Ground-Breaking Interfaith Event at St Andrews Uni

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Ground-Breaking Interfaith Event at St Andrews Uni

By Joel Salmon

“This event would have been unthinkable in St Andrews five years ago”, commented one member of the panel, to broad agreement.

It has been a tense few years for interfaith relations. A student was expelled for anti-Semitic abuse; the Christian Union was de-affiliated from the Union; and a protest against the Jewish Society and AEPi charity ball was threatened – all within the past year.

However, this year, the Jewish Society has sought to build up positive relationships with both the Islamic Society and Christian Union. After months of planning, we had St Andrews’ biggest ever interfaith event –  a conference entitled ‘Coexistence in the Middle East’.

Set in the iconic Parliament Hall (once the location of the Scottish government), over 80 people attended. We heard from a variety of speakers, beginning with Professor Mario Aguilar who happens to be a biographer of Pope Francis and a buddy of the Dalai Lama. The day continued thematically with two history speakers talking on how Jews and Muslims approach the Quran and how Jewish and Muslim philosophy is highly intertwined. It was fascinating to hear how Maimonides was inspired not jonly by Aristotle, but also by Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, and how his thought permeates later Islamic scholarship.

NH6A6837A more political discussion then took place, with Jerusalem the case study. The speaker Francesco Belcastro framed it both as a ‘city of war’ and an ‘open city’, a contested space and yet one that is shared. Both are narratives, and so both should not be taken at face value.

In the afternoon we heard from three faith speakers. Sheikh Hamza from Dundee Central Mosque spoke on how we should use Mohammed as a role model for interfaith and he gave some moving stories from scripture to demonstrate. Dr Mia Spiro, a Jewish Studies lecturer from the University of Glasgow then gave a unique presentation on how clothes have been used by Jews to both separate but also to include. We then heard from the University Chaplain Reverend Donald MacEwan who took us on a photographic journey of religious sites around the world. It really showed the dichotomy of the beauty and barbarity of humanity.

We rounded off with a panel discussion, chaired by Jewish Society President Joel Salmon, where concluding thoughts on coexistence were discussed This was followed by a delicious Middle Eastern dinner. Conversation continued long after the conference had finished and it was a beautiful sight to see people of completely different backgrounds schmoozing over falafel and humous.

We may not have solved global conflict between peoples, but the fact that we had such a conversation is testament to the desire of people to come together when it matters and to build a platform from which to deal with difficult issues. We hope to build on the success of this conference and further develop the relationships between the societies. Perhaps in five years, such an event will be commonplace.


Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: