This is a surreal moment in our collective world histories. Not only do I, a British-born Muslim, now find myself sitting in a time and place where my beloved United Kingdom has shattered its own illusion of being a part of a wider global community, but one where, in a twist that even the most outrageous Hollywood mockumentary could not have conjured up (barring The Simpsons of course), Donald Trump is America’s president-elect.
Brexit and Trump… two words and two cataclysmic reasons to go and bury one’s head in the sand with wails of “I give up” and “Will we never learn?”
But as the shock and trauma of these results subside, we must all wake up to a fact few of us dared to believe just a few short months ago: that a rhetoric comprised solely of division, of unabashed racism, of callous fear-mongering and of calls for building more walls, rather than demolishing them, has somehow succeeded in shattering the quieter voices of reason and unity in our modern era.
And quite understandably, for anyone who belongs to one of the target communities held up as an example by far-right theorists of all that is wrong with their lives, the safety and security we have enjoyed living in the free world feels unimaginably precarious.
But there is another truth – a far deeper, hidden truth, and one that is slowly but surely rising up against the broken face of disunity.
Across the Atlantic, the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America have announced that they are joining forces to forge a brand new Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.
And here in the UK, this week sees Mitzvah Day, Britain’s biggest faith-based day of social action, where volunteers will come together to help refugees, the homeless, the elderly and the most vulnerable in society.
It is an occasion when Jews, Muslims, Christians and those of all faiths, and none, will work side by side to create a better society and community – both in the UK, and also 20 other countries around the world.
Last year, I had the enormous privilege of being invited to participate in Mitzvah Day, which was something that until then I knew little about.
What at first seemed an invitation simply to come and volunteer on a farm for a few hours suddenly morphed from one small act to an act that made up one giant message: “We are more united than you think.”
Such simple acts, in this case of coming together with a group of strangers to do a single simple job, are most often the greatest stones with which invisible walls are broken down.
Strangers in the course of a day shift into friends. Friendships lead to conversations; conversations to greater understanding, and understanding to respect and love.
It is an experience that is blessed, enriching and truly ground-breaking because it is borne of a shared experience and a coming together that all religions and none can relate to: of “simply” wanting to do something to benefit those who need our help, together.
Working as I have done for the past two decades of my life in the women’s human-rights sector, I often find that the best and most beautiful sides of our human race are not be found on our television screens, in overblown speeches or newspaper headlines, but in the quietest corners of our local towns and cities.
This Sunday, on Mitzvah Day, that will be more important than ever.