Jewish penicillin was a Mitzvah Day tonic for us all

Jehangir Malik (right) getting stuck in to making some chicken soup for Mitzvah Day! Credit: Yakir Zur
Jehangir Malik (right) getting stuck in to making some chicken soup for Mitzvah Day! Credit: Yakir Zur

It was a very moving way for me to spend a Sunday morning.

The atmosphere was buzzing and it was wonderful to see young people talking to each other, working together, engaging with each other, all from different walks of life and different backgrounds.

Some of them had never met a Jewish or Muslim person before, but what a better way to make friends than coming together for a social action project.

Last Sunday 18 November, was Mitzvah Day, Britain’s biggest interfaith day of social action and Muslim Aid helped to organise the flagship event, the Chicken Soup Challenge.

Over 1,000 portions of soup were cooked to a traditional Jewish recipe with halal chickens in the kitchens at the East London Mosque.

It truly was an interfaith, inter-cultural activity!

The volunteers included young Muslim boys from the 8th East London Scouts group, Rabbi Roni Tabick and families from his congregation at the Stoke Newington community, young people from BBYO and students from the LSE inter-faith group.

I was aware that Jewish chicken soup was an important tradition and have heard it referred to as ‘Jewish penicillin’ for its nurturing and medicinal properties, but I’d never tasted it before or been involved in cooking it. We loved the idea of cooking chicken soup for the homeless in London as soup also has a significance for Muslims. There is a hadith (a prophetic tradition) which asks us to water down our broth, so we always have enough to share with neighbours. This doesn’t just apply to soup, it’s other foods too, but the concept is the same as this Mitzvah Day – sharing with people who may have nothing to eat.

Muslim and Jewish volunteers stirring a vat of delicious chicken soup! Credit: Yakir Zur

Holding the event at The East London mosque was symbolic; today it attracts 7,000 worshippers regularly and is one of the biggest mosques in Europe, but it is built on the site of Fieldgate Street synagogue. 80 years ago, the site of the mosque will have attracted thousands of Jewish people on Friday nights and Saturday mornings.

This Mitzvah Day Chicken Soup Challenge was a wonderful way to bring our two communities together in a part of London meaningful to us both and to spread a positive interfaith message around the world.

What I saw on Sunday embodies one of my favourite sayings of Prophet Muhammad, “that the best of you are those who are most beneficial to others”.

Our religions certainly have more similarities than differences, the major one of which is our similar charitable values. It is important for Jewish and Muslim young people to know they have more in common than divides them.

The young people were very interested to find out about each others’ religions – especially the religious festivals and to hear that so many of them focus around shared food events.

Jewish and Muslim community leaders came together to make soup and learn about each other’s faiths. Credit: Yakir Zur

It was a long cookathon, but by 7pm all the soup had been delivered to 12 centres across London, including hostels run by the Salvation Army and homelessness charity St Mungo’s. We have already received messages of thanks from their project workers telling us how well received the soup was.

In the past few years Muslim Aid has initiated a Ramadan Sunset walk with Christians from St Paul’s Cathedral to the East London Mosque; an Abrahamic Initiative with Christian, Jewish and Muslim young volunteers cleaning each other’s places of worship and a Street Iftar/Summer street party in Finsbury Park. We hope to expand this aspect of our inter-faith work as it resonates so well with our mostly Muslim supporters.

However, the most important thing about our recent initiative is that on Sunday night – a very cold night in November – over 1,000 homeless people in London got to eat some ‘Jewish penicillin’, made with love by a new generation of Jews and Muslims.

  • Jehangir Malik, is  the Chief Executive of the international aid charity Muslim Aid, and has overseen the organisations’ responses to the Grenfell disaster, Myanmar, Somalia and Sudan. Mr Malik is keen to promote harmony between the UK’s different faiths. He promotes high level meetings between religious leaders and encourages ordinary Muslims, Christians and Jews to forge links.

 

About the Author
Jehangir Malik, is  the Chief Executive of the international aid charity Muslim Aid, and has overseen the organisations' responses to the Grenfell disaster, Myanmar, Somalia and Sudan. Mr Malik is keen to promote harmony between the UK’s different faiths. He promotes high level meetings between religious leaders and encourages ordinary Muslims, Christians and Jews to forge links.
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