In recent years, conflict between predominantly Jewish Israel and Islamic Palestine has intensified over possession of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank — exacerbated contention between the religious groups in the region, but also around the world.
However, some Virginia Tech students are trying to break the boundaries of religion and unite as one peaceful group.
On Friday, Hillel, a Jewish student organization at Tech, invited the Muslim Student Association to join its members for a dinner to expose both groups to each other’s religious beliefs and practices, fostering interfaith unity.
“We wanted to promote interfaith dialogue among our groups and develop our relationship more,” said Isabel Shocket, the Hillel president. “I think it’s really important for us to stand together and show we’re friends and we have so much in common.”
Said Shah, the MSA Tech chapter president, said the event addressed the importance of interfaith dialogue.
“(Friday was) a way for us to get to know each other,” Shah said. “And it’s not only in a religious sense — there are some similarities and differences between our faiths.”
Both Shocket and Shah agreed the major source of contention between Jews and Muslims is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been an issue since Israel was annexed in 1948.
During the event, students from Hillel and MSA joined together in a night of prayer, observation, reflection and religious celebration. Hillel students began the ceremony with traditional Jewish prayer, spoken in Hebrew, allowing MSA members to observe and engage in their prayer traditions. In addition, MSA students performed one of their five daily prayers alongside Hillel members.
“There are a lot of phrases in our prayers that are the same,” Shocket said. “It’s just about living in God’s way.”
“Our prayers are really similar,” he said. “The bowing during their prayers and the translations of our prayers are really similar — we praise God and ask for forgiveness and mercy.”
Muslims and Jews share something else in common, Shocket said.
“I think it’s really funny that neither of us celebrate Christmas or Easter,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to know what they all do for Christmas. Jewish people traditionally go get Chinese food and go to the movies because there’s nothing else to do. I think that’s one interesting thing we all can talk about.”
However, several stereotypes about Judaism and Islam have resulted in religious tensions.
“The misconception that we are a violent people is not true,” Shah said. “We’re not all intolerant, not all violent, not all terrorists. That’s not true at all. Yes, there are oppressive regimes out there, but those regimes don’t speak for the religion. They speak for a few select tyrants out there. They don’t speak for the rest of the faith. They don’t even follow many of the creeds in terms of being peaceful, tolerant and not committing murder.”
In addition, Shah said the idea that Muslims oppress women and some do not receive full rights is wrong, referring to disparities between middle eastern and western culture.
“Whatever we make people do, there’s a reason behind it,” Shah said. “Of course, in the Muslims’ opinion, it’s a divine reason — it’s the word of God.”
Moreover, Shocket said some stereotypes about Jews have led to several misinterpretations of the faith.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about Judaism, particularly with stereotypes about money — all the perpetuation of greedy Jews, Jew jokes. I think that sets a bad tone for Jews in the world because we’re not stingy or anything like that.”
Still, Hillel and MSA members are working together to overcome the misconceptions by promoting interfaith discourse. Rachel Adell, the vice president of Tzedek, a program that engages in community service, social justice and environmental initiatives, said their program is working to promote coexistence between religions.
“While we weren’t at each individual table (at the dinner), we brought these people together, and we gave them some sample questions that they could have their conversations on and get to organically know each other,” Adell said.