THE BLOG
28/10/2015 08:46 GMT | Updated 27/10/2016 06:12 BST

Exemplary Grass-root Community Harmony Is What We Need Today

In the midst of rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the Jewish and Muslim minority communities in the UK must not relent in building and strengthening their common bond. The Palestine-Israel conflict, although historical and real, must never bring about tension and hatred between the Jews and Muslims.

It is therefore heartening to see examples of the brotherly and sometimes exemplary relationship between these two communities, especially in local neighbourhoods. When the Somali Bravanese Cetre in Muswell Hill was torched down in the aftermath of Lee Rigby murder in 2013 the local synagogue immediately came up and offered their venue for the Muslim congregation. I broke my Ramadan fast and prayed there once and saw the unique human bonds that can exist in our society.

One other evidence of a beautiful harmony is the long closeness between the Jews and Muslims in East London's Whitechapel area. The Fieldgate Street Great Synagogue (built in 1889) and East London Mosque (established in 1910) have been living side by side since 1975 like brothers in the same family.

Tower Hamlets has always been a place of sanctuary for refugees and dispossessed people from across the world. The nearby Bricklane mosque distinctively epitomises the historical presence of Huguenots, Jews and Muslims in the area.

The story of the East London Mosque, the oldest in London, began in the name of 'London Mosque Fund' in 1910 under the leadership of an eminent historian and first Muslim Privy Councilor, Syed Amir Ali. Over the next few decades a number of prominent Muslim and non-Muslim philanthropists - such as Qur'an exegetes Marmaduke Pickthall and Abdullah Yusuf Ali, historian T.W. Arnold and Lord Lamington - joined hands. But it did not have any physical space to congregate until 1941 when the mosque committee bought three adjacent houses in East London's Commercial Road. The mosque moved into its current location of Whitechapel in 1975 and became the nearest neighbour of the existing Synagogue.

Since WWII the Muslim community grew significantly with many Bangladeshis arriving after their independence in 1971. With new arrivals in recent times, especially from war-torn Somalia, Tower Hamlets houses one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the UK.

The East London Mosque, with nearly three dozen educational, religious, social, economic and interfaith projects - along with accompanying gyms, restaurants and charity bodies in the complex - is now the largest mosque and Muslim community complex in Britain; Businesses have thrived and Whitechapel has become a vibrant community hub with thriving economic potentials.

ELM's archive, the first from a British Muslim institution, has unique records on the early twentieth century history of Muslims in Britain, such as the Indigent Moslem Burial Fund (founded 1925). The archive project, led by a steering group of mainstream archive experts, is a reflection of the reality of Muslims as part of the social landscape and fabric of Britain.

The ELM archives are a treasure trove for local history projects, genealogical enquiries, biographical works and studies of community development. There are governance records such as minute books of meetings going back to 1910, financial records and biographical information of some notable people.

The Fieldgate Street Great Synagogue was struggling to upkeep itself because of the dwindling Jewish population in the area for some time; since 2009 it was getting more difficult. The building was showing structural problems and in spite of some financial assistance from the ELM for repair of the roof it proved too difficult for the synagogue management to continue maintaining it. As a result, they decided to sell it to the ELM in summer 2015.

In a beautiful show of respect, the ELM has decided to preserve the history as symbol of harmony. This is vital for younger British Muslims to know not only their roots in Europe but also of their contribution to good community relationship going back to centuries, if not millennia - contrary to what some naysayers want us to believe.

A Heritage Project based in the Synagogue is on the agenda, especially after the recent Open Day that saw hundreds of people from mainly Jewish and Muslim communities attend from across London. The event was addressed by two prominent members of the Jewish community, Dr Gerry Black (a renowned author) and Mr. Nathaniel Roos (former vice-president of the Synagogue). Both Dr Black and Mr. Roos were raised in Tower Hamlets in the early 20th century. Dr. Black shared his childhood experience in Bow and the struggle which many in the Jewish community faced to overcome social hardships and poverty by focussing on education. Mr. Roos reminisced his constructive relationship with the ELM management while the purpose-built mosque was being built in the 1980s.

The Open Day was attended by some who regularly attended the synagogue. It was feeling of history coming back to continue the legacy of two Abrahamic faiths - in order to defeat the attempts by some of creating division amongst people and to keep on healing our frightening fractures. This was a plea to work with one another in this ever-changing society - with utmost sincerity to build a better Britain for the good of all and inspire other successful institutions to retain their archives for the future.

Over the decades, Britain has really become pluralist and a positive example to other developed countries - in Europe or elsewhere. The recent Middle Eastern peril and its impact are sadly haunting us now. We need wise politics, a responsible media and robust civil society to withstand our growing challenges. We all must work together so that everyone in our nation feels valued and together we can defeat any attempts of creating an 'us' and 'them' world.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist, author and parenting consultant.