Despite the extensive diversity and countless opportunities to meet new students on campus, most students do not leave the safety of their community bubble. However this year, Hillel at Binghamton and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) have been working together to break down these barriers in order to open up opportunities for interfaith dialogue. On Sunday, March 9, Hillel and the MSA took a group of Jewish and Muslim students to go and visit a local mosque, Masjid Al-Nur (Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier) and Beth David Synagogue. Muslim and Jewish students were paired up with each other to create a friendly and open environment for everyone to talk and get to know one another. This trip was a follow-up event to Hillel’s Avi Schaefer Shabbat in collaboration with the MSA, where Jewish and Muslim students shared a Shabbat dinner together while discussing cultural and religious similarities and backgrounds.
Katie Shepard, executive vice president for Hillel
We first went to the mosque, where we met with the imam, Anas Shaikh, and were graciously given a tour of the building. Anas explained his role as a spiritual leader, prayer leader, wedding facilitator and, most importantly, a community leader. He explained how the Masjid Al-Nur is one of the only mosques in the area, and yet, their community is so tight-knit. This concept of community really struck me because community is one of the most fundamental values in Judaism. A Jew cannot even pray properly without nine other community members, called a minyan. I found this parallel with Judaism to be really uplifting.
While inside the prayer hall, we sat on the carpet and asked the imam all kinds of questions about Islamic holidays, rituals and values. I learned that Muslims believe in having a very minimally decorated place of worship because it helps them to better focus on their connection to God. It was really amazing to see all of the Jewish and Muslim students asking each other questions about the mosque and other religious similarities between Islam and Judaism.
Sarah Khan, public relations for MSA
We then visited Beth David Synagogue, which was the first time I had ever been to a synagogue. Upon entering the building, my first thoughts were about how grand and simple it was at the same time. We went to the main prayer area where Rabbi Zev Silber spoke to us, and though he briefed us about the basic beliefs of Judaism, he chose to stress the importance of interfaith communication. He emphasized how important it was that we take this chance to not only learn about each other’s beliefs, but to also realize that we are more similar than we are different. For instance, Rabbi Silber explained how some synagogues separated the men’s and women’s prayer areas, how both a temple and masjid do not contain any images and how Kosher and Halal food are similar in many senses. I was very impressed by how much care is given to the Torah by storing it behind curtains and dressing it in such beautiful cloths. While he talked, I glanced at the students and was overjoyed to see that with each Muslim student sat a Jewish student explaining any terms or concepts the rabbi mentioned in passing. Both sides were so eager to learn and teach.
At the end, we all went back to campus and shared a meal together, laughing, talking, taking pictures together — just being friends. Abu Bubu, an MSA member and graduate student studying business administration, said, “I learned how connected Judaism and Islam are, but more importantly that we are all friends no matter what our beliefs are. Making friends is not based on whether a person is Muslim or Jewish, but whether the person is a good, fellow human being.” We truly hope that the students who participated in this trip will continue to speak with their new friends and educate others, so that Jews and Muslims alike can continue spreading peace, understanding and friendships on this campus.
— Katie Shepard is a junior double-majoring in psychology and sustainable urban planning as a part of the individualized major program. Sarah Khan is a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law.