Shagufta Ahmed *07 is an American-born daughter of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan; Marina Olevsky ’09 is a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine. You might assume that they would have little to discuss — but you would be wrong.
The two students were among 20 Muslim and Jewish participants on a spring-break trip to Spain, where they studied that country’s history of Muslim-Jewish coexistence and came to know each other well, largely on long bus rides between stops on their tour. Their essays about the experience begin on page 56.
The students did not resolve all their differences on their journey. Marina’s and Shagufta’s essays suggest two divergent perspectives. But the trip to Spain — and the shared experiences of touring, shopping, and laughing together — provided “an infusion of hopefulness, and also a reminder that there was a time when a more moderate Muslim culture was prevalent,” said Rabbi Julie Roth, executive director of the Center for Jewish Life. Roth led the trip — which was funded by the Arthur F. and Arnold M. Frankel Foundation, the University, and local Muslim and Jewish organizations — with Imam Khalid Latif, Princeton’s Muslim chaplain.
There were some bumpy moments. Roth said that cultural differences between the Muslim and Jewish students “were clear as day”: For example, Jewish students felt comfortable speaking for the group, while Muslim students were reluctant to do that. Some students wanted to jump right into the most difficult topics; others wanted to discuss issues on which they shared more common ground.
“I think some people weren’t ready” to talk about the hottest topics, such as the Israel-Palestine question, Roth said. “But when we came back, we built on what we had done in Spain and had a few conversations. I myself learned things I didn’t know.”
While other campuses have been deeply divided by rifts between Muslim and Jewish students, Princeton should be proud of what the students have built together. They have been meeting in dialogue sessions throughout the year. Roth hopes to continue a Muslim-Jewish dialogue and other activities next year, though the University must recruit a new Muslim chaplain because Latif, who split his time between Princeton and New York University this year, will be in New York full time.
I write this during Reunions, the most festive experience shared by alumni each year. The wonders of Reunions notwithstanding, the intimate experience shared by Marina, Shagufta, and their fellow travelers is at least as impressive.
With this issue, we begin PAW’s summer break. We will return in September.