The Call to Sacrifice: An Invitation to Community

This year Muslims at DePaul and around the world celebrated our most important holiday of the year, Eid-ul-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, on July 20.(1) This holiday comes at the end of the Hajj Pilgrimage season. It commemorates the sacrifices made by the Prophet Abraham and his family, especially his son Ishmael and Ishmael’s mother Hagar, recognized as the founders of the holy city of Mecca.(2)

An insight into our human experience found both in spiritual traditions and in human psychology is the value of sacrifice in nurturing love. It creates powerful relationships and builds real community. This can be seen in the relationship between the human and God, but also in relationships amongst people. During the Hajj Pilgrimage rituals and Eid celebrations, as Muslims we remind ourselves about how Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael drew closer to God through the sacrifices they made for God. We encourage ourselves to follow a similar path. In our Vincentian tradition, the importance of sacrifice is linked closely to the Vincentian virtue of mortification. It is sometimes described as giving up something we value for the sake of something more valuable.(3)

I was moved by a powerful conversation related to this theme between journalist Ezra Klein and child psychologist Alison Gopnik.(4) They discussed the question of why parents care and sacrifice so much for their children. A common answer might be that parents do so because they love them. Of course, this isn’t wrong, but Gopnik suggests that we look at it the other way around. It could be said that parents love their children because of all they have sacrificed and done to care for them. We see this not only in interpersonal relationships but in people’s relationships with projects or achievements. For example, we might feel that a DePaul degree is especially precious when it results from a great deal of sacrifice, not only by the student but by the family and their broader community. We also may feel that our DePaul community itself is most precious to those who have sacrificed and cared most for it, and not just to those who have concretely benefitted most from it.

Considered this way, the invitation to sacrifice for each other is a valuable opportunity to build community. In reflecting on our lives we realize that whenever we truly work for something we believe in or make the effort to care for others, that although we speak of sacrifice, in the end we gain much more than anything we give up. In fact, we often do not feel that whatever we sacrificed is “lost” to us at all. Those who have experienced this learn that a community created by shared sacrifice is not a burden on some but a gift to all. However, when based in an institution, the sacred potential of such community must be protected by those who have power or authority. This must be done to ensure that the community lives up to the hope and trust people are placing in it, and to make sure that none are oppressed or taken advantage of.

Does this idea of sacrifice making relationships more meaningful and communities stronger resonate with your experience? In this respect, are family or other personal relationships different from how you see the role of your workplace in your life?

Some people may have experienced personal disappointment or even abuse resulting from invitations to sacrifice. As alluded to above, the invitation to sacrifice undoubtedly involves vulnerability. How would you describe the difference between healthy, more meaningful sacrifices made for the sake of individuals, institutions, or communities from those which are unhealthy and can lead to abuse?


1) As the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, the days on which holidays are observed on the solar calendar shift from year to year.

2) See Guillermo Campuzano, C.M., “The Gift of DePaul’s Muslim Community,” 20 July 2021, at: DePaul University Newsline

3) See Tom Judge, “What Beautiful Opportunities…”, 27 January 2020, at: Mission Monday on mortification

4) See “This changed how I think about love,” Vox Conversations podcast, at: How I think about love

 

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain and Assistant Director of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care, Division of Mission & Ministry

 

 

Pilgrimage through the Pandemic

“Go, therefore, Mademoiselle, go in the name of Our Lord. I pray that His Divine Goodness may accompany you, be your consolation along the way, your shade against the heat of the sun, your shelter in rain and cold, your soft bed in your weariness, your strength in your toil, and, finally, that He may bring you back in perfect health and filled with good works.”1

Over the past week, Muslims around the world observed Eid al Adha. This greatest holiday on the Muslim calendar comes at the end of the season of the Hajj Pilgrimage to Mecca, and it commemorates the sacrifices made by Prophet Abraham and his family (peace be upon them) for the sake of the One God. Of course, this year both the Hajj and Eid celebrations were nothing like they usually are. Hajj, usually attended by millions from around the world, was limited to a symbolic select few already present in Saudi Arabia. The normal mass prayers and other celebrations held by Muslims throughout the Chicagoland area could not be held. This continues to be a time of hardship and trial, and we know that many people in our own country and throughout the world are enduring great hardships.

When it became clear that Hajj could not take place as usual, one question that arose was what does this mean for Muslims as it is so important to our practice of the faith? Indeed, it is well known as one of the “pillars” of Islam. Not being able to observe Hajj and commemorate the sacrifices of Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael is a great sadness. However, it caused me to reflect that the vast majority of Muslims, today and throughout history, have not been able to make Hajj. Global travel is a privilege limited to a select few. I have never been to Mecca and intended to go this year for the first time myself. Yet, Hajj is part of the spiritual imagination of every Muslim. We tell stories about it, we learn about it, we donate funds to help others go, we honor those who have attended and celebrate their return, we ask them what they learned, and we dream about it. We seek to learn lessons from it, whether we can physically go or not. Much as we also seek to learn lessons which come from shared sacrifice and assisting the vulnerable, those lessons found in our own day to day experiences and challenges, as well as those found in the people around us.

Vincent de Paul spent a great deal of his life organizing and sending missionaries on journeys intended to be in the service of God and the poor. In his brief essay, “Vincent the Traveler,” Jack Melito, C.M., observes that Vincent’s zeal drove him to want to go wherever was necessary to advance his mission. Yet, while he did often travel in his early life, Vincent spent his later years mainly confined to Paris. However, while “his body stayed at home…his zeal roamed.”2 Vincent vicariously traveled these missions through those he sent on them, and through the letters and communications shared with them.

Whatever our circumstances, in what ways can we view the hardships and challenges we face at this time as opportunities to learn and transform? In what ways can we try to balance our willingness to make sacrifices with our hope to return “in perfect health and filled with good works”? How might we better see this difficult time as one challenging part of life’s long journey or pilgrimage?


1) Letter 39, To Saint Louise, 6 May 1629, CCD, 1:64-65.

2) Jack Melito, C.M., Saint Vincent de Paul: Windows on His Vision (Chicago: Vincentian Studies Institute, 1999), 17. Free to download: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/8/

 

Reflection by:

Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director Religious Diversity & Pastoral Care, Muslim Chaplain, Mission & Ministry

 

The Beauty of a Higher Purpose

Virtue is so beautiful and amiable that they will be compelled to love it in you, if you practice it well.1

In the remarkable short letter from which this quote was taken, Vincent responds to news that several of the missionaries would be travelling on a ship with “some heretics.” After briefly expressing his distress at what they may have to “endure from them,” Vincent spends the rest of the letter reminding them that this is God’s plan. He encourages them to use their best manners and “be careful to avoid every sort of dispute and contention.”2 Vincent expresses hope that an example of beautiful character will be “helpful” to all.

Muslims are now entering into the final week of the observance of Ramadan. Ramadan is normally a month filled with fasting, prayer, and charity; it has been this year as well, although in all other ways it has been different with mosques closed and social activity curtailed by the pandemic. In a traditional saying of the Prophet Muhammad (which he sources to John the Baptist) it is said, “the similitude of the fasting person is that of someone who is carrying a sack-full of musk in a crowd of people—all of them marveling at its fragrance (although they can’t see what has created it).”3

The experience of long days of fasting and nights of sporadic sleep risks making one impatient or hard to be around. However, we find that when undertaken with intention and perseverance, a connection to a higher purpose along with increased gratitude and vulnerability reveals a beauty in the fasting person that is attractive to those around them even if they don’t know the source of it. Such a state also increases generosity that rains upon us all, even upon those who may be seen as heretics in a particular time or place.

During times of difficulty and anxiety like those we are living now, it is tempting to be less patient, less compassionate, more selfish, or even divisive with each other, particularly with those who hold differing worldviews.

What are some practices or exercises you can engage in to remain grounded in a sense of higher purpose? Is there a foundational belief or perspective which enables virtue to emanate from you, such that its beauty and fragrance is enjoyed by and helpful to all whom you encounter?

 


1) 3032, To Philippe Patte, In Nantes, [November or December 1659], CCD, 8:209.

2) Ibid.

3) Jami at-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Amthal (Chapter of Parables), Book 44, Hadith 3102. See: http://sunnah.com/urn/630960

 

Reflection by:

Abdul-Malik Ryan
Assistant Director and Muslim Chaplain
Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care
Division of Mission and Ministry

Solidarity with Muslims at DePaul

Abdul-Malik Ryan serves as Assistant Director of the Office of Religious Diversity and DePaul’s Muslim Chaplain. In this role he serves as Advisor to UMMA and the Interfaith Scholars student groups.

Recent days have been trying for many different people in our country and around the world, among them the Muslim community which has been targeted through both inflammatory rhetoric and government policies that have caused suffering and created fear for many in American Muslim communities.  At the same time, we have also seen an outpouring of action from Muslims and from others acting in solidarity which has given us hope and determination to continue to struggle for dignity for all communities.

Many people have been asking, “What can I do?” For those looking to show solidarity with the Muslim community at DePaul, we would like to extend a special invitation to participate in Fast a Thon on February 16.

Fast a Thon is an annual program organized by DePaul’s UMMA (United Muslims Moving Ahead) student group which invites people of all faiths or none to join us in experiencing fasting, community, and service together on the same day.  We recognize that everyone is busy and has many different commitments on their time, so we have created several different ways in which people can participate in this effort.

1) People are invited to pledge to fast (as best they are able) on February 16.  Simply go to this link and enter your name and email and you will get a reminder the day before with some suggested guidelines around fasting.  This will include an invitation to wear green on that day in a display of solidarity with the Muslim community.   

2) People are also invited to attend our iftar (breaking of the fast) dinner on February 16 at 5 PM in Cortelyou Commons.  The breaking of the fast (at sunset) will be at 5:27 PM that day.  We will share a delicious meal as a community, reflect together on the experience of fasting, and be entertained by a unique comedian Jeremy McLellan. McLellan is a Christian who has caught on with Muslim and other audiences for his unique take on issues like immigration, race, religion, Islamophobia, politics and disabilities – he celebrates diversity and critiques bigotry through his comedy.  Please RSVP for the dinner here if you know you can commit. An RSVP is necessary to ensure we have space (and food) for you at the dinner.

3) Finally, Fast a Thon will raise money as a community for a great cause.  As part of this Fast a Thon, UMMA is collaborating with Zakat Foundation, an international humanitarian relief organization, to raise money to support education for Syrian refugees, the youngest and most innocent victims of the world’s greatest contemporary humanitarian crisis.  People can donate through this link, by bringing a donation on the day of the Fast a Thon, or visiting the Muslim Life Center in Lincoln Park Student Center room 329 at any time leading up to the dinner.  Please look out for Fast a Thon tabling in the Student Center and spread the word about ways to get involved.  If you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Abdul-Malik Ryan

Universities Welcome Muslim Students Through Interfaith Efforts

New York University students, faculty, and clergy gather at the Kimmel Center on the NYU campus to discuss the discovery of surveillance by the New York Police Department on Muslim communities.

By Aaron Shapiro | November 13, 2012

Many American universities—both religious and secular—have recently launched efforts to accommodate and encourage religious diversity on their campuses. Universities are fosteringthis diversity and strengthening interfaith respect and cooperation to better serve their students and to counter rising incidences of xenophobia and other prejudices. Colleges are taking particularly active steps to welcome Muslim students, who too often face discrimination and prejudice because of their faith.

The number of Muslim students enrolled at Catholic universities has reportedly doubled over the past decade. In fact, according to the Higher Education Research Institute, the percentage of Muslim students at Catholic universities is higher than at “the average four-year institution in the United States.” Many may assume this influx of the religious “other” might generate tension, and that has indeed been the case on some campuses. But while much attention has been paid to instances of conflict and discord, the firsthand experience of many students suggests that, theological differences aside, having a religious identity of any kind can serve as a point of commonality for many students.

Muslims thrive on interfaith campuses

Many Muslim students are in fact choosing to enroll at Catholic universities precisely because of the religious—albeit non-Muslim—student body. Maha Haroon, a Muslim student at Jesuit Creighton University, said, “I like the fact that there’s faith, even if it’s not my faith, and I feel my faith is respected.”

Similarly, many Muslim students express a sense of belonging at these institutions because they are surrounded by other people of faith. Beyond merely co-existing, Muslim students are finding their fellow classmates to be welcoming faith partners. Mai Alhamad, a Muslim student at the University of Dayton, told The New York Times that he finds comfort in these efforts, saying, “Here, people are more religious, even if they’re not Muslim, and I am comfortable with that.”

So, too, is Dana Jabri, a sophomore at the Catholic DePaul University. Unsettled by the recent killing of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Libya and the violent demonstrations that subsequently spread across the Middle East, Jabri felt compelled to organize her fellow students to respond to the violence.

“We needed to come together and just share a moment of silence,” Jabri said in a recent interview with the Center for American Progress.

She worked quickly to organize a vigil on campus protesting violence around the world. About 40 students and faculty from a variety of faiths attended the event and Jewish, Christian, and Muslim chaplains shared their thoughts and prayers. As she recalled the vigil, Jabri said that it felt like a meaningful achievement to simply be able “to stand shoulder to shoulder in a circle, recognizing that it is important for all of us to come together, no matter our faith backgrounds, against this violence.”

As a Muslim and a religious minority at a Catholic university, Jabri has thrived on campus. Jabri is one of DePaul’s seven interfaith scholars—a group of student leaders, each hailing from a different religious tradition, who work with each other and their respective religious communities to cultivate a robust interfaith community on campus.

This kind of engagement extends beyond Roman Catholic universities. Many Muslim students, for instance, are finding common ground with their classmates at Brigham Young University’s Salt Lake City, Utah campus which is “supported, and guided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and where 98.5 percent of all students are Mormon. The values promoted in the BYU Honor Code include “shun[ing] alcohol, illicit drugs and pre-marital sex,” and areimportant in the Muslim faith. These and other similarities have created a sense of solidarity among Muslim and Mormon students, leading Muslim student Sameer Ahmad to conclude that “[Mormons and Muslims] emphasize the same teachings, the same set of beliefs, even though the way of participating [is different].”

In the course of living and studying together, many students at BYU have discovered that their faiths can bring them together instead of pushing them apart. Andrew Moulton, a Mormon who lives with a Muslim classmate, told the Deseret News that, “I didn’t know that our cultures were so similar.”

But it is not just friendships or a sense of belonging that is prompting this increase in Muslim students at non-Muslim religious universities. Brigham Young University is taking concrete steps to create a more welcoming environment for its Muslim students. Each Friday, for example, the university sets aside a room in the student center where its Muslim students can gather for prayers.

Other religiously affiliated universities are making similar efforts to ease Muslim students’ adjustment to campus life. In early October of this year, Gannon University, a Catholic university in Erie, Pennsylvania, completed construction of a new “Interfaith Prayer Space,” where students from all faiths are able to pray and study in accordance with their religious traditions. In another expression of the school’s commitment to engage its Muslim population and improve its interfaith activities, during the ceremony dedicating the new space, Rev. Michael Kesicki read from the Bible and a Muslim student read a passage from the Qur’an.

Many other universities are developing programs and policies that are designed to make Muslim students feel more welcome, as well:

  • Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, where 15 percent of the students identify as Muslim, compared to the average 1.3 percent of students at four-year colleges,established dedicated prayer rooms for Muslim students and launched an “Interreligious Dialogue” program, inviting students from different faiths to discuss a wide range of issues, including anti-Muslim sentiment.
  • Georgetown University, in addition to reserving space for daily Muslim prayers, employs Imam Yahya Hendi as a university chaplain in its multifaith Campus Ministry in Washington, D.C.
  • American University, which is affiliated with the Methodist Church, actively engages Muslim students through its Kay Spiritual Life Center in the nation’s capital and its Muslim Chaplain Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad.

By taking actions that express concern and sensitivity toward students of all faith traditions, these universities have demonstrated a commitment to bridging the river of religious differences and countering the idea that religious diversity inevitably breeds discord. Other universities that have yet to take action ought to note the successes of these programs at both religious and secular institutions—most notably the one fostered by non-religiously affiliated New York University.

New York University as a secular model for interfaith community-building

Well-known interfaith activist Eboo Patel once noted that interfaith work on religious campuses is often successful because it “fits in the category of faith language and fits in the category of diversity. It’s just a different dimension.” As shown above, creating interfaith communities on religiously affiliated campuses is a fairly straightforward task since many religions have similar views on lifestyle choices, even if the specific tenets of each faith are very different.

Building interfaith communities at secular universities among a religiously diverse student body therefore poses a distinct challenge. Nonetheless, several secular universities are leading efforts to create inclusive spiritual environments for students from different religious backgrounds because they see the religious diversity of their student body as a resource upon which to build.

New York University in particular stands out as a model for vibrant interfaith community building. Barely more than a year ago, NYU opened the Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life on its campus in lower Manhattan. This new building houses the Islamic Center and Catholic Center at NYU, and hosts Friday evening prayers for the Jewish campus community each week.

In 2011 a student club at NYU—Bridges: Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue—coordinated an event where Jewish students attended the Friday afternoon service at the Islamic Center, while Muslim students attended the Friday evening Shabbat service later that night. Naturally, the group titled the program the “Jum’ah/Shabbat Experience.” This event demonstrated that multifaith initiatives need not ignore religious differences and can instead embrace religious difference as an opportunity to learn more and broaden horizons.

While the Spiritual Life Center at NYU hosts many significant interfaith events, some of the most innovative and inspiring initiatives take place beyond its walls. In March 2012, in connection with President Barack Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, the White House highlighted a joint effort—led in part by the Bridges student group—in which both Muslim and Jewish students from NYU volunteered to help repair homes damaged by a tornado in Alabama. Chelsea Garbell, president of Bridges and a senior at NYU,explained the larger collaborative vision of the effort: “If we [Muslims and Jews] can learn from one another and develop an understanding of our similarities and differences, we can stand together as human beings in an effort to better the world around us.” By cultivating genuine interfaith relationships and taking interfaith discussions beyond the safety of the university grounds, students can both develop themselves and extend interfaith reach and significance to the greater community.

But NYU’s interfaith efforts also go beyond extracurricular activities: Administrators are bringing interfaith discussions into the classroom. Over the past year NYU chaplains Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna have been teaching a joint course, titled “Interfaith Dialogue, Leadership & Public Service: Traditions of Engagement in the U.S. & Beyond.” Students from diverse religious backgrounds have taken the course, where they learn how to build a better world while forming an authentic interfaith community—all in the safety of a college classroom. This means that they have a chance to interact with those of different faiths in a calm, intellectual setting, where they can truly air their opinions and hear from those who think differently, deepening their sense of other religions as well as their friendship as classmates.

Through these efforts and others, NYU is actively cultivating a community where students from distinct faith traditions can engage as classmates and fellow human beings, and where they can come away enriched instead of divided.

The result: Standing together through a crisis

The Associated Press reported in February that the New York Police Department was keeping Muslim students at NYU under surveillance because of their religious affiliation. Muslim students were outraged and organized a rally against this invasion of privacy. Atheists, Christians, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, and others stood together with their Muslim classmates at the rally, bringing to life the slogan “NYUnited,” which was emblazoned across the t-shirts worn by many rally attendees.

Among the many speakers who stood before the podium at the foot of NYU’s Grand Staircase was Ariel Ennis, a Jewish student. Ennis shaped much of his speech around a quote fromAbraham Joshua Heschel, a prominent Rabbi during the Civil Rights Movement. Ennis said:

We may disagree about the ways of achieving fear and trembling, but the fear and trembling are the same. The demands are different, but the conscience is the same, and so is arrogance, iniquity. The proclamations are different, the callousness is the same, and so is the challenge we face in many moments of spiritual agony.

Ennis was able to speak as a Jew to a largely Muslim audience that day primarily because of his efforts and the efforts of the larger NYU community to develop a strong interfaith community—one that promotes solidarity despite difference and fosters unity without uniformity. As he reflected on the “most profound impact” that interfaith community development had for him, Ennis said that “[It] is not that we have necessarily solved world crises, but we have formed real friendships, deep and meaningful friendships, with many members of the [Muslim] community.”

Conclusion

The lesson of moments such as this seems clear: Building community takes time, effort, and the firm belief that our shared core values are more essential than our differences. Such efforts are central to our well being as a democratic nation. In the face of terrorist threats from Al-Qaeda and other groups of religious extremists, we must stand together as a nation of many cultures and faiths, instead of splintering apart from intolerance and hate.

Anti-Muslim prejudice, hate rhetoric, and bigoted actions divide and weaken our country. According to the FBI, hate crimes against Muslim Americans increased by 50 percent in 2010—the highest number since 2001. Muslim Americans seeking to worship according to their faith have seen their mosques defaced, burned, and destroyed.

But if we choose—much like Ariel Ennis and others at NYU and at other institutions around the country have chosen—to stand together, cultivating our commonalities while celebrating our differences, then we can stem the tide of religious intolerance. Together we can continue to uphold the American values of freedom and tolerance for all.

Aaron Shapiro is an intern with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. For more on this initiative, please see its project page.

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Universities Welcome Muslim Students Through Interfaith Efforts

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