Leeds ladies say '˜shalom-salaam' with new Muslim and Jewish friendship project

A TRAILBLAZING new project in Leeds is aiming to forge friendships between women from the city's Muslim and Jewish communities so they can work together to build bridges, challenge misconceptions in their own communities and wider society, and foster leadership skills.

The Leeds branch of Nisa-Nashim - the Arabic and Hebrew words for ‘women’ - has been officially launched at the Shine centre in Harehills.

Around 100 ladies attended the launch, with speeches from special guests Julie Siddiqui and Laura Marks, the founders of the original Nisa-Nashim project in London.

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In the coming months, the group will organise a series of social events such as friendship walks, picnics and halal-kosher food evenings, with a focus on celebrating the many similarities between their faith and cultural identities.

The group has been founded by 12 ladies, six from each of the two backgrounds, who will oversee the development of the project.

Among the attendes at Shine was Rahila Hussain, who said: “It was fantastic - and I think it’s long overdue.

“People really want to work together and show that we have more in common than we have differences. Yes, they exist, and they have been discussed to death. But what we haven’t done is looked at shared areas of common knowledge and practices.

“Sometimes it’s great just to do the talking, but it’s more powerful to go out and do things together and present a united front.”

She added: “It’s about time it was about the women!”

Another guest, Janet Williams, said: “I hope [the project] will continue and grow, and build on the aims it has set itself. I hope it will overflow into the community.”

Sandy Firth said: “The warmth and the atmosphere was so embracing. I just wasn’t expecting that.

“It’s lovely to see everyone speaking to each other and learning from each other. Hopefully we can pass that onto our children.”

Co-organiser councillor Salma Arif said she was ”thrilled” at the turnout for the launch, adding that there was an “amazing atmosphere and a real appetite for dialogue within the Muslim and Jewish communities”.