On September 26 one of the new interfaith scholarship students at UTS, a Muslim from the Sudan, and a local Muslim Chaplain and Imam led an invigorating dialogue with the UTS community during the weekly chapel service. The student, Abdel Ahmed, introduced the Fatihah and Surah 49:13 from the Qu’ran in his native Arabic. Then Imam Salahuddin M. Muhammad offered an exegesis and spoke to the community about “Interfaith and American Muslims: Problems and Promises” to a gathering of more than fifty students, faculty and staff.
Salahuddin M. Muhammad is Imam of the Masjid Al Ikhlas Islamic Learning Center, in Newburgh, New York, and Islamic Chaplain to Bard College and the New York State Correctional Facility in Fishkill, New York. In his talk, he praised UTS for moving in the interfaith direction and affirmed the “imperative” role of “interreligious peacebuilding” in a world where “we are all family.” He challenged UTS students to not remain in a “cubby-hole” but rather to engage in “interfaith cooperation”, focusing on “how we live together now” and “leave to God to decide the hereafter.”
Response to Imam Muhammad was very positive from both students and faculty. Kenji Toyomura, Student Body President, thought the “talk and vision on interfaith peacebuilding was great.” Kenji found the Imam “was a little different from the Imam I expected.” For many students, like Glenda Lopez-Davila from Costa Rica, the visit marked the first encounter with a Muslim. Glenda commented that the experience made her more aware of stereotypes she carries about Muslims and led her to question those stereotypes.
Dr. Isaacs, UTS Professor of Ministry and an ordained Lutheran Pastor, also experienced with Imam Muhammad his first encounter with a Muslim. Dr. Isaacs responded to the “cubby-hole” inclination remarking that even among his own congregation he sees a tendency to associate only with people of similar cultural and religious beliefs and UTS can counter that inwardness by developing an inclusive interfaith community.
The visit of Imam Muhammad on September 26 builds upon several initiatives UTS has undertaken in the 2007 to develop as an interfaith seminary, embracing Muslims and people of other faiths. The initiative has been led by UTS President Dr. Tyler Hendricks, and supported by Mr. Chris Antal, appointed Director of Interfaith Development in February. Dr. Hendricks recently wrote in Journal of Unification Studies (2007) that “a critical step” for the future of the Unification Movement is to move beyond “Unification particularism toward interfaith inclusiveness.”
Regarding Islam, the seminary has taken several notable steps. In February several Muslims from communities in Massachusetts and New Jersey visited UTS to consult with administration on how UTS can move in the direction of an authentic interfaith seminary. In March the UTS library received a complete set of the hadith (collected Islamic tradition) from Dr. Dawud Assad, Former President of the Council of Mosques, USA, adding to an already extensive collection of books on Islam. In May UTS awarded the first honorary doctorate in the thirty year history of the seminary to a Muslim: Dr. Hamdi Murad, from Jordan . The seminary is currently seeking an Adjunct Professor who is a practicing Muslim to teach courses in Islam.
The weekly chapel service at UTS is held every Wednesday at 11AM. Three sessions each month are student led; one service a month is “interfaith” and led by a spiritual leader outside of the immediate UTS community. The next “interfaith” chapel will be held October 17. All are welcome.
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