Even on this famously liberal campus, some University of Michigan students wonder what Muslims wearing head scarves and beards are doing hanging out with some of the Jews wearing yarmulkes. Why are they spending so much time together? Are they supposed to be doing that?

I mean, like, is it even allowed by your religions, the students say they have been asked.

The group of 16 Muslims and Jews says it has been an object of curiosity on campus, as members have met together for months to plan their spring break together, beginning Sunday, to help rebuild New Orleans. But they say that what unites them is the very thing that might appear, to some, to divide them: their faiths.

“Giving of yourself to others is one of the Five Pillars of Islam,” said Afrah Raza, a 19-year-old freshman from Sterling Heights. “I feel like, as a Muslim, whatever is in my capability to do good, will help others. So, there is a Jewish community on campus and Muslim community on campus, but we don’t interact at all. This is just a way to get to know each other.”

Miriam Liebman, 21, of Farmington Hills says she was driven by her faith to be active in community groups.”It’s just something I have thought about, as part of me being Jewish, since high school,” said Liebman, a senior, who has taken Arabic classes, spent a semester in Egypt and joined the Union of Progressive Zionists, a student group that seeks peace and justice in the Middle East.

“It’s all culminated in the point that I feel the need to do something like this,” Liebman said, “to make those things be more a part of my own Jewish community, to do something within that framework of cooperation with Muslims.”

These have not been the best years for relations between Jews and Muslims in Metro Detroit, as generations-long disputes and new spasms of war wracking the Middle East emphasize the divisions between the two large religious communities. But the New Orleans-bound students say that is all about politics and international affairs. What they are about is religion.

For a journey inspired by faith, they have been planning the intimate necessities of life together for six days. They will live, eat and travel with each other, visit a mosque and synagogues, and spend several days working on reconstruction and reclamation projects still under way after Hurricane Katrina. They will even abide by Jewish dietary restrictions, keeping Kosher, part of the time — a new experience for the Muslims and some of the Jews. (MORE)


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