As we approach Mitzvah Day 2017, on and around this Sunday, November 19, it’s no exaggeration to say that it comes at a moment where ignorance, fear and intolerance seem to be rising like tidal waves.
We are seeing a rise in political racisms, embodied by the Alt-Right and Donald Trump, the open-air genocide of Muslims in Myanmar, and a sharp increase in Islamophobic and antisemitic language and attacks in the UK and across the world.
That is why, for me, as a young Muslim, Mitzvah Day — and its Muslim equivalent Sadaqa Day — is a call back to sanity, a call for two of the most persecuted groups in modern history to come together and remind both ourselves and people at large that, yes, we are different but we are united.
Muslims and Jews have our own traditions and practices and ways of being. But, at our core, we are humans bound by an unshakeable faith in One God: a God that places upon our shoulders an obligation to help our fellow humans no matter who they are or where they are from.
Movements like Mitzvah Day are crucial in reminding communities the world over of just how powerful unity is.
By mobilising people of different faiths to work together for a single cause, and a greater good, it enables each one of us — Jew and Muslim —working side by side for one day, to learn about each other, forge new insights about faiths and traditions once alien to us and, in so doing, establish friendships that will hopefully go beyond 24 hours.
It is a catalyst for both deeds and relationships to forge, and that alone is reason enough to support such an endeavour. But of course, the gravitas of this catalyst expands far beyond simply making new friendships.
This year’s theme of L’Dor Vador: From Generation to Generation gives us reason to introduce our families to each other, to help our elderly and educate our young. A focus on family is something else that unites Jews and Muslims.
How to integrate our faith and family into a wider society is another area where first-, second- and even third-generation Muslims in the UK can look and learn from the more established Jewish community.
I always enjoy taking part in Mitzvah Day and Sadaqa Day and have particularly fond memories of mucking out Kentish Town City Farm with an interfaith group including Rabbi Laura-Janner Klausner, the senior rabbi of Reform Judaism.
On November 19, I will be taking part again but further afield — joining with Jews, Muslims and members of other faiths to go to the near-forgotten refugee communities still struggling to survive in Calais, Dunkirk and Paris. This is a cause close to my heart and one that continues to plague many of us in our quieter moments.
Having last ventured out to Calais the weekend before its official demolition last year, with my own human rights organisation Making Herstory, I know that there is a fervent and deep longing expressed by both Muslim and Jewish friends to help those our political leaders have let down so badly.
This urgent need to help today’s refugees is yet another thing that unites our faiths. Their plight is a reminder of our religious DNA. After all, both Jews and Muslims are adherents to Prophets forced to flee their homes in search of peace. Many of us have family and ancestors who had to do the same time. And it is a search that, for all too many of our brethren, continues.
By working alongside friends, both familiar and yet-to-be-made, the momentary material relief we will hopefully be bringing to refugees in the form of blankets and tents, will I hope be accompanied by relief of another kind: that of knowing that people of faith from all walks of life are working together on their behalf.
And therein lies the beauty of Mitzvah Day.
Onjali Rauf is founder and chief executive of Making Herstory