Muslim Student Association Hosts “Explore Islam” Week

Events gave a forum for interfaith dialogue and learning.

By Katherine Vega

The Muslim Student Association (MSA) invited the University community to attend six events during its annual Explore Islam Week, which takes place from April 3 through April 8. The week featured panels and lectures as well as religious and musical events.

On Wednesday evening, Rabbi David Wietchner, Reverend Stacy Alan, and chaplain Abdul-Malik Ryan sat on a panel discussion entitled “Who is Abraham?” The panel focused on the significance of the religious figure Abraham in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and also discussed some of the challenges of interfaith dialogue.

Wietchner was born and raised in Israel, and is a visiting Orthodox Rabbi at Hillel as part of the Orthodox Union Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus. Alan first came to the University as the Brent House Episcopalian chaplain in 2005. Ryan is the assistant director of religious diversity at DePaul University. MSA board member Nur Banu Simsek, who works for the Spiritual Life Office, recruited Alan and Wietchner for the panel.

For Simsek, the panel represented an opportunity to put Islam in context with other religions. “Islam is not a standalone tradition. It is the final seal to a long line of traditions and prophets. It’s important for us to engage with other faith communities especially when they are venerated within our scripture,” Simsek wrote in an e-mail.

Alan wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon that the panel was both an informative and faith-affirming experience.

“There are also such wonderfully different ways of reading the sacred texts across our three traditions,” Alan said. “Having to talk about my own faith’s understanding of Abraham was clarifying for me, as well, since I hadn’t had much opportunity to focus on his place in the broad scope of Christian tradition before.”

The event also stressed the importance of interfaith work.

“I think the common saying that ‘all religions aim for the same thing’ is just the beginning of the interfaith dialogue—not its conclusion,” Wietchner wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon. “It would be like a linguistics major saying all they learnt is that all languages are trying to say the same things. That might be true, to a certain extent, but not very interesting or useful.”

According to Simsek, MSA has been planning the Explore Islam Week since winter quarter. On Monday, Ustadha Shehnaz Karim spoke on the topic “Who is Allah?” On Tuesday, Professor Ahmad El Shamsy gave a lecture on Islam and the Enlightenment. On Thursday, the group hosted an interfaith bake-off at University Church, with the Catholic center Calvert House winning for the third year in a row. Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Bond Chapel, the group will host an interfaith Halaqa, with the discussion entitled “Towards a Muslim Theology of Interfaith: How Knowledge Can Bring Us Together.” On Saturday, Muslim singer and poet Dawud Wharnsby Ali will appear in concert in the Third Floor Theater of Ida Noyes Hall.

“[The goal of Explore Islam Week is to] engage the Muslim and non-Muslim community on campus with interesting events that can teach us all new things and have spaces where people can ask questions and come meet Muslims,” Simsek said.