Muslims and Jews Break Bread, and Build Bonds

Florence Nasar kept checking her phone. She was at an interfaith dinner last Sunday aimed at building friendships between New York Jews and Muslims, and the guests, all in their 20s and early 30s, sat on couches around her, sharing stories about their religious practices, their pasts and their quests to define who they are.

Ms. Nasar, a Syrian Jew, was actually living those themes. Her secret Muslim boyfriend was on his way.

She had not told her family about him, she explained to the other guests, because in the insular community in New Jersey where she was raised, intermarriage is forbidden. But Ms. Nasar, 27, an artist and a dancer, no longer lived at home.

She has recently been hosting interfaith events between Syrian Jews and Syrian Muslim refugees, eager to explore their shared heritage. Out of her own interest in understanding people, she had met someone.

Ms. Nasar was one of about 100 guests at a series of intimate Jewish-Muslim dinners that took place last weekend around Manhattan and Brooklyn to build interfaith understanding. Lonnie Firestone, a modern Orthodox Jew and freelance writer from Brooklyn, came up with the idea for dinners after President Trump’s victory. She wanted to bring Muslims and Jews together in a spirit of friendship, so they could work together against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

With two rounds of dinners so far, the project is one of many interfaith efforts going on in the New York area and nationally to promote Jewish-Muslim relations. But unlike a large event at a synagogue or mosque, these meals distinguish themselves by their intimacy, with no more than six guests in a Muslim or Jewish home. Guests can linger over dessert and tea as they move from easy conversations to more sensitive themes.

“My hope was if you were to look at New York City from above, there would be a constellation of homes where these dinners were all happening, and like a secret sense of unity between people who are all taking part,” Ms. Firestone said.

Ms. Firestone and her Muslim coplanner, Samir Malik, matched families with families and singles with singles, hoping shared stages of life would help the conversation flow. They wanted observant Muslims and Jews to participate, along with secular ones. In all, there were 19 small dinners held last weekend, each with its own flair.

Ms. Firestone, for example, hosted a Sabbath meal at her home for a family that was similar to her own. She and her husband, David, are religious Jews; her guests were observant Muslims. Each family has two children, including in each, a 6-year-old boy obsessed with “Star Wars” Legos.

Before the meal began, Ms. Firestone, 37, lit the Sabbath candles and said a blessing. She and her husband then placed their hands on the heads of each of their children to bless them with an ancient prayer, as they do each week.

“That’s really sweet,” said Saima Muhammad, 37, a dentist in Park Slope.

“I like that it’s so child-centric,” said her husband, Faisal Anwar, 36, a software engineer. They had never been to a Shabbat meal before, and Ms. Firestone said she had never had Muslim guests in her home.

The traditional blessing over wine was said over grape juice, so that the children could participate. Later, the two couples spoke about why the two religions had such different attitudes toward alcohol.

Though politics briefly came up, most of the conversation centered on challenges of raising children in Brooklyn — where do they go to school? How do you handle religious education?

Different themes dominated the discussion at the Sunday evening dinner in Midtown West, where eight young Muslims and Jews spoke about their personal paths to figure out who they are against the backdrop of their inherited traditions.

Georgia Halliday, 26, was raised as an atheist in a liberal Massachusetts suburb, but converted to Islam three years ago and now wears a hijab. Aqsa Mahmud, 30, is a Muslim born in Pakistan who was raised in the rural American South, has a Jewish Pakistani grandmother and Jewish relatives in Israel.

Nashira Pearl, 27, grew up as one of the few Jews in Manitowoc, Wis. Her parents drove an hour and a half to Milwaukee each month to stock their refrigerator with kosher meat. Her husband, Josh Pearl, grew up in Chicago, attending modern Orthodox Jewish day schools through his childhood.

The Pearls explained how they had built their New York community around their synagogue, the Prospect Heights Shul in Brooklyn, which the Firestones also attend. One of the Muslim friends who hosted the dinner, Danish Munir, 30, shared how he found his footing in New York though the Islamic Center at New York University, which specifically reaches out to young Muslim professionals. “I walked in and I inherited like 500 friends,” he said.

The dinner discussion eventually turned to the most difficult aspect of building interfaith relationships: the possibility of love. Is that somehow the ultimate realization of such outreach? Or is it a transgression and a betrayal of religious belief?

Ms. Nasar explained how many of her Syrian Jewish friends refused to get involved with her own interfaith efforts to dine with Syrian Muslims, through the NYC Muslim Jewish Solidarity Committee. Not because of politics, she said, but because friendships could lead to intermarriage, which their community forbids.

“In the Syrian community, that’s one of the biggest fears, because they say that the other Jewish communities are disintegrating, and we are the only ones that are still strong,” she said, referring to intermarriage.

Ms. Nasar knew her mother suspected something. She had recently told her that she didn’t want to go to Jewish singles events because she was dating someone, without saying who it was. “And she’s like ‘Fine, don’t tell me anything about them. As long as they’re Jewish.’”

But he wasn’t. Moments after she told that story, the door opened, and Mehmet Rezan Altinkaynak, a former CNN reporter from Turkey, swept into the interfaith dinner with a beard and a big, warm smile. Ms. Nasar soon went to sit on the couch next to him.

There was a feeling of a shared secret and a mutual bond. The room was filled with people who, each in their own way, had taken risks to be there.

The other guests didn’t pepper the couple with questions, though Mr. Munir, the host, said he wanted to hear how they met. Ms. Halliday, the Muslim convert, instead shared her story. “My mom cried when I came home in a hijab,” she told them. “But they are coming around.”

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Supreme Court hearing: ‘Triple talaq like burying alive Muslim women’

The court is hearing seven petitions, including five filed by Muslim women challenging the practice of polygamy, nikah halala and triple talaq in the community

Advocating the need to hold “instant triple talaq” as violative of Islamic laws, former Union minister Arif Mohammed Khan told the Supreme Court on Friday that the practice amounts to burying Muslim women alive. “Through triple talaq, they want to bury Muslim women alive,” Khan, who is also a senior counsel, told a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar, which continued to hear a batch of petitions challenging the practice for the second straight day.

han, who quit the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1986 to protest against its stand in the Shah Bano case, drew parallels to the practices which existed in pre-Islamic Saudi Arabia, where he said girl children were buried alive. He said triple talaq was the modern version of this. Answering the court’s query on whether it was fundamental to the practice of Islam, he said, “far from being fundamental or sacrosanct, it violates every good thing that the Quran prescribes.”

Khan, who had sought the court’s permission to intervene in the matter, also attacked the various schools of jurisprudence, saying “they had risen not in response to the requirements of Islam, but that of the empire…Those who overtook the state established by the Prophet after his death established the empire.” The counsel also targeted the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, saying “it had taken Islamic law to ridiculous levels”.

The court is hearing seven petitions, including five filed by Muslim women challenging the practice of polygamy, nikah halala and triple talaq in the community. The bench also comprises Justices Kurien Joseph, U U Lalit, R F Nariman and Abdul Nazeer. Senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, who appeared for three of the women petitioners and the Forum for Awareness of National Security, a voluntary organisation, said the practice was “repugnant to the teachings of the Prophet” and violative of the Constitution. Reminding that the state had an obligation under the directive principles of state policy enshrined in the Constitution to provide a uniform civil code to citizens, he said “at least start with giving a uniform code of marriage to husband and wife”.

Opinion | The battle against ‘triple talaq’

Secularism, he said, was nothing but the subjugation of religious doctrines to rule of law and added that the practice of instant triple talaq ought to be tested against Constitutional principles. Former Union minister Salman Khurshid, who the court had allowed to assist it as an amicus curiae, told the bench that the system of instant triple talaq “cannot be justified or given legal validity”.

He said the practice “was sinful but legal”, prompting Justice Kurien to wonder whether “something abhorred by religion can be made law by man”. Answering in the negative, Khurshid said, “speaking for myself, I don’t think any religious law will validate a sin”. “Are you trying to restate what Islam is?” Kurien asked Khurshid. The latter replied “yes”, adding that it would not amount to legislating or interfering in religion.

CJI Khehar, meanwhile, wanted to know if triple talaq existed outside India and whether any non-Islamic country had done away with it. The counsels pointed out that many Islamic countries had done away with the practice and that Sri Lanka was one of the non-Islamic countries that had banned triple talaq.

No hijabs needed: Muslims students throw girls-only prom at Detroit high school


  • Muslim students at Hamtramck High School near Detroit have been hosting a girls-only prom for the past five years 
  • The event allows female Muslim students, who wouldn’t normally be allowed to attend the school’s regular prom, a special night of their own 
  • Since men and phones are banned from the May 6 event, girls were literally able to let their hair down by taking off their hijabs  
  • This year, around 250 attendees took part in ‘Princess Prom

A Detroit-area high school located in the heart of one of America’s largest Muslim communities hosted a girls-only prom this year, for students whose culture frowns on unmarried girls and boys dancing with each other.

‘Princess Prom’ was started five years ago by a group of Muslim students at Hamtramck High School, an area which has a large Arab and Southeast-Asian population.

Students have continued the tradition, raising money and organizing the alternative prom largely by themselves while the school continues to host its regular prom.

‘We run it like an after-school club,’ Caitlin Drinkard, a school counselor who helps organize the event, told MLive. ‘We meet once a week throughout the year. The girls really carry it and lead the meetings.’

According to, the Princess Prom was created to ‘create a comfortable and safe environment for girls how cannot attend the traditional co-ed prom for cultural reasons’.

Around 250 attendees attended this year’s event, which was hosted on May 6. The event was open to all female students at the school, who were allowed to invite one female guest from another school. According to the website Start Class,the school has a population of 914 students.

Since both boys are banned from the event, attendees could literally let down their hair by taking off their hijabs. (Muslim women who wear the veil are only required to do so in the company of men who are not their husbands or immediate family members.)

Cellphones were also prohibited so that no photos of the unveiled girls could be posted on social media.

The prom included a special room where attendees could go to use their phones if needed.

Other than the absence of their male peers, the event is not unlike any other American prom – with food, drink, and girls dressed up in extravagant gowns and hairstyles.

There was also the added bonus of a henna tattoo artist and a photo booth provided by General Motors.

The students that organize the prom every year also partnered with other companies that provide freebies for swag bags.

This year, the organizing group also set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the event and made more than $1,400 from the page.

Drinkard said that the process of fundraising and organizing the event empowers the the girls.

‘I’ve gained a lot of business management skills,’ Aisha Khanum, an 18-year-old student who worked on this year’s event, said

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Woman Says She Was Kicked Out of a Bank for Wearing a Hijab

A video that appears to show a young woman refused service for wearing a hijab has gone viral.

Jamela Mohamed reportedly visited a branch of Sound Credit Union in Kent, Washington, to pay her car note. Mohamed, who is Muslim, was wearing a hood to observe a Friday congregational prayer called Jummah, she told KOMO News, a local ABC affiliate. Mohamed says that she was asked to remove her hood, so she returned to her car and put on her hijab. When she came back into the bank, she began filming.

A sign inside the bank requests that customers remove hats, hoods, and sunglasses, but Mohamed filmed two men inside the branch wearing hats, who she says encountered no problems. Mohamed spoke to a teller, who she said told her there should be no issue serving her, and that he’d check with his manager. That’s when Mohamed says a supervisor came out and started berating her, threatening to call the police.

Mohamed left the bank in tears and has since posted her video, along with an account of what happened, to her Facebook page. At the time of writing, it has been viewed more than 780,000 times.

I went into Sound Credit Union in Kent, Wa to pay my bill as normal. The video above will show the discrimination that I faced today. I am a black Muslim woman and was observing Jummah, so I had my hood on. The teller asks me to “take off my hood”. In order to adhere to their policy, I ran outside to get my hijab. When I came back, two men before me were served with no issues, but both were wearing hats. Then I confronted the teller and he told me “it should be no issue, let me get my supervisor for permission,”. Instead of seeking a resolution, she chose to do this…watch the video. I never want this to happen to anybody and NOBODY should ever be treated this way. Thank you.Sound Credit Union KIRO 7 News Komo 4 TV The Seattle Times Kent ReporterACLU Nationwide CAIR-Washington State Seattle King County NAACP

Posted by Jamela Mohamed on Friday, May 5, 2017

“I never want this to happen to anybody and NOBODY should ever be treated this way,” she wrote.

Sound Credit Union has responded to the incident and issued the following statement:

“As a credit union, we believe in equal treatment for all. We are revisiting our procedures and training to do everything we possibly can to prevent a situation like this from happening again,” the credit union said. “Our training will continue to emphasize empathy and sensitivity to all cultures. Our management team is actively investigating the incident to gather all the facts and circumstances. Until a full investigation is complete, we cannot comment further about the individuals involved. Updates will be released on this page as they become available.”

Mohamed told KOMO News that bringing attention to this incident was about wanting to be treated like any other customer.