Swift Bonding

January 31, 2012

 

 

Jewish, Muslim students put social connections before politics.

In the summer of 2011, Kevin Lieberman B.S.M.E. '12 was facing a challenging senior year as president of the Jewish Student Union. He knew that the U.N. General Assembly would be voting in the fall on Palestinian statehood, and he feared that the issue would raise tensions among Jewish and Muslim students on campus.

Rather than sit and wait for campus politics to turn ugly, Lieberman turned to his friend, Nadir Ijaz '12, president of the Muslim Students Association.

"Kevin reached out over the summer to talk about interfaith planning. He thought it would be cool to develop social bonds and friendships instead of forcing dialogue around charged topics," Ijaz says. "It would be more natural and less offensive."

The conversation grew to include seniors Benny Maimon and Khadija Bhatti; the two were friends from their freshmanyear dorm. Maimon had been a participant on a small interfaith trip to Turkey in May 2009 and recalled the enduring bonds from that experience. "Those interfaith bonds were some of the best I've made, and I'm concerned when we graduate, we'll lose it," he says.

The students planned a social event to kick off the fall semester—a casual outing at Local Yogurt where members of JSU and MSA could meet and eat. That led to a progressive dinner on Swift Avenue, where both groups' cultural centers are located. They also invited residents from the nearby Smart House, an environmentally themed residential community. About twenty students munched and meandered through the three locations, learning about the distinctive features of each community.

"Our groups face similar challenges," Ijaz says, pointing to religious and dietary strictures, as well as similar organizational structures. "We are each other's best allies," Lieberman echoes.

That message shows considerable progress from even less than a decade ago, when tensions surfaced among Jewish and Muslim students around the 2004 Palestinian Solidarity Movement conference on campus. "Duke is one of the few places where Jews and Muslims get along," Maimon says, emphasizing that it was one of the reasons he chose to come here in the first place.

"It's important for freshmen to see our organizations interconnected as the status quo," Ijaz says. "It sets the stage for future years of MSA and JSU."