A hundred Muslim and Jewish young leaders daring to believe something is possible that everyone says is impossible
Each year, the Muslim Jewish Conference (MJC) gathers together 100 young Jewish and Muslim leaders from more than forty countries, allowing them to talk to each other for a whole week instead of about each other. During this week they deconstruct their misperceptions about each other and work together on creating and implementing concrete and sustainable projects on the ground and in their communities.
This year young leaders from Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Israel, as well as Europe and the United States, gathered for the MJC in July 2013 in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. The conference participants represent a new generation of Muslims and Jews, trying to overcome decades of mutual distrust and build a brighter future for both communities through communication and co-operation.
The agenda for the MJC 2013 focused on six themes: conflict transformation; anti-semitism and islamophobia through cinema; hate speech and its influence on public opinion; an introduction to Judaism and Islam; gender and religion; and education and the effects of historical narratives. The diverse range of discussions caters to a wide audience, and allows for a productive interaction among the international change-makers, activists and experts alike.
According to Founder and Secretary-General of MJC, Ilja Sichrovsky, “gatherings around the world lack our simple approach: having a platform for this generation, created by this very generation. A platform where the leaders of tomorrow can talk on their own terms and form innovative networks of co-operation, beyond the borders of nations, culture and religion, in a safe space, without any agenda.”
During this year’s conference the participants visited the Srebrenica-Potoćari Genocide Memorial and Cemetery, the site of the worst genocide in Europe since the Second World War. The MJC delegation began their site visit in Srebrenica’s cemetery. At the conclusion of the tour, both faith communities offered prayers for the lives lost –‒ the Muslim prayer, Sura al-Fatiha, was recited, followed by the Jewish prayer of the Mourner’s Kaddish.
In 2003, the Srebrenica-Potoćari Genocide Memorial and Cemetery was officially inaugurated by former United States President Bill Clinton. Every year, more mass graves are discovered, and following DNA testing, the victims are buried every year on 11 July, the anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica. In 2011, Muslim-Jewish Conference participants visited the massacre site of Babi Yar in Kiev, Ukraine, and paid a similar tribute to the victims that were killed there during the Second World War.
A centrepiece of the MJC is the “Project Department,” where conference participants design, develop and implement concrete projects in order to address issues identified during the week. Among other projects this year, the Project Department created a movie showing that not only are Muslims and Jews not enemies, but how they saved each other in times of crisis. The goal of the movie is to deconstruct the perception that Jews and Muslims are enemies and a threat to each other by showing how Jews and Muslims have stood up for each other in the darkest moments of history, for example during the Holocaust or during the Bosnian War.
Ilja Sichrovsky started the conference in 2009 with fifteen volunteers from six countries. It has now expanded to include forty-five volunteers from almost twenty countries. Sichrovsky explained that each year they look for outstanding applications from Muslims and Jews who have an important perspective to share, but who are also interested in listening to the views of others. The conference also acknowledges that it is not only important to have a good balance between Jews and Muslims, but also a balance between the more secular and more religious participants.
In four years, the MJC has attracted more than 400 young leaders from forty countries to lead and participate in conferences in Vienna (Austria), Kiev (Ukraine), Bratislava (Slovakia) and now Sarajevo.
One of the surprise benefits of the conference has been the intra-faith conversations that take place alongside the interfaith ones, as well as the dialogue that happens when participants return home to their family and friends. When asked about the organizers’ measure of success, Sichrovsky was quick to mention the six committees that the participants work on throughout the conference. But when it comes down to it, success is something much more basic: “It’s not always what you can measure, but the fact that young Muslims and Jews from around the world would journey out of their countries daring to believe something is possible that everyone says is impossible.”