This Sunday we will stand together, an imam and a rabbi, at the vigil Building Bridges, Together for Humanity. We will stand alongside religious, civic and political leaders from different faiths and parties and with bereaved families scarred by the Israel-Hamas conflict.
With us will be representatives of the Parents Circle – Families Forum, a grassroots organisation of more than 600 bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families working together for a shared future of justice, peace and hope for everyone. Their leadership and their bravery humbles us. But so does their insight. Robi Damelin, whose son was killed in the conflict, said this week: “As bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families we urge you not to import our conflict into your society and create further hatred. As families who have lost loved ones we refuse to give in to vengeance and retribution. Instead, we choose to work side by side in partnership to build a better future for everyone.”
In our work as an imam and a rabbi we have each stood alongside grieving parents, witnessed in heartfelt silence countless tears, and endeavoured to bring whatever comfort human kindness and faith in God can offer.
We have seen the misery and anguish the death of loved ones brings in the ordinary days of peacetime. This is all the more terrible amid the uncertainty, fear and terror of war. We are deeply distressed by the horror being suffered, even as we write, by so many civilians in both Israel and Palestine.
At moments like this it is easy for that pain to spill over into anger and for that anger to blind us to the plight of others. We too feel deep ties of loyalty to our respective faiths and communities. But we also feel the bond of universal humanity that unites us. We share the belief that every person is of infinite value and that every life is an entire, unique and irreplaceable world. Therefore, we are resolved to pray and work together for a future that brings dignity, security, enduring peace and hope to everyone.
As spiritual leaders in the UK, we are witnesses to the shocking rise in attacks on Jews and Muslims in this country. Many in our communities feel isolated, surrounded by walls of silence, harassed and afraid. Sadly, this applies in many schools, universities and workplaces, as well as on the streets of London and other cities. Such division and hostility only exacerbate our traumas.
Alongside civil and political leaders of all faiths and none, we are determined to do our utmost not to bring the conflict in the Middle East into this country. Rather, we are united in our commitment to upholding the values of respect, inclusion and the honouring and celebration of diversity that form the basis of our shared society.
We do not have to see eye to eye in order to treat one another with decency and consideration. We do not have to agree with each other for us to acknowledge each other’s hurt. We do not need to hold identical views to reach out and take responsibility for one another’s safety and wellbeing.
Amid the anger and anguish of these cruel times, we call instead for compassion, understanding and love. We know the difference that ordinary acts of kindness and decency can make.
That is why we call on you to stand with us and join the vigil on Sunday if you can. But even if you are unable to, we ask you to take your own small steps to bring us together. That can be as simple as reaching out to someone you disagree with or acknowledging someone else’s pain.
Despite, perhaps even within, the very trauma of the current situation, we seek to find opportunity. We see in this moment a key time to recognise each other’s anguish, express our solidarity in the face of suffering, and work alongside one another for a more compassionate world.
Imam Monawar Hussain is the Muslim tutor at Eton College, Windsor. Jonathan Wittenberg is rabbi of New North London Synagogue