Thank you for your insightful letter.
I never imagined when we met that such a wonderful friendship would bloom, not only with you but with so many remarkable women.
Nisa Nashim book club is so much more than a book club. It is a melting pot of thoughts and ideas of diverse women who are one community. There are nuances within our faiths, and sub-cultures within our cultures, however, we merge into one – as Azra says – into sisters in humanity.
Reading different texts from Jewish and Muslim female writers has enriched our lives. There have been lively, physical meetings when we have enjoyed delicious food and sipped hot tea whilst dissecting the book. The personal connections have transcended into acts of kindness and unity, such as removing antisemitic graffiti and replacing it with an image of hope and organising events to support charities.
The virtual connections post COVID-19 have allowed our tribe to grow and the comradery to flourish. The first virtual meeting was a technical disaster, and yet, a great success, as we laughed more than we had laughed in ages. Neither coronavirus, nor Team or Zoom hiccups, nor lockdown, were going to dull our spirits.
The only other time I had been in a place where there were significant numbers of Jewish and Muslim people gathered together was at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt. For Muslims, it is important because it houses the Charter of Freedom of Religion (sent to St. Catherine’s Monastery in 628 CE by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him), and it contains a mosque within its walls. For Jews, it holds great significance because not only does it sit at the foot of Mount Sinai (where of course God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses), but it contains what is believed to be the burning bush, and holds important Jewish manuscripts and artifacts. I stood in the searing heat, next to Jewish, Muslim, and Christian people from around the world, and thought: where else could I stand side by side with my Jewish, Christian, and Muslim brothers and sisters? That was the sort of feeling you never forget, and I get the same feeling from Nisa Nashim book club. There is comfort in knowing that I can sit with my Jewish (and Muslim) sisters in a safe space, and discuss, share, laugh, agree and even disagree.
Yes, we are different: in terms of religion, culture, colour, mother-tongue, heritage, political persuasions. However, we are mostly similar. We are all God’s children, follow a monotheistic faith, revere the same Prophets, adhere to what some consider a crazy set of laws around food and drink, don’t eat pork, have age-old rituals and cherished customs, have prominent holy days, major festivals and obligatory prayers. We even share the unfortunate common factor of suffering the religious hatred of others. We all value the same things: the desire for peace, harmony, equality, and justice for everyone in our communities, our cities, our country, and around the world.
Personally, I feel hugely privileged to be a part of this group, to play some small role in what I hope will be a collaboration that will stand the test of time.
Our book club has a ripple effect. The direct dialogue means we can dispel commonly held myths, misunderstandings, fears and suspicions. We can share these positives with our friends, family, colleagues, neighbours who will share with others, and so the ripple spreads; misconceptions are removed, and better understanding is achieved.
So, Mandy, let’s keep on rippling, and perhaps even make some waves!
Lots of love,
You can hear Mandy and Abda talk more about their book group on the Birmingham Literature Festival Podcast.