LONDON: The aftermath of the attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket in Paris has left both Muslims and Jews living in Europe exposed to hate crime and concerns of an increased threat to both communities. In a bid to combat this threat, Muslims and Jews living in the same north London neighbourhood are making a stand together against hate crime, reports Al Jazeera.
Community leaders of both faiths in the Stamford Hill neighbourhood of Hackney, north London state that they stand united.
“The Jewish community and the Muslim community are facing difficult times at the moment, but it is not a case of them or us. We are all in the same boat,” Munaf Zeena, chairman of the North London Muslim Community Centre, told Al Jazeera.
“We have a big Jewish community here, and they have been victims in Paris. I think we have a responsibility to make sure that those who feel uncomfortable or unsafe feel supported. It is our role to give them that moral support and to stand by them in every way we can.”
Rabbi Herschel Gluck, a veteran international conflict mediator and founder of the Muslim-Jewish Forum, a local initiative established in 2000, said Jews and Muslims were “not just living side by side”.
“There is a palpable feeling of warmth when one sees members of the other community in the street or going about our business,” Gluck told Al Jazeera. “It is not just that we tolerate each other. We actually engage constructively as very good neighbours with each other.”
Gluck said that the idea of the first ever Muslim-Jewish interfaith organisation in the world evolved when he worked in conflict zones including the Middle East, Kashmir, Bosnia and Sudan.
“I thought, ‘Hang on a second, here I am working throughout the world, what’s happening in my own backyard? Is everything as rosy as it could be?'” he said
“I felt that while things were okay, we were living in a changing world and you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. I thought, ‘Is our relationship strong enough to stand a crisis in the future?'”
Relations between the two communities dates back to the 1950s when Muslim migrants from South Asia arrived at Stamford Hill and were initially welcomed and helped settled by Hindi-speaking Indian-born Jews.
“When we came we had nothing, and a lot of the estate agents and solicitors were Jews. Many of them were very helpful at a grassroots level. We never forget someone who helps us and the relationship grew and blossomed,” Eusoof Amerat, a community advocate, told Al Jazeera.
“It isn’t just that we acknowledge each other’s faith, cultures and ways of life. It is more to do with justice and fairness. When we deal with things we try to be just. If it is our side that is wrong we will accept that. Whether at a local, national or international level, where justice and fairness are not there, division grows.”
A recent initiative that was endorsed by both communities is the work of ‘Shomrim,’ a police-trained voluntary Jewish community patrol that responds to crime reports, anti-social behavior and other such incidents.
In recent months, information provided by the Shomrim has helped police make arrests following a number of cases of apparently anti-Semitic vandalism, with vehicles and a school sign daubed with swastikas, and dozens of cars, including many belonging to Muslim families, having their tyres slashed.
But Ian Sharer, a local councillor, said none of the reported incidents had involved anyone from the local Muslim or Jewish communities.
“There have been a few nasty things, but the number of incidents involving Muslims and Jews in the past year is nil and despite everything that has happened in the Middle East and Paris it is still nil. Relationships are not strained at all,” Sharer told Al Jazeera.
In 2013 Al Jazeera reported on how the Shomrim had added local mosques and other Muslim institutions to the sites monitored on their patrols following attacks on places of Islamic worship in the aftermath of the killing of a British soldier in London.
Stamford Hill’s Muslim leaders have also been praised for standing in solidarity with their Jewish neighbours.
“I was greatly impressed with the cooperation between the Jewish and Muslim communities, and particularly with the work done at the North London Muslim Community Centre, which is available to everyone in the area,” Gillian Merron, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, the representative body of the British Jewish community, said.
“This is a great model of local cooperative engagement and something we all could learn from. It feels as if the community is really reaping the rewards of the many years of work through the Muslim-Jewish Forum.”
Munaf Zeena admitted that maintaining neighbourly relations sometimes meant agreeing to disagree on divisive issues, such as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. Yet, he said, when local Muslims raised money for the victims of Israel’s assault on Gaza last year, a substantial donation was made by the Jewish community.
“Everything we do here, we have a bigger picture in mind,” he said. “Sometimes you ignore problems that exist because if you want to have peace in the world, if you want people to be able to live side by side, then you look at the bigger picture.”