Jewish and Muslim women finding common ground

By Sandy Rashty, March 17, 2014
We have faith in progress: Julie Siddiqi, Baroness Warsi and Laura Marks at the Foreign Office event

We have faith in progress: Julie Siddiqi, Baroness Warsi and Laura Marks at the Foreign Office event

Addressing 130 Jewish and Muslim women at the Foreign Office, Faith and Communities Minister Baroness Warsi said the religions had more in common than circumcision, ritual slaughter and good food.

“Jewish and Muslim women feel that the men run all the organisations in their communities,” she said. “Despite the fact that leg-work goes in from women, when it comes to representation and engagement with government, 99 per cent of the people around the table are men.”

Baroness Warsi hoped that faith-based lobby groups would approach politicians with “women representing these communities”. An interfaith mentoring scheme for women would help break down barriers, she added.

“For Jewish women to be mentoring young Muslim girls and successful Muslim women to be mentoring young Jewish girls — that relationship [would] create openness that allows you to have difficult conversations.

“When men in the Jewish and Muslim communities get together, they talk about two things — circumcision and shechita. Women would like to talk about leadership so that, in years to come, we could stand back and say we have genuine relationships.”

Mitzvah Day founder and Women in Jewish Leadership (WJL) co-chair Laura Marks said: “Faith groups are at the bottom in terms of numbers of women in leadership roles. We are shocking. We have to develop the skills, confidence and nous to be in the right place.”

Islamic Society of Britain executive director Julie Siddiqi told the Muslim women that “a lot of the gender-related challenges we have, the Jewish community have been though. We can learn a lot from each other. I don’t think that we would ever see a group of Jewish and Muslim men working with this much energy.

“It’s really about doing. We’ve had enough of talking.”

The guests — some in sheitels, others in hijabs — split into discussion groups at the event, co-organised by Mitzvah Day, WJL and the Islamic Society.

Last updated: 10:45am, March 17 2014