Muslim, Jewish women come together to promote tolerance, understanding
Shazia Khan and Linda Rothnagel have more things in common than is apparent at first glance.
Khan, of South Barrington, is a hijab-wearing Muslim, originally from Hyderabad, India, and raised in Detroit. Rothnagel, of Barrington, is Jewish and was born and raised in the Chicago area.
The two women have one mission -- building bridges between Muslims and Jews and fighting hate, negative stereotyping and prejudice.
Together, they lead the Northwest suburban chapter of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom -- a national organization promoting personal relationships between Muslim and Jewish women.
Group members hosted a lunch Friday for homeless DuPage County residents at the DuPage PADS in Wheaton.
"This is a time of year when giving and celebrating is more common, and so we wanted to participate in the holidays by doing a charitable event in the spirit of Christmas," said Khan, 44, a primary care physician at Loyola Medical Center in Oakbrook and a mother of four.
Khan said the concept of charitable giving -- sadaqah or tzedakah -- is ingrained in Islam and Judaism.
The group also has passed out knapsacks with supplies to the homeless and collected items for a care closet for homeless students at Oswego East High School in years past.
Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom has 12 Chicago-area chapters and 150 nationwide. The Northwest suburban chapter brings together women from Barrington, Bloomingdale, Carol Stream, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates and South Barrington.
Monthly gatherings spark conversations around common topics, such as the role of Jesus in both traditions, how the Quran and Torah depict the story of Moses, important holidays and how they are celebrated, charity, fasting and the challenges of raising children in the faith.
"It is astounding how similar our religious traditions are ... the stories, the challenges we share, the same goals and values we have for our families," Khan said. "When you talk about Abrahamic faiths, you truly understand where that term comes from."
Rothnagel, 63, who works for a nonprofit legal aid program and has two grown children, said group members generally are open to learning from each other and sharing. She was drawn to it because of previous experience being part of an interfaith alliance while living in Israel during the 1970s.
"Sometimes, Middle East politics gets in the way of Jewish-Muslim relations," Rothnagel said. "(The group) has helped me have a more sophisticated understanding (of Muslims)."
Khan said she felt Americans have become more divided by race and religion after the 2016 presidential elections.
"I needed to help others understand my faith because it wasn't going to happen (otherwise)," she said. "The philosophy of spreading tolerance and understanding one relationship at a time is very powerful. We don't realize the importance of just one-on-one interaction between families, neighbors and individuals. That personal relationship builds so much trust and understanding ... that is the foundation that is going to build tolerance and understanding in our larger society."
Rothnagel said the goal is to go into the community and educate people about both religions.