Building bridges: That's the focus of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, founded 10 months ago in Davenport as common ground between the Muslim and Jewish faiths.

Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is a national organization. The idea for starting a local chapter came from Gail Karp, the retired cantor at Temple Emanuel, Davenport, who was bothered by xenophobia she sees against Muslims in the United States.

Karp began by contacting Lisa Killinger, immediate past president of the Muslim Center of the Quad-Cities, Bettendorf. 

"Gail brought the Sisterhood idea to me, and said we need to form a chapter here," Killinger said. Both Karp and Killinger said there have been activities between the two faiths in the past but the Sisterhood is different. 

"We kind of feel like pioneers," Killinger said. It's the first time in the Quad-Cities there has been a collaborative group with both Muslim and Jewish women.

"It's completely new for our community," she said.

Leaders tried to recruit Sisterhood members from different parts of the world; among the Jews in the Quad-Cities, there is homogeneity, Karp said. But among the Muslims, the women come from countries such as Syria, Pakistan, India, Turkey and Iran.

There are seven Jewish women and seven Muslim women in the local group.

The women meet monthly and spent the first few meetings getting to know one another. In early December, they completed their first community outreach activity by filling backpacks at the River Bend Foodbank, Davenport.

According to members, some of the meeting time is spent on scriptural matters and they have found much in common between the Talmud and Quran. When it comes to cultural topics, there are also similarities, Killinger said. "At the meetings we always say, 'Oh, we do that, too.'"

For example, club members Salma Arabi, Bettendorf, and Marla Andich, Rock Island, share a love of baking. Arabi formerly ran Dewey's Copper Cafe at the Moline Public Library, where Andich was a customer.

So, while the two women knew each other, that friendship grew when they joined the Sisterhood, Andich said. They talk about their shared interest: Andich is self-taught while Arabi now takes culinary classes at Scott Community College, Bettendorf.

Andich bakes the Jewish Challah bread for the group, "and they love it," she said. She and Arabi have talked about getting together to bake bread.

Andich sees the Sisterhood as friendship, and she enjoys exploring different cultures. She is impressed by how much is in common, such as in the Arab and Hebrew languages.

Meetings are in a member's home. During the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in October, the Sisterhood met in a Sukkah — a foliage-covered, temporary structure — in the member's backyard. The Sukkah represents an agricultural lean-to, from the ancient days, Karp said. Workers could use such a structure for sleeping during the harvest so they didn't have to return to a main house.

"We look forward to the meetings; they are very special," Andich said. The leaders, Karp and Killinger, come up with great discussion items, she said, but the women also go off topic and learn more about each other.

Some topics used in meetings are Scriptural Reasonings from the University of Cambridge, England, Karp said. Concepts, like hospitality or humanity, are explained by how they appear in the Talmud or Quran.

The club activity at River Bend Foodbank on Dec. 4 was part of the National Sadaqah-Tzedakah Day, which unites the traditions of charity in both religions. The group chose hunger insecurity as its project for 2017, Karp said.

"This was our first project and everyone loved doing it," Arabi said. "We were giving back to the community."

According to Killinger, the club packed 50 boxes, with six bags of food in each box. This represents about 300 meals for schoolchildren in need. There are those in the Muslim community who may not have enough food, she pointed out.

Killinger, who has been a practicing Muslim for more than 30 years, said she loves finding similar interests among the Sisterhood members.

"I look forward to meeting the others," she said. "When we get together we have warm relationships, and I know it will get better and better."

Killinger salutes Karp, for starting the Quad-City chapter of the Sisterhood.

"I'm just passionate about inclusiveness and diversity and understanding one another, to build a stronger society," Karp said. "America is a melting pot, and I want to make sure that happens, going forward. This is what we are, as a country."

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