Anna Antonio-Vila experienced some culture shock when she came to the United States. At 15, her family moved from Spain to Fairfax. And with that change came exposure to people who were not Roman Catholic like she is. She met Jews and Muslims and came to discover commonalities between the three religions.
“I noticed that even though our religions are so similar, [Christians] have an animosity towards Jews and Muslims. A lot of the anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in this world is perpetrated by Christians and by churches,” Antonio-Vila said. “It doesn’t make sense to me, because we are almost exactly the same in many ways.”
So last fall Antonio-Vila, a sophomore at George Mason University in Fairfax, helped found the Abrahamic Union, a student club where members of the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — meet over Zoom to discuss religion and politics.
About 10 people attend the biweekly meetings. One recent meeting focused on Islamophobia in France. Another on LGBTQ rights.
“Our goal is to basically create solidarity between the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities,” Antonio-Vila said. “And our belief is that when we all unite, the three of us, we can tackle so many problems within the world.”
The club is led by three presidents, each representing one of the religions. Antonio-Vila serves as the group’s Christianity president and sophomore Allie Kaye, a native of Hershey, Pa., is the club’s Jewish president.
“My experience of the club so far is just how similar we are and how likeminded we are in terms of trying to help as many people as possible,” Kaye said. “We’re very adamant about making sure that we support everyone. And that religion shouldn’t be a barrier to supporting other people.”
Kaye sees the club as a bridge between groups on campus, for example George Mason Hillel and the GMU Muslim Students’ Association, and she’s not the only one.
Na’ama Gold, George Mason Hillel’s executive director, said the Abrahamic Union helps Jews and Muslims connect. Because Hillel is a Zionist organization, Muslim organizations will not work with it, Gold said. But the Abrahamic Union is neutral ground for religious groups on campus, including Hillel. Last fall Hillel and the union collaborated together on an interfaith trivia night.
“To learn that there is a club that is specifically building relationships within the three Abrahamic religions was very exciting,” Gold said. “And the natural thing for [Hillel] was to try to work with them because they do exactly the job we’re aiming to do on campus.”
Sophomore Rabia Malik, the club’s Muslim president, said the club helps students of different faiths to teach and learn about one another.
“What I love most about this group is being able to use my experience as a teacher of Islam for the past six years and clear up the misconceptions, as well as learn more about Judaism and Christianity,” Malik told the university’s blog.
Antonio-Vila said she wanted to bring these three religions together because they count the biblical Abraham as their shared ancestor. Another reason is that Christianity and Islam are the world’s largest religions in the world and Judaism is often not understood by them.
“There’s so much conversation that we haven’t had as Abrahamic siblings. And I think that it’s very important to have dialogues between Christians and Jewish people and Muslim people,” Antonio-Vila said.
From her time in the club, Kaye said she’s become more familiar with the text of the Christian Bible and Quran. And in return, she’s taught the other students about Jewish holidays and customs. One thing Antonio-Vila has learned from her time with the club is how some Jews see their Judaism not as a religious identity but as an ethnic one. And she has also learned more about the Quran and feels she’s taught the club a lot about Christianity.
“I’ve taught that Christianity is much more similar to Judaism and Islam than people think. And I’ve also taught that Christianity is not only what you see on the news, that it’s not only people calling for conversion therapy, against abortion and stuff like that,” Antonio-Vila said. “Christianity is a very beautiful religion. And in many ways, it calls for justice and stands up for people who are oppressed and suffering.”
Those interested in learning more about the Abrahamic Union can follow its Instagram, @abrahamicunion_gmu.