Having watched the frightening events of last week unfold in France, I, like most others am feeling the pain. Yet, out of dark times often comes light.
With already strained relationships between Muslims and Jews in parts of Europe, the supermarket siege on Friday quickly made us feel that a terrible situation had become even worse. One glimmer of humanity was when, in the kosher supermarket, a Muslim worker quickly helped shoppers 'hide' downstairs until the siege was over.
Here in the UK, it is surely time for Muslims and Jews to work more solidly together and not allow these events to polarise us further. What happened last week makes that cooperation even more vital now.
The Jewish and Muslim communities can learn much from each other. Many of the issues and challenges are mirrored in our respective experiences. The work on Anti-Muslim hatred and Anti-Semitism needs to be more closely linked to find solutions that will tackle growing prejudice.
We are already seeing a backlash against Muslims in France: hand grenades were thrown in a mosque in Le Mans, south west of Paris. The front of a kebab shop near a mosque in Villefranche-sur-Saone, near Lyon was destroyed in an explosion. The social media world is seeing anti-Muslim sentiment, none of which should be taken lightly at all.
While my heart is heavy, I am also encouraged. When the Paris incident took place, some of the first messages I received were from Jewish friends and colleagues that I have built relationships with in recent months. It was very touching and reminded me that is surely the way forward.
I already had a lot of things on my 2015 to-do list, and now developing even further the relations between Muslims and Jews in Britain has been pushed to the top of the pile.
I have been fortunate to work with many colleagues from the Jewish community in the past. A particular highlight in 2014 was during 'The Big Iftar' in Ramadan over the summer when Alyth Gardens Synagogue in North London hosted Muslims during one of the most special and spiritual times in the Muslim calendar. The atmosphere touched everyone; it was a true privilege to be a part of an event that set a precedent for positive engagement between our communities going forward.
Is this work easy? Is it without challenges? Of course not. For both communities, there are deep-rooted issues that are ignored at our peril. When the situation erupted again in Gaza last year, emotions were high, divisions were exaggerated and the links between the UK and issues in the Middle East were made very real once again. Those difficult, politically motivated conversations need to happen here too and that requires good leadership and building on strong links that have already been made and can be enhanced further.
But we are here, Britain is home. Connections to other countries should never be broken nor should they be belittled but they also cannot overshadow co-operation and coexistence. At times, I feel my views about Palestine and Israel are used as the litmus test of what kind of Muslim I am and how good my connection with God is - I don't accept that to be the case. I never underestimate their importance but I shouldn't be so critically judged on what I do / don't say about the issues there, not by Jews or Muslims or anyone else.
Out of such ugly, tragic scenes coming from France this week, we need to look for opportunities and glimmers of hope. That is what Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, did in his lifetime. He was constantly ridiculed, humiliated and mocked by many around him who did not like or understand what he stood for. He never responded with violence, he never gave permission for others to do so either. His example is what we follow, his response in times of difficulty is my inspiration and what keeps me going at times like this.
I will be making extra efforts to reach out, to work with more compassion, and not increase this climate of suspicion. Cooperation and coexistence is a core part of our faith and now is absolutely the time to make that shine brighter than any slogans, ugly messages or violence can ever do.Suggest a correction