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A GATHERING PLACE FOR STORYTELLING ABOUT DEPAUW UNIVERSITY
Religion has been at the center of countless wars throughout the ages and throughout the world. Sami Aziz, a Muslim imam, is DePauw’s newest chaplain and director of the Center for Spiritual Life; he serves with two other chaplains – the Rev. Kate Smanik, a United Church of Christ clergy member and assistant dean of civic engagement, and the Rev. Maureen Knudsen Langdoc, a United Methodist clergy member – as well as Adam Cohen, coordinator of Jewish life. Aziz has a master’s degree in Christian-Muslim relations and is writing his dissertation on religion phobia on American college campuses, specifically liberal arts colleges. We asked him:
What are the most basic remedies for improving Christian/Muslim relations at DePauw, in Indiana, in the country, in the world?
By Sami Aziz
Since arriving to DePauw, I’ve gained insight into the pain and beauty that often stem from being religious or spiritual at a liberal arts college. Religion is a struggle and, regardless of one’s faith, there can be pain as one grows, learns, shares and tries to understand one another; it is often challenging to grasp and we should be more generous with ourselves and others.
I want to push against the phrasing of the question, which is reflective of how religion is spoken about and taught in the mainstream: as something problematic or as something that is either right or wrong. In reality, religion has been an immense source of good, with many of today’s inventions in health care, science, engineering and social sciences emerging from Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or religiously based institutions and scholars. According to many historical experts, secular wars have killed more people than religious wars. However, in every age, there are people who use the prevalent ideas and philosophies of religious traditions for their greed or for agendas of hate. Even traditionally peaceful religions have been manipulated to perpetrate genocide and ethnic cleansing, such as the Buddhist monk-led genocide in Myanmar against the Muslim Rohingya minority.
The No. 1 way to improve relations is to make the unknown known; illuminate the other, especially the stranger who seems distant or vicious. Pew Research Center confirms this: The more one knows of a religious community, the less likely they are to hate. I believe most people have the same goals of peace, love, security, food and shelter.
My goal at Center for Spiritual Life is to make it a safe place for the other and to give students confidence and a platform to share and educate. This includes Christianity. Even though it is a dominant world religion, many Christians feel alienated in a secular society in which there is a strong taboo to pray or to be openly faithful. My personal goal as a Muslim and a follower of Islam – the religion that is the most disliked in America, according to Pew – is to shake the hand of each student and to smile. I may be the first and last Muslim with a beard and a kufi to ever smile at them, the only contrast to the hundreds of images and portrayals of angry Muslim men in Hollywood and the media. You also may spot me throwing down a prayer rug and praying in front of the library or in an academic building. Feel free to observe and ask questions after I’ve completed the prayer. When someone witnesses the unknown, it becomes known, understood and respected.
I am blessed to be given the noble task of mending hearts. I will need your help to do so, so please don’t be shy. Join with me as we make a better world.