation that aims to eradicate misconceptions of people who are different from each other by bringing Jewish and Muslim women together through leadership initiatives.
They spoke about the need to unite in the face of hatred and division, with Laura noting that women of faith 'face oppression both within and outside their communities.’ Julie said: 'As women of faith we have so much in common. We have to find ways to challenge what's happening.’
Laura underlined the importance of intersectionality in liberation, and added that on top of that, 'men need to be part of the solution, not perpetuating the problem - even when that can be difficult.'
Questions from the floor included whether the activists receive pushback from inside their communities for their work; how to challenge Islamophobia and antisemitism, at home and abroad; and how faith and liberation groups can work together to support each other. Julie was keen to emphasise the need to share experiences, telling the audience that they should invite each other to social events and religious celebrations. She said: 'We are so guarded because of politics, but friendship and trust are not wishy-washy. Invite people into your life.' Laura added: 'we may not always agree, but because we are friends, we can talk about it. We explain, if not agree.'
Afterwards, Ellie Keiller, President of Birmingham Guild of Students, said that she was ‘thrilled to be at the UJS fringe event, listening to a discussion on faith, hate crime, patriarchy and prejudice’ and that ‘hearing these incredible speakers is such a help for knowing how to be the best ally and comrade in faith as possible.’
UJS President Josh Seitler was ‘delighted’ not only at the turnout of the event, but also that UJS had been able to provide a forum for Nisa-Nashim to bring their ‘crucial’ message to new audiences at NUS Conference. ‘Julie and Laura are both so inspiring, and their message should be heard as far and wide as possible. At this pivotal time in history, it is so important for us to listen to these messages of unity and put them into action. I hope that the “Friendship, Faith and Feminism” fringe encourages everyone who attended to do just that and I look forward to seeing the conversations continue as delegates return to their campuses.’