By Ameena Drammeh,
Recent graduate of the Islamic Leadership School, in the Bronx.
Ammena has participated in many interfaith education programs,
and has dreams of one day becoming a Navy Seal.
While you have Jews and Muslims in Palestine/Israel killing each other for land and power, in New York City a group of students may have found a solution to resolving that seemingly never ending conflict. Let me introduce you to the Interfaith Living Museum – a program that has shaped and changed many lives, by bringing together Jews and Muslims to bring about peace not only in Palestine/Israel but the world.
The Interfaith Living Museum has been thriving since 2004, thanks to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan, and a number of Islamic and Jewish schools throughout the city. The program brings young Muslim and Jewish students together by teaching them about the similarities between their two religions, thus spreading the message of peace and tolerance – a message we hope will someday reach the close-minded people in Palestine/Israel, and change lives forever.
Here’s how it works. Throughout the year, the Jewish and Muslim students meet and get to know each other. They take trips to a synagogue and a mosque, and speak with a rabbi and an imam who show them the basics of each religion. Through these visits, the students see and learn for themselves that Judaism and Islam are very much alike. Next the students each bring an artifact or heirloom from their own homes – something that represents their religious or cultural background – and present it to the rest of the students. And finally, there is a public exhibition, the Interfaith Living Museum, to display all of the students’ artifacts. For me that was always the best part – seeing all of the students, parents, and teachers just coming together to learn about each other. I get so excited to see Muslims and Jews working together, learning together, and creating peace amongst ourselves.
“The idea for the Interfaith Living Museum began with educators at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, who saw a need for cross-cultural education between Jewish and Muslim students. Over the years, a number of different Islamic and Jewish schools have participated. Shireena Drammeh, the director of the Islamic Leadership School in the Bronx, was eager to participate from the very beginning. She believes that “dialogue and interactions are the enemies of animosity.” The Solomon Schechter School in Manhattan has also participated for three years. “The Interfaith Living Museum has been an enriching experience for our students and our school,” said Principal Gary Pretsfelder. “It has given our fifth graders the opportunity to meet and engage peers from very different backgrounds, and from a community with which they would ordinarily have very little, if any, contact. It is important to us that our students recognize at a young age what Muslims and Jews have in common so that future discourse , which right now is so intertwined with politics, can have a chance to succeed.” IFLM.
When I first started the program, as a student at the Islamic Leadership School, I was pretty clueless about the Jewish religion. As the program went on, I realized the similarities between Judaism and Islam. For example, we both worship one God, we don’t consume pork, and both have a special holiday each week dedicated to worshipping God – Jummah and Shabbat. During the program and the years after, I had an opportunity to befriend many Jewish students. One girl I grew close to was Rina from the Solomon Schechter School. We exchanged numbers and she became my close friend. My experiences in the program have been unforgettable. Before the program, I had absolutely no knowledge about the Palestine/Israel conflict, and why Jews and Muslims had so much animosity towards each other. I left the program learning so much, not only about Judaism but also about my own religion Islam. I gained a wider understanding of what’s going on in Palestine/Israel. It opened my eyes and made me a more open-minded person. The Interfaith Living Museum has taught me that no matter how much some Jews and Muslims in the Middle East may hate each other, today’s young people – the leaders of tomorrow – can change all that. We don’t have to grow up spreading the hatred and making the conflict worse, but instead can learn to love one another and promote peace. The program taught me to love and accept people from all walks of life, and to spread the message of peace in New York City, Palestine/Israel, and throughout the world.
My hope for the Interfaith Living Museum is to show people that’s its 100% possible for Muslims and Jews to get along, because at the end of the day we are all humans – all one. I’ve seen with my own eyes how this program can change people’s hearts and minds. There is so much hatred, ignorance, and prejudice in the world but we have the solution here in New York. Educating people and spreading the message of peace is all it takes.
Current participating schools to The Interfaith Living Museum are:
- Islamic Leadership School
- Kenneret Day School
- The Solomon Schechter School in Manhattan
- Al Ihsan Academy