Samantha Simmonds

We must demonstrate the same tolerance we expect

Much has been made of the two American teenage best friends – one a Jew, one a Muslim – dressing up on Halloween as a superhero they named the ‘Juslim’. Photos of them in their yellow tops, striped tights and capes quickly took off online – with 80,000 hits in a matter of hours. The girls even created their own logo: a glittery ‘JM’.

Wow, I thought – I could have done that 30 years ago.

Growing up, my best friend was Muslim. Ayesha and I were besties throughout our teens, twenties and early thirties. We were in the same class at school, hung out together on weekends and went on countless holidays with one another. Got on – fell out – the usual friendship stuff. But never, in all our years, was religion an issue – we barely, if ever, discussed it. She celebrated Muslim holidays, I celebrated Jewish ones. We were the original 1970s Juslim. How sad that we now live in a world where there is so much fear and distrust from both religious groups about the other, that these two girls’ friendship is considered so remarkable.

A few years ago at a dinner party, I started discussing politics with a fellow guest whom I had not met before. The conversation turned to the possibility of a future Muslim prime minister. The other guest said if that day ever came, he would leave the country.

I was appalled he should think, let alone voice, this opinion. When I challenged him on it, he in turn said he was surprised at me. He was clearly of the view that his opinion would be widely shared within the community. We proceeded to have what I would call a heated debate on the matter. I’d be interested to know if now that we have a Muslim mayor of London, he will be moving up north anytime soon.

I was recently invited to join a community group of Jewish-Muslim women. Their goal is to grow bonds within both communities. I said it was a great idea and that I would happily be involved but, I asked, what’s the point in preaching to the converted? Surely it’s the sceptics, cynics and, dare I say it, ignorant ones who need to be reached out to.

My friend said: “Samantha, you have to start somewhere.” And she is, of course, 100 percent right. This small group of women came together last week for Mitzvah Day and, between them, collected hundreds of pairs of socks, gloves and hats for refugees in Greece. And they weren’t alone – many of our Muslim friends helped out for Mitzvah Day at JW3.

I am clearly not ignorant about the world in which we live, and the fear and mistrust on both sides. But intolerance of minority groups is growing, and our community needs now, more than ever, to reach out to others to demonstrate the same acceptance and tolerance we expect to be shown to us.

A Jewish friend recently told me of his sister, who is hosting a Syrian refugee in her family home. It’s acts of kindness like these that can and will make the difference.

In the words of the murdered MP Jo Cox in her maiden speech to the House of Commons: “We have more in common with each other than things that divides us”.

About the Author
Samantha Simmonds is a TV presenter, broadcaster and journalist
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