Hate crime in the UK has reached unprecedented levels. This article shares real stories of people close to the author. Ultimately, it is an article about planting and nurturing love in a time of spiralling hate. Raahim speaks from the experiences of close friends suffering across communities.

Photo: Forum for the Discussion on Israel and Palestine Residential, February 2024 (Credits: Raahim Z.)

A large extended Orthodox Jewish family walks through the waiting area at London Euston station. They move towards the Left Luggage office while their young children run around their newfound playground just like I have seen dozens of children do on my regular trips to the capital. But something inside me is uneasy.

The last train back to Manchester is heavily delayed. It’s nearly 10pm now. We’re still waiting for the platform announcement. As people coming in and out of the station walk past them, I begin to feel uneasy. I move closer to them. Just in case.

My Jewish friends have been attacked in recent months. They were already somewhat desensitised to aggressive comments being thrown at them as they went down the street, but bottles and punches to the face less so. Recent statistics published by CST confirm that this spike in anti-Jewish hate crime is unprecedented. 2023 was the worst year since records began.

I’ve seen graffiti on the streets with my own eyes calling for the worst.

Statistics: CST, February 2024

One of my friends posted recently that his Orthodox Jewish father was threatened on the streets near where I live – and the threat had come from someone visibly from my own ethnic community. I don’t have a particular affinity to violence, nor do I believe in it, but in a moment of outrage and laddish bravado I reach out to my Iraqi Jewish brother, messaging him that I would sort that guy out if I ever met him. My friend appreciated the sentiment.

I’m in a rare position. I am a Pakistani Muslim with Jewish friends. I’m a Pakistani Muslim whose Jewish friends reached out to him post-October 7th because they wanted to talk. I’m a Pakistani Muslim who has been invited to Shabbat dinner at a Hasidic Jewish household during that period more than once. Up to the point of writing, I am yet to be cancelled.

My Jewish friends often face similar predicaments. A few weeks ago, I attended FODIP’s mini-winter residential as the culmination of an 18 month long programme (we had planned to be in Jerusalem in January… but plans changed). I remember one Jewish participant mentioning that various people in his community were vocally aghast that he would go and willingly spend a weekend with “the other.” I’m euphemising. I’m fairly certain they thought we hated them. It breaks my heart.

Social polarisation has never been so acute. I stand in a position where I regularly hear the pain of Kippah donning Jewish men being attacked and of Hijab wearing Muslim women being assaulted. Not too long ago, my friend’s cousin in London, a 12-year old hijabi girl, was approached in the street by a grown man who put his fingers on the side of her head in the shape of a gun, making her fear for her life. Again, we know this is not isolated.

I know that the instinct is to retreat, to keep a low profile, to not attract attention. For how much longer must they wait for the storm to simply blow over? Must we just accept this as fate?

I don’t know how to address such unprecedented levels of Antisemitism and Islamophobia on a grand scale, but I have engaged with enough people to know that there are far more people who are against it then those who support it. Only if we connect and stand united for a common humanity can we begin to challenge this culture of hate. We must become each other’s protectors, in the other’s absence as much as their presence. We must “change what is in ourselves” so that that God, in turn, might change our condition as a people (Quran, 13:11).

Even if it be a passing comment that we hear that might only smell like bigotry, we must summon the courage to challenge it with words that bear the aroma of divine grace and beauty. Those of us who can reach out and connect with others – who feel safe enough to do so – must.

Many Muslim and Jewish communities tend to keep to themselves due to historic patterns and behaviours of migrant communities. Most Muslims will never meet a Jew in this country. As such, my attending an “Ultra-Orthodox” Shabbat dinner is something of an exception – the particular host having a keen interest in reaching out. When I attended the Friday Evening Meal at the Rabbi’s home, he, his wife, and children were all so curious to learn more about me and my faith.

I have sat in on Church services a fair few times, often being moved as metrically sound English poetry (a rare find these days) is sung to grand, ancient melodies. This was now my first time listening to Jewish people sing the night away with hymns in Yiddish, Hebrew and Aramaic. I was transported through time and place, through all the eras that these songs contain, through all the places their ancestors praised the Divine. The slumbering linguist in me was revived for an evening. I wondered in that moment if the Mizrahi Jews, who lived in Arabic-speaking countries for generations, maintained hymns or other aspects of their tradition in now dying subdialects of Judaeo–Arabic? I’ll ask my Iraqi Jewish friend next I see him.

The Rabbi, grandson of a famous leader of many hundreds of thousands, even let me try on his Shtreimel – the big, woolly fur hat that has become symbolic of their community. The Rabbi, a man of God, told me that his assessment of the landscape at large was as follows: there isn’t enough love going round. I couldn’t disagree with him.

I felt something that evening. As much as we might rationalise that racism is wrong, that hate crime is a bad thing, that the stranger is also human – nothing compares to sharing a meal with another and slowly becoming a brother.

There’s something deep in human psychology which I can’t explain in scientific terms, but something that I experienced that evening. As I heard the songs being sung in Yiddish, Hebrew and Aramaic; as I saw the children deliriously running around the house laughing, playing and ultimately falling over; as I tasted the warmth of the soup that has been a Shabbat staple for generations… I felt something shift inside me.

It was no longer something theoretical. The Rabbi was onto something when he spoke about love. In Arabic, the word for love is Hubb. Hubb comes from another word: Habb, a seed. That evening, the children’s laughter, the mother’s warmth and the Rabbi’s banter planted a seed.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) famously said:

“You shall not enter Paradise until you believe, and you have not believed until you love one another. Shall I tell you of something you can do to make you love one another? Spread peace amongst yourselves.” [Sahih Muslim]

So, on this, another Friday, I am invited once more to the Rabbi’s home.
And I say to you, as I will say to him, Assalamu Alaikum, Shalom Aleichum.
May Peace be upon you.