When Women Take the Lead
This is the seventh installment of our Reimagining 'Rabbi' series.
On January 29, 2017, a lone gunman entered the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City during the evening prayer and opened fire. He injured nineteen people and killed six. Less than a month later, the windows of Al-Tawuba Mosque in Montreal were vandalized. These two incidents are just a few of the many that have been on the rise in recent months. One young Muslim woman, Mona Abdullah, took the feelings of frustration and anger that this violence caused and channeled them towards rebuilding the Muslim community in Canada by launching two crowdfunding campaigns, one for each of the instances of violence. She raised over $240,000 for the families of the Quebec shooting. In her efforts to rebuild Al-Tawuba Mosque, she was soon joined by another young woman, rabbinical student Devon Spier.
Upon hearing of the Montreal vandalism, Devon remembers thinking “Jews intimately know the pang of broken windows and the Yiddish proverb that, if “G-d lived on earth, people would break His windows.”’ Working in partnership, Mona and Devon raised $240,000 for the affected families in Canada. JWA writer Abby Richmond sat down with these two young activists to talk about working together, combatting hate, and the remarkable things that happen when women lead.
Why is it important for targeted groups to work together? As the rate of hate crimes rise, what is significant about campaigns like yours?
Devon: Jews and Muslims need to find each other and to fumble around in that shared darkness, as we did during our project to repair the mosque. Imam Fofana had first put me in touch with Mona when I asked if the Jewish community could start a crowdfunder to support the mosque. He said one already existed, and I jumped at the opportunity to support it. To be there where needed by the Al-Tawuba community was much more important to these individuals than undertaking a project for them.
Mona: As citizens of the world and as believers, it is our duty to fight injustice wherever and whenever it occurs, as it affects us all. The law of cause and effect teaches us that we are accountable for our actions and for our own circumstances. If we want happiness, peace, and tolerance, the burden is on us to find a way to attract the energy that we need to get ourselves to happiness, peace, and tolerance. Martin Luther King once said “We will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” When one becomes a victim of prejudice and discrimination, healing the pain inflicted becomes that much easier when you have people standing by your side. When a mosque or a synagogue is vandalized and people show up the next day to show their love and support, the graffiti seems less visible, the windows seem less broken––and so does one’s heart.
What has been your experience of female leadership and teamwork?
Devon: Learning from Mona has truly been a blessing. She regularly checks in, peppers her emails with the sweetness of smiley emoticons, and always, in word and deed, finds some way to act that includes each of us in creating the best outcome possible while honoring each other and our own needs. This is why female leadership during these times is so critical. Women truly foresee the opportunity to connect all people in creating just processes and just results. They are driven by the need to maintain and create relationships, and they see the vital part that each person plays in creating the whole.
There was one a point when we were looking to take the crowdfunder to the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, and when Mona saw that I did not respond to a series of emails from the organizers, she quickly jumped in to explain to them that my practice was not to check emails on the Sabbath. Here is my Muslim friend affirming what I feel is important to me as a Jew and gently reminding others to understand my traditions and boundaries. This was the moment I realized that Mona, because she is a woman and a loving and open leader, leads differently. She speaks up for others and recognizes the diversity of voices in a conversation. Simultaneously, she manages to support these voices, highlighting everyone’s individual contribution.
Mona: As a Muslim woman I find myself lacking inspiration at times, which is probably due to the lack of female scholars in our societies and in particular scholars who speak directly to minorities’ and women’s challenges. Devon, as a student rabbi, motivates me through the truths she speaks, the activism she displays, and the actions she inspires. In many traditions, the sources come from texts written and studied by men and neglect the female interpretation, so to meet a female student rabbi bringing about a female understanding and establishing blueprints for action for the coming years has inspired me greatly. I feel fortunate to have crossed paths with such a beautiful soul.
What is the importance of Muslim and Jewish people specifically coming together to help fund the Tawuba Mosque’s repairs?
Devon: By jointly funding the repairs, we signal that Jews and Muslims, no matter where they live, how they pray and what they believe, are together, persisting. Through our joint work, we are not only telling a sad story––we are writing a new and bold chapter in which kindness replaces unkindness, collaboration replaces isolation, and a shared voice replaces a lone and quiet cry. I believe this crowdfunder has already allowed people be aware of these issues and to work in solidarity to support policy and practice that improves them.
Mona: During the funeral prayers for the six Canadian martyrs, Imam Guillet stated, “We live next to one another, yet we do not know each other.” In Islam we believe in being active members of society, to promote what is good and condemn what is evil. Justice is a prevalent theme in Islam. Therefore if a Jew has been a victim of injustice by a Muslim, it is our Muslim duty to stand with the oppressed and against the oppressor, even if that requires testifying against your family.
How does this campaign work to disprove stereotypes about the relationship between Muslims and Jews?
Devon: The language we have used on this campaign has been critical to disproving stereotypes of Jews and Muslims. On a religious level, those of us involved in this work have talked about how Jews and Muslims are children of Abraham. We have used our public statements––from our personal Facebook pages to our articles in print media––to highlight this common history and heritage. Our shared history fosters mutual understanding, compassion, and trust.
Mona: Despite often being portrayed as enemies, Jews and Muslims have more in common than people make us believe. With anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks on the rise, Jews and Muslims uniting against hate and prejudice show the world that we must come together as one community and say NO to discrimination. We will not let hate prevail nor will we leave those in their time of need. Hate fought with hate never gave fruit to peace or acceptance.
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