'Pain being felt by Jews and Muslims in London...it is up to us to extend the humanitarian hands of tolerance'

Bibi Khan, president of London Islamic Cultural Society, and Nisa-Nashim co-founder Laura Marks are calling for communities to maintain relations.
Bibi Khan and Laura Marks. (Photos supplied)Bibi Khan and Laura Marks. (Photos supplied)
Bibi Khan and Laura Marks. (Photos supplied)

While conflict deepens between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East, tensions have appeared on the streets of London, with hate crime on the rise. But senior figures are working to ensure friendships between Jewish and Muslim communities are not lost.

Calls are being made to be conscious of the pain felt across communities, and to listen to each other's stories beyond recent events.

Laura Marks CBE is co-founder of Nisa-Nashim, a network which brings together Jewish and Muslim women to encourage social change. She is also chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and co-founder of the annual Mitzvah Day social action project.

She told LondonWorld: “Jews and Muslims have so many similarities, more than I ever imagined, but on this conflict, in the majority of cases, we are simply hearing and repeating our own narrative, by which I mean our own community’s interpretation of the events of decades of conflict.

“The pain in the British Jewish and Muslim communities is visceral. The Israel/Palestine conflict affects us deeply and the pain, right now, for both the Israelis and the Palestinian people should be felt not just by Muslims and Jews but by anyone who has a heart.

“It matters to us all - Muslim, Jew or anything else - that our streets are safe and our children are able to play with their neighbours. We can do very little to affect the conflict but we can do a great deal to maintain local relationships which keep us all safe, belonging and engaged."

Bibi Khan, president of London Islamic Cultural Society, has long worked for community cohesion. During the first years of the pandemic she led Wightman Road Mosque's growing relationship with Muswell Hill Synagogue, as well as The Gospel Centre, to work for a common cause.

She said that amid the "pain and feeling of loss", there is a fear the conflict will further impact UK communities.

"At this time of the current conflict our hearts reach out to all those who are victims in both the Muslim and Jewish communities," she said. "Many in Israel and Gaza have perished needlessly and I am aware of the impact that the war has had on communities here in the UK.

"There is anger, pain, and we are all struggling on both sides as families have been killed and the pain and feeling of loss, helplessness resonates here. We are worried if this conflict escalates that it will impact further on our communities here in the UK.

"I believe in community cohesion and all my life I have worked to encourage this in line with the guidance and principles of Islam. I still do, so I continue to reach out to all communities so that we may protect our families and do not condone any crimes of hate. We all want to live in peace and security, it's up to us to extend the humanitarian hands of tolerance."

Laura said the friendships built up by Nisa-Nashim "are our insurance against total fallout at times of conflict like now".

"Whilst it is so hard not to retreat into our own communities in times of huge stress, we hope that the resilience we have built will see us through the bad times," she said.

“We need strong and real personal relationships so that we can begin to hear a narrative on the conflict which isn’t our own. Only when there is trust can we even start to really listen.”