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First ever Gender and Faith Conference unites Muslim and Jewish students to explore women’s leadership

Thirty Jewish and Muslim women students from across the UK came together to discuss what it means to be leaders in their faith communities

Event celebrated unity over division, as the students shared their struggles and vowed to overcome polarisation and prejudice on campus

Thirty young women gathered at Bristol University for the Gender and Faith Conference: Women Leading the Way. The conference – organised by Bristol Students Union and Nisa-Nashim – was the first of its kind ever to be held in the UK.

Half of them Jewish, half Muslim, the students shared both their inspiration and their struggles when it comes to taking on leadership roles in their faith communities and beyond. At a time when some elements of campus culture can polarise and divide, this event celebrated the power of coming together in unity to explore shared values.

The event was conceived and chaired by Sally Patterson – the Equalities, Liberation and Access sabbatical officer at Bristol Student’s Union, and a campaigner against hatred and division in the faith and wider communities. She worked with Saha Habib, newly graduated from UCL, who is focussed on changing the negative portrayal of Muslims in the media.

Inspiring keynotes were given by acclaimed journalist Remona Aly, who spoke about her journey as a Muslim woman with characteristic wit and warmth, as well as Nisa- Nashim co-founders Laura Marks OBE and Julie Siddiqi, who spoke on Islamophobia and antisemitism. Other speakers included Nasra Ayub from Integrate UK and Rachel Vogler from Jewish Women’s Aid, as well as student leaders Lauren Keilis, Maheera Zubair, and Eva Larkai.

Discussions were wide-ranging, as the participants delved deeply into the topics of faith, gender and leadership over halal, kosher, vegetarian and vegan lunch options. They talked about how to tackle rising levels of hatred directed at both Jews and Muslims, and what it means to take on a visible role of leadership in this kind of climate.

Sally Patterson said: “Young Jewish and Muslim women have a key part to play in the future of our communities and in wider society. Our similarities outweigh our differences and it is now time for us to step up and shape a kinder, more inclusive, positive future. This conference, and on-going partnerships, is part of this agenda.”

Misbah Rehman from Peterborough said: “As a woman of Muslim identity this event has been very inspiring in encouraging Muslim Jewish integration within our communities. It’s also uplifting knowing that there are resources to help our communities in fighting Islamophobia and antisemitism.”

Founded in 2015, Nisa-Nashim brings Jewish and Muslim women together to counter the rising levels of hatred in the UK by forging cross-community friendship networks, and is the largest and fastest growing initiative in Europe bringing together these two groups.

Nisa-Nashim founders Laura Marks OBE and Julie Siddiqi said: “At today’s conference we were filled with hope and renewed energy. These leaders of the future showed that by working on common causes, maybe we really can heal the so often seen divisions between Jews and Muslims. We need more of this work. “