Jewish & Muslim UK Students Discuss Gender & Faith

BRISTOL – Thirty young Jewish and Muslim women gathered at Bristol University in the UK for a unique gender and interfaith conference to discuss ‘difficult ideas and topics’. Jewish News reported on December 6.

Organized by Bristol Students Union and Nisa-Nashim, the students shared their inspiration and their struggles when taking on leadership roles in their faith communities and beyond.

The event was conceived and chaired by the union’s equalities, liberation and access sabbatical officer Sally Patterson. She worked with Saha Habib, who’s focused on changing the negative portrayal of Muslims in the media.

Keynotes were given by journalist Remona Aly, who spoke with wit and warmth about her journey as a Muslim woman, as well as Nisa-Nashim co-founders Laura Marks and Julie Siddiqi, who spoke on Islamophobia and antisemitism.

Other speakers included Nasra Ayub from Integrate UK and Rachel Vogler from Jewish Women’s Aid, as well as student leaders Lauren Keilis, Maheera Zubair and Eva Larkai.

British Jews number around 300,000 with the UK having the 5th largest Jewish community worldwide. A report in August 2007 by University of Manchester historian Dr. Yaakov Wise stated that 75% of all births in the Jewish community were to ultra-orthodox, Haredi parents, and that the increase of ultra-orthodox Jewry has led to a significant rise in the proportion of British Jews who are ultra-orthodox.

History of Both Communities in UK

The history of the Jews in England goes back to the reign of William the Conqueror. The first written record of Jewish settlement in England dates from 1070. The Jewish settlement continued until King Edward I’s Edict of Expulsion in 1290.

After the expulsion, there was no Jewish community, apart from individuals who practiced Judaism secretly, until the rule of Oliver Cromwell. While Cromwell never officially readmitted Jews to the Commonwealth of England, a small colony of Sephardic Jews living in London was identified in 1656 and allowed to remain.

On the other hand, estimates in 2009 suggested a total of about 2.4 million Muslims over all the UK. According to Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the number of Muslims in Britain could now be around 3 million.

Between 2001 and 2009 the Muslim population increased roughly ten times faster than the rest of society. Most Muslim immigrants to Britain came from former colonies. From the 1950s onwards, the growing Muslim population has led to a number of notable mosques being established, including East London Mosque, London Central Mosque, Manchester Central Mosque, and London Markaz.

According to Kevin Brice, a researcher at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, thousands convert to Islam annually and there are approximately 100,000 converts to Islam in Britain, where they run two mosques.

According to a Labour Force Survey estimate, the total number of Muslims in Britain in 2008 was 2,422,000, around 4% of the total population.