BRATISLAVA, July 15, 2012. Over 80 young Jewish and Muslim leaders gathered in Bratislava, Slovakia, for the third annual Muslim Jewish Conference (MJC) from July 8 to 13. Conference participants included students and young professionals from a wide range of academic, professional, and civic backgrounds. They hailed from four continents and more than 35 countries, including Bosnia, Canada, France, Iran, Israel/Palestine, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, South Africa, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United States.
Among the participants was Komal Ahmad, a Pakistani-born American who grew up in Las Vegas and founded two anti-hunger nonprofits while still a UC Berkeley student. “I hope to convince some Muslims, even if I cannot change their minds completely, to be open to empathizing with the Jewish perspective," said Ms. Ahmad, "so that they will be more willing to talk in earnest and begin the dialogue that is critical to understanding, respecting, and teaching one another."
After studying prospects for empowerment and education, participants worked in small groups to imagine and plan new grassroots projects in their home communities. Ventures proposed by social entrepreneurs at the MJC ranged from an interfaith tourism business to new media enterprises to an international music project. Two international projects focused on mentorship of emerging women leaders: one, which immediately secured a £10,000 corporate grant, will launch next year in Pakistan, and the other will organize an international women's leadership training workshop attached to the 2013 Muslim Jewish Conference.
The proposed ventures drew praise from Shawn Landres, co-founder and CEO of Jumpstart, a Los Angeles-based research and design lab for Jewish and interreligious innovation, who flew in from Washington, DC, where he had been a featured speaker at the White House Faith-Based Social Innovators Conference, to serve as a respondent to the project presentations. "I was impressed with the participants' commitment to reach beyond their own comfort zones to meet people where they are," he said. "The projects used technology creatively to reduce both social and geographic distance. A notable theme was the use of imagery, emotion, and shared experiences to catalyze intergroup discovery."
The young leaders at the MJC received a formal written greeting from former U.S. President Bill Clinton. “A major focus of my Presidency was the pursuit of peaceful resolutions to ethnic and religious conflict in the Middle East and Eastern Europe," Clinton wrote. "it’s especially wonderful to see a new generation determined to break down the barriers of ethnicity and religion that too often divide us."
"This third conference in as many years has proven both the need for and the power of grassroots connections between emerging Muslim and Jewish leaders," said MJC founder Ilja Sichrovsky of Vienna, Austria. "Our mandate now is to build on this week's positive energy and to foster real change around the world, in local communities and across national boundaries."