Justine Ball

Bridging the Great Divide: the Jewish-Muslim Encounter


I work for Hampshire County Council as an Inspector and Advisor for Religious Education in Primary Schools. Religious Education is statutory in England for all schools: it is a requirement that children learn about different religions and world views and understand what it means to be religious. As part of this, religious education seeks to help the child develop and articulate their own beliefs, whether religious or not.

My role involves training teachers across the county and beyond about all aspects of religious education and advising on religious education issues. This includes developing teachers’ knowledge and understanding of world religions, appreciating the diversity within each religion and understanding the rich history that is in all religions so that teachers can then pass this on to their children. I enrolled on the online course, Bridging the Great Divide: the Jewish-Muslim Encounter as I felt I needed a much greater depth to my knowledge and understanding of Judaism and Islam.

The course far exceeded my expectations and I found every unit richly resourced and fascinating to read and think about. I especially enjoyed the history of Jewish people around the world and the contrast between experience in Christian lands and those communities in Islamic lands. The studying of Islam and Judaism in America were other highlights for me too. In my role, I often read about research in Europe, but had not really come across research from America and this really increased my knowledge of scholarship from America, which has proved very useful for my role.

The study of Jewish and Islamic scholarship of the Bible and Qur'an was also very helpful for my role, as it allowed me to learn in a far deeper way about approaches to scholarship and to see the differences too. Finally, the study of interfaith relations really made me consider the work I do for Hampshire and around the South of England and how I can contribute to dialogue using the scholarship on the course. The underpinning of the course with forum discussions held every week with other students was immensely useful as I could see things from a Jewish/Muslim/European/World point of view that I could not access without being a student on the course.

What then have I used from the course in my training of teachers? I no longer think of just Judaism or Islam. I now stress the long history and the real diversity in both and encourage all teachers to use the language of some, most, a few, several when talking about people from a religion. It is important in this world, which at times appears fragmented and divided, to help children see that we should not see people as just Jews or Muslims, but people who are people first and then people of their faith second. As people of a religion, they will have many different views and experiences and their history may be varied too. I now stress the diversity of these two great religions and help teachers see that this is something they too should stress to children whenever they teach about religion in school.

The experience of Bridging the Great Divide: the Jewish-Muslim Encounter has been transformative and has really helped change my approach with teachers.

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