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From hip hop to allotments — the 21 for Twenty One young leaders profiled

16 November 2018

One of the winners of 21 for 21, Aqeelah Malek

One of the winners of 21 for 21, Aqeelah Malek

YOUNG champions of interfaith engagement have been recognised for their work. Seven Christians, seven Jews, and seven Muslims were commended by a panel of judges for the 21 for 21 initiative, a joint project between the Church Times, Jewish News, British Muslim TV, and Coexist House, which is linked to the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme.

Read profiles of the winners: 


Georgia May (24)Georgia May

As programme director at the Rose Castle Foundation, Georgia is responsible for designing and leading residential programmes for peacemakers across the globe. Most notably, Georgia was instrumental in organising the Emerging Peacemakers Forum (EPF) in July. Praised by a fellow EPF participant, Hamzah Zahid, as a “paragon among interfaith practitioners”, the Durham graduate also co-ordinates the scriptural reasoning programme for the Cambridge University Interfaith Programme.



Katharine Crew (27)Katharine Crew

Katharine is campus leadership manager at the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ). Since joining the CCJ in 2016, she has designed and implemented a Campus Leadership Programme from scratch, developing interfaith networks on university campuses across the country. The programme this year reached 475 students, half of whom had never before attended an interfaith event.



Gunan Shang (28)Gunan Shang

As a Chinese-Christian, Gunan uses his nuanced understanding of how different cultures interact to develop interfaith relations in Manchester. He has played a substantial part in uniting Christian and Muslim communities, implementing an activity, Saturday Breakfast, in Moss Side: one of Manchester’s most ethnically segregated areas. Gunan is also a presenter on BBC Radio Manchester’s bilingual programme Eastern Horizon, inviting people of different faiths to share their life stories. 



Rob Thompson (26)

Rob Thompson

Rob works tirelessly to co-ordinate faith-based responses to extremist and populist threats in his position as senior programme manager at the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ). A Methodist preacher and dedicated interfaith activist, Rob delivers the only Holocaust education programme for Christian clergy in the UK. Rob also leads annual seminars at Yad Vashem, and maintains an alumni network in the UK for church leaders addressing historic anti-Semitism in the beliefs and practices of the Church.



The Revd Heston Groenewald (37)The Revd Heston Groenewald

Heston sees interfaith work as a natural part of his position as Priest-in-Charge of All Hallows’, Leeds. A “caring individual who opens his arms to all communities”, in the words of Near Neighbours Co-ordinator (West Yorkshire) Kaneez Khan, Heston opened a Syrian Kitchen in 2016, which enables Syrians to spend the day at his church cooking meals and talking about their culture with others. He also recently joined Muslims and Jews to lead a counter-demo against a far-Right gathering in Leeds.


Sharon Booth (38) 

Sharon BoothSharon founded Solutions Not Sides (SNS) in 2010 to tackle anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hate, and polarisation over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For more than eight years, Sharon has been working with young people from diverse backgrounds across Europe, highlighting the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and elevating the voices of Israelis and Palestinians who are working to challenge the status quo. She was described by the Jewish Chaplain to the University of Surrey, Alexander Goldberg, as “unafraid” of any challenge, with an “enormous vision”.

Ruth Edmonds

Ruth Edmonds (26)

Over the past two years, Ruth, a pastoral assistant, has helped to develop an interfaith Iftar at St James’s, in collaboration with City Circle, a group of liberally minded Muslims. In conjunction with the Aziz Foundation, a Muslim organisation, Ruth also co-ordinates a breakfast drop-in at St James’s every Saturday morning for refugees and those without recourse to public funds. She has also created the Peace Feast, in which young Christians and Muslims share a meal in St James’s and discuss topical questions.

Ben Reiff (21)

Ben ReiffDescribed by the director of the Faith Centre of the London School of Economics (LSE), Canon James Walters, as a “truly outstanding leader”, Ben founded the student society Voices of Israel-Palestine at LSE, while studying for a B.Sc. in International Relations and History. The society exposes students to the plurality of experiences within the region by screening documentary films and inviting Israeli and Palestinian activists, academics, politicians, and journalists to offer their perspectives. Speakers have included the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, and the Deputy Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Sharon Bar-li.


Phil Rosenberg (32)

Phil RosenbergPhil plays a leading part in formulating policy and advocating for interfaith dialogue as the director of public affairs at the Board of Deputies. Praised by the president of the Board, Marie van der Zyl, as a “tremendous asset” for his knowledge of practical theology and interfaith politics, he offers strategic guidance while working on special projects with Downing Street and Lambeth Palace. Phil also represents the Board of Deputies at regular meetings between the Church of Scotland and the Jewish community, and co-chairs Camden Council’s Faith Leaders’ Forum. Phil also spearheaded the creation of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews, which has campaigned successfully on religious freedom and Holocaust restitution.


Anna Dyson

Anna Dyson (39)
Anna is the founder and director of ToastLoveCoffee, an innovative community café located in the diverse community of Harehills, Leeds. The café intercepts food that is destined for landfill, and uses food donations to avoid waste. In return for coffee, toast, and other treats, customers offer their money, time, or a skill to help nurture the growing multifaith community. The café operates as both a community centre and a safe space rooted in the Jewish values of social action and tikkun olam (acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world).


Rabbi Miriam Berger

Rabbi Miriam Berger (39)

Miriam is Principal Rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue (FRS), and has been described by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, as the “coolest rabbi” he has ever met. She has led numerous cross-communal initiatives between Christians, Jews, and Muslims, most notably when the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association (SBWA) community centre was subject to an arson attack in June 2013. Miriam, working with Charlotte Fischer from London Citizens, laid the groundwork that enabled Ramadan prayers to take place at FRS. This hospitality has continued for five years, while the SBWA has struggled to find a new home, bringing hundreds of volunteers from both communities together each night during Ramadan to offer a warm welcome to worshippers.


Lauren Keiles (22)

Lauren KeilesAs Leeds University’s union faith representative, Lauren organised one of the most successful interfaith weeks on any university campus. Hundreds of students engaged with 13 events, which included Speed Faithing; a talk by the Bereaved Circle Family Forum; and a student-led scriptural-reasoning event. Lauren also arranged for the York Jewish Community to have an interfaith Cheder (Jewish school) alongside their interfaith service, which was attended by the Mayor. Lauren has also created a Facebook page, Faiths Together, to promote positive faith stories, and organised an interfaith homeless food collection on Mitzvah Day.


Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers (38)Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers

Debbie is the community educator at the Movement for Reform Judaism (MRJ). Known for her “humour and hospitality”, according to the Senior Rabbi at the MRJ, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, and with 20 years’ experience of working in interfaith initiatives, Debbie is enthusiastic about understanding and celebrating differences. While working in her first rabbinic post, at the West London Synagogue, Debbie established the Peace by Piece Study Programme with Annisa Supplementary School. The initiative brings together 16 Jews and Muslims for a year-long programme exploring faith and culture.



Hannah Kaufman

Hannah Kaufman (21)

As president of the Jewish Society at the London School of Economics (LSE), and student leader for the Council of Christians and Jews, Hannah has transformed the national conversation about the part that interfaith plays in challenging anti-Semitism on campus. This included proposing a motion at the national Union of Jewish Students (UJS) conference to promote interfaith harmony on campus, which passed unanimously. She has also met the Minister for Faith, Lord Bourne, to discuss interfaith relations, and has examined the Government’s integration strategy with Theresa May’s faith adviser.



Arzoo Ahmed (32)

Arzoo AhmedArzoo is the director of the Centre for Islam and Medicine, an interdisciplinary bioethics centre which undertakes research, education, and policy engagement on themes at the intersection of health care, technology, ethics, and faith. A former chair of the Young Muslim Advisory Group, Arzoo participated in the 2018 Senior Faith Leadership Programme, and has previously worked with disadvantaged young people on interfaith projects in the UK.



Mohammed Yahya (37) 

Mohammed YahyaMohammed is a hip-hop artist who uses his music, poetry, and spoken word to promote peace and interfaith dialogue. He has formerly partnered with the MC/poet Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein. He has, in partnership with West London Synagogue, in its Peace by Piece programme, as interfaith programming officer, brought Muslim and Jewish teenagers together over the past seven years. Praised by Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers for his “unique skills and talents,” Mohammed continues to help people across faith divides to have conversations together, instead of remaining isolated.



Hashim Bhatti (29) Hashim Bhatti

Besides running his own technology and property business, Hashim was elected in 2015 as the first ever British-Pakistani Conservative Councillor for Clewer North, in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. Described by the communication and project manager at the Faiths Forum for London, Aya Bdaiwi, as a “change-maker and exceptional leader”, Hashim also chairs the youth wing of the Conservative Muslim Forum, and is a member of the United States Embassy’s flagship Young Leaders programme.



Aqeelah Malek (25, in main image)

As programme officer of ParliaMentors at the Faith & Belief Forum, Aqeelah provides students from diverse faith and belief backgrounds with leadership opportunities, access to MPs, and assistance with shared social-action projects. This year, she supported students at Queen Mary University in starting an interfaith allotment funded by the Board of Deputies. Aqeelah has also spoken in Parliament about how to increase diversity in Westminster, and how leaders from different faiths can work together.



Asmaa Ali

Asmaa Ali (37)

Asmaa is an educator and community volunteer for the Somali Bravanese community, and also works on interfaith projects with Finchley Reform Synagogue. A refugee who emigrated to the UK after fleeing the civil war in Somalia, Asmaa now devotes her time to running homework and women’s literacy clubs in Barnet, and regularly visits mainstream schools with Rabbi Miriam Berger to teach about the similarities between Judaism and Islam. She speaks out against Islamophobia, and led efforts to raise £1.1 million to rebuild the Somalia Bravanese Welfare Association’s community hall, after an arson attack in 2013. Asmaa’s efforts were recognised by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, in 2015, who presented her with a Point of Light Award.



Ryad Khodabocus (37)

Ryad KhodabocusRyad is community relationship development officer for Luton Council of Faiths. Applauded by its director, David Jonathan, as “exceptionally gifted with imagination, creativity, and entrepreneurship”, Ryad has pioneered numerous community interfaith projects, often combining ethics with sports and science to build bridges in one of the most challenging and diverse towns in the country. For the past eight years, for example, Ryad has run an annual Peace Walk with a year of activities culminating in International Peace Day.


Rubab Mehdi Rizvi (38)

Rubab Mehdi RizviA human-rights barrister and interfaith activist, Rubab organised her first multifaith conference in Pakistan at the age of 13, sponsored by Benazir Bhutto. Rubab has continued to speak out on Christian rights in Pakistan ever since, both publicly and behind the scenes, including making a successful appeal against the treatment of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman convicted of blasphemy by a Pakistani court. Rubab also chairs the International Imam Hussain Council, a Pakistan-based charity that promotes interfaith understanding, and is an advocate for the rights of religious minorities and the LGBT community.


Also highly commended: Jessica Brandler, Mirella Yandoli, Ana Co, Charlotte Agran, Ben Abram, Ben Shapiro, Nadiya Takolia, Zain Hussain, Hirra Khan Adeogun, Aya Bdaiwi, Shereen Williams, Amir Eden, Saba Zaman and Imran Sanaullah.

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