I recently read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book, Infidel, and was shaken and moved by the experiences she described.  I was first interested in her book when we considered her as a possible person to bring to campus last year as part of an annual weekly focus on global and international issues.  We ultimately decided against it, thinking the book with its rather provocative name, Infidel, and the ideas it proposed by its author, would prove to be too controversial, (based on a committee member’s evaluation of the book).  I was intrigued, however, by the brief background we heard about her in our meetings, and decided to read the book myself.  The book is a memoir, and an engrossing read.  Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia, and lived in a variety of Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East, absorbing a very conservative Islamic theology.  Her father was a revolutionary, and she moved often as political unrest challenged the safety of her family.  At age 5, she underwent female genital mutilation, under the supervision of her grandmother.  Throughout her life, she struggled to be a good Muslim, to fit into the role her family and society pushed her to be.   Her ideology slowly underwent a dramatic shift when she escaped from an unwanted marriage by seeking political asylum in the Netherlands.  She began to read more, pursue an education, live an independent life, and eventually became involved in Dutch Parliament, and was ultimately the  attempted target of acts of hatred because of her outspoken attempts to denounce Islam.

I empathized with Hirsi Ali strongly throughout the book, through the many hardships and hypocrisies she experienced under the guardianship of adults who believed Islam was guiding them.  I could barely finish reading her heartbreaking account of the pain of forced female genital mutilation.  There were so many parts of her life where I felt the same indignation at the many injustices she experienced.  So I was justifiably shocked at the conclusions she came to during the last part of the book, especially after 9/11.  She essentially denounced Islam, and concluded, from the experiences of her life, that Islam pushed for an ideology that was violent and unjust to women.  That it produced an “us versus them” mentality, and reinforced the fatalism that led to acceptance of personal injustice.  I was stunned at her firm belief that interfaith dialogue did not work, that Islam could not be lived and experienced in a way that could be liberating for women.  Interfaith dialogue, for me, convinced me of the good Islam could do, that even if was misused by a few, there were so many whose faith, inspired by the words of the Qur’an, accomplished so much good for the world. It taught me, by the firsthand testimony of my Muslim friends, that although there were problems in ideology, narrow-minded thinking that deeply affected the lives of women like Hirsi Ali in some Muslim countries, there are so many more Muslims out there who use their religion in the same way that I do-as a moral guide to treat all human beings with the dignity they deserve, to promote peace in our world today, to correct the injustices I hear about.  I despair at her denunciation of Islam because of her personal experiences, because I believe her deep concern and care for the way the mistreatment of women is justified by Islam is shared by many Muslims, both men and women, and is a problem that is not exclusive to Islam, but extends across all societies, religious and non-religious.  It is our human error that causes injustice-we don’t necessarily need our religious ideologies to justify it.  With or without religion, we are capable of many horrors as a race.  It is saddening to think that we came to such different conclusions about her life’s experiences-I think that Hirsi Ali would be a great ally in all the work she has done to help combat crimes against women.  I hope that in the future the work we do to promote religious pluralism can show her how the most effective change we, both theists and atheist alike, can make in our world will come from working together, not apart.

Anu Pulikkan

Secretary, SLU Interfaith Alliance


On February 28th, the Better Together campaign hosted their kick-off event of the Spring 2011 semester- A Dialogue on Food and Faith. The event brought together a variety of SLU students to learn more background about the issue of food justice and to reflect on our individual part and responsibility towards the cause. Anu and Melissa, two members of the steering committee, addressed the relationship between faith and food and the issue of food justice affects the SLU community. Mr. Sandidge, a member of the Saint Louis community, also spoke to the group about how he lives out food justice on a daily basis by growing his own food and maintaining his own farm. After learning about food justice from these different sources, members separated into groups to discuss what they had learned and what potential questions they had. The group discussions sparked an interesting range of topics spanning from international food justice to a reflection on the amount of food a student threw away at lunch. The event ended with a summary of the Better Together service events of the semester- volunteering with community gardens at Gateway Greening and volunteering for a shift at Campus Kitchen. If you are interested in learning more about the Better Together campaign, email sluifa@gmail.com

Like many people, my typical reaction to any kind of bad news is to turn to my faith and look for comfort, understanding, and guidance. Recently, however, I’ve found myself not only turning to my own faith, but to other faiths that I’ve learned more about from all of the interfaith experiences I’ve had. When my close friend lost her house in a fire last week, I reflected on three things: the Hindu teachings about detachment, the Buddhist teachings about impermanence, and the faith story of a new friend I made this year at SLU.

Thankfully, my friend and her family were unharmed in the fire, but they weren’t able to salvage anything from the rubble. All of the things her and her family had collected and kept and treasured over the years were all destroyed in a single day. I thought instantly about the Hindu principle of vairagya, or detachment, which I’ve learned about, and I thought about how hard it was to practice in real life – especially when talking about detaching yourself from your home and all your possessions and memories that go with it.

Then I thought about my Asian spirituality class and our discussion about Buddhism. We learned that one of the main sources of our human suffering is the search for or expectation of permanent happiness from this transient physical world. And I thought, well, this house fire is exactly the kind of situation that would help someone recognize just how impermanent everything around us truly is. As I processed these two ideas, I eventually remembered the conclusion of both of these teachings is to detach from impermanent things and to devote yourself to the one ever-present and unchanging entity, God.

As I continued thinking, I remembered my new friend Allison, a freshman at SLU, and the newest member of our Interfaith Alliance officer team. Her faith story describes her childhood in New Orleans and the sudden loss of her home in Hurricane Katrina. Her family was uprooted and they moved around from places to place for the next few years. One thing that really upset her about leaving New Orleans and her life there was that she realized she no longer had a place to call home. As she grew, however, she found her home in God and in her Catholic faith. This home goes with her where ever she is, and there is no need to worry about losing it to a fire or a flood.

And so I realized that Allison had already learned and practiced these lessons of Hinduism and Buddhism and has anchored herself in her faith. I hope that I can learn to do the same. And I hope that my friend and her family can also find a home in their faith that gives them comfort, security, and happiness.

~Nipun Gupta

Let’s be honest: I never gave too much thought to the homeless people a block away from campus, at least not for more than the minute or so after driving past them.  Or to the vast community several blocks north, a community plagued by substandard education, housing, healthcare, and—most fundamentally—inadequate nutrition sources.  I am embarrassed to say that I usually dismissed their plights as the unfortunate circumstances characteristic of certain demographics in our nation.  I knew that their situation was an unjust one.  But I had become complacent with “the system” and the impact it had on the people belonging to such communities.

Sometimes we are so blinded by the largest and most daunting of problems in the world, such as the extreme poverty of a low-income country, that we fail to see smaller-scale but equally significant injustices that are occurring so near to us.  When considering food injustices, this has certainly been the case for me.  We’ve all heard the cliché expression, “Clean your plate, there are starving children in Africa.”  But what about the undernourished children in nearby communities, or even our own neighborhoods?  What about the parents who sacrifice their own nutrition for the sake of their children’s nutrition?  I am certainly guilty of neglecting to consider these people—it’s so easy to forget that poverty IS a problem in our relatively wealthy nation.

Recently, especially throughout the holidays, I’ve been more aware and contemplative than ever of the problem of local food injustice and its implications.  Just as it is not exclusive to any ethnicity, it is also not specific to any religion.  Because of this, tackling the problem of food injustice in our communities provides a perfect opportunity for members of all faith backgrounds to work together.  I’m really looking forward to all that we can accomplish this year through the Better Together Campaign and the collaboration of so many diverse groups on our campus.  I’m confident that all of our contributions will snowball into an extremely positive force in our community, and I can’t wait to see the results.

-Lauren Segelhorst

I didn’t realize the challenges of articulating my interfaith story until I sat down to write it. As I recall the series of events that led me to where I am now, I realize the progression is neither linear nor predictable. In fact, it barely follows the appropriate structure for any short-story. I can’t really recall a beginning nor can I pinpoint any particularly defining moment. Instead, my interfaith story is just my faith journey –fluid and ever changing—and that’s what I am going to share.

Moving to Arkansas in the seventh grade was not how I expected my life to turn out.  I had just moved there after spending much of my life in Michigan and I suddenly became the only Indian and Hindu in my school. As the only representative of the Indian culture and the Hindu faith, fellow peers and teachers would bombard me with questions and present me with misconceptions about my faith. I clarified that Hinduism was a monotheistic religion and that the caste system was a political, not religious institution, sometimes contradicting the paragraph describing my religion in my History textbook.  Despite having little knowledge or exposure to eastern traditions, my peers were very open to learning about my beliefs.  This encouraged me to be vocal about speaking against misconceptions concerning my own faith, and gradually, misconceptions concerning the faiths and religious traditions of others.

Even though I spent my teenage years without a strong Hindu community, the topics of religion and philosophy were very present in my life. While I knew little about the scriptures or doctrinal tenets of my faith, my life experiences and interactions with the people around me allowed me to develop a life philosophy that influenced the way I lived my life and what I deemed important. The more I questioned my own beliefs, the more interested I became in the faiths of others. My best friend grew up in a strong Christian household, and she began questioning her beliefs around the time I was developing mine. While we grew up in completely different faith traditions, we had so much in common in how we viewed the world, how we viewed religious systems, and how we chose to live our lives. It was thanks to those conversations with her and the others in my community that I was able to realize that spirituality and religion don’t have to be found in the doctrines of religious books or in a weekly service. My religion and spirituality was fluid and my interest in it grew stronger as I learned more about the faiths of my friends, my parents, and my community.

Coming to college, I knew I wanted to be involved in humanitarian organizations. By chance, the people I met in my classes and on my floor came from a variety of faith backgrounds. We all had very different belief systems but we shared a common passion for social justice and service. This mutual interest in learning about each other inspired us to start an organization so that others would have this same opportunity.  Those conversations I had as a young junior high kid had sparked my interest, and I was given the chance to work with a passion that had been present throughout much of my life.   I was fortunate enough to be a founding member of a group called the InterFaith Alliance and I have been involved with the organization since its inception over a year and a half ago.

If you had told me three years ago that I would be an active member of a national interfaith organization or leading an interfaith campaign at my university, I would have never believed it. But I am so grateful for the path my life has taken. Participating in interfaith work has opened my eyes and solidified my appreciation for the diversity of faith and traditions around me. I am continually fascinated to learn about what inspires my friends, my peers, and my teachers; through sharing and learning from others, I question, challenge, and in the end, deepen my own spirituality.

– Anu Gorukanti



Silence filled the room as Jenny began her story. Jenny is the head of Campus Kitchen, a student-run soup kitchen on SLU’s campus. She was one of the guest speakers at the first annual SLU What-If Speak-In.  She started out the evening by talking about her experiences working with the clients at Campus Kitchen. The people she worked with weren’t always your stereotypical clients. They weren’t always disheveled, homeless. One of her clients was a well-dressed woman at an elementary school who looked at the snacks Campus Kitchen was bringing for the afterschool program.  The woman commented on how she wished she could bring her kids to eat the snacks because they always ran low on food near the end of the month.  It was a shock to Jenny to realize that this well-dressed, put-together woman would be suffering from the same issues as the regular clients Campus Kitchen helped. Jenny’s story addressed how hunger is something that can affect anyone. It knows no racial, gender, religious boundaries.  It’s an issue that affects so many people, even ones we wouldn’t expect.

But change is possible. Jenny addressed the advent of the civil rights movement.  It didn’t start with a group of random of people who came together to address an issue. It started with conversations amongst close friends. It started with late-night dorm-room chats. A group of young students came together because they were passionate about an issue and this passion sparked a national movement.  The motivation and drive of a few dedicated students inspired thousands across the country to have those same kinds of conversations and challenge the way society viewed race.

Hearing Jenny talk about those college students really made me reflect on my own interfaith work on campus.  Our campus group, the InterFaith Alliance, didn’t start as group of random people of different faiths who were placed in the same room. It started out as late night conversations amongst friends in our freshmen year dorm rooms.  Despite our different faith backgrounds, we discovered we shared this common drive for social justice and a passion for learning about each other’s faith traditions. With this vision in mind, we worked together to write an article on religious intolerance for the social justice magazine on campus.  Our conversation continued and we realized that our passion should become something more than a mutual interest. It should represent interfaith work on our campus.

It’s amazing to me see how far our organization has developed on SLU’s campus. A year and a half ago, I never would have envisioned our campus being part of a national movement.  I never would have imagined that the head of Campus Kitchen speaking to a group of students of different faiths, all motivated to address food justice. It just proves that the passion of a group of dedicated young people should never be underestimated.

– Anu Gorukanti

I remember feeling embarrassed to wear long sleeve shirts and pants. I remember feeling scared to speak out against the invasion in Iraq. I remember the girl who told me to “go back home” after I had expressed my thoughts about the war. I remember the boy who told me “not to bring back a bomb” from Saudi Arabia, as I had announced to the class in a jubilant mood that I was going to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. I remember my teacher who stood there silently in front of the class and then asked me the next day if I was okay. I remember when my social studies teacher brought up the idea of putting Muslims in concentration camps like they had done to the Japanese in World War II. And I remember the girl sitting next to me who said she would hide me if they were to carry out such a plan. I remember a friend who told me he overheard some guys whispering the word “terrorist” as I planned to run for student government. And I remember that he had stayed silent as they spoke their remarks.

I remembered those moments as I stood outside in the pouring rain, anxiously waiting to hear of what was going on inside the already packed town hall meeting. I never did get a firsthand account of what happened, but I got the watered down version of the meeting later that night on the news.
There was a woman standing across the street holding up a sign that said “Jesus is my savior. I will not submit.” (And I remember thinking to myself, “dude, nobody’s asking you to submit.”). And there was a man raving “Go home” to the crowd of Muslims standing outside, hoping for media attention as the cameramen walked nearby. But of course, they didn’t put him on camera. What was most amusing about that night was the sight of some of the supporters of the masjid, who actually stepped to the side when the cameramen approached them. They feared that their statements would be misconstrued, cropped to alter their meanings.

After that meeting, I kept reading articles on the news about this masjid, as well as the Cordoba project in the city. I read the hate infused remarks that followed, like “Islamophobia” is a made-up term for a nonexistent problem. the fact is that America is all about assimilation, and Muslims just don’t assimilate well. that may not be a politically correct thing to say, but it’s true” or “As long as your Jihadist want to plant bombs and blow us up there is no way I can feel safe around any Muslim. I will always have ONE EYE on you and my right hand on my Gluck 9M with 14 rounds at the ready. Its not hatred Mr. lebinz, its distrust on your people. And yes, we do look at all muslims with distrust and as potential terrorists!” or “Do yourself a favor and pay for a Gallup poll. Ask the American people how many of us think of Islam as a religion, a people whos doctrine is to DESTROY anything non-Muslim, to export as many of their people to the West in order to disrupt our way of life, to kill us wherever they can until Islam is the only thing in this world? 98% of all Americans will answer YES!!! The other 2% are people like you.”

Very encouraging comments I must say. After seeing these remarks (which follow after almost any article dealing with the Middle East or Muslims), I looked internally and questioned my heart about the appropriate emotion to feel at the moment. Sadness, anger? No, anger would be against the Prophetic way. Hopeful? For a future in which bigotry is eradicated? Well, maybe that sounds a bit too optimistic.

I don’t like to argue with those who continue to diminish the existence of this issue. It’s real, and I feel it, I’ve felt it, and I will continue to feel the pain of prejudice until people respect my religion, my way of life. It’s unnecessary for me to defend Islam against the ignorance which unfortunately prevails in our society. I do not expect every member of the Christian faith to speak out against those who bomb abortion clinics, or every white person to defend their whiteness when another member of the KKK kills an innocent colored person. So, why do I have to, instead of merely educating others about Islam, have to defend its principles of peace and acceptance? Why do I have to act in an apologetic manner, when I, along with about a billion Muslims are unassociated with these heinous acts?

My identity has been hijacked. Some tell me, “Well, Amenah I’ve always seen you as a strong person. Of course these comments never bothered you.” Well, in a sense they don’t, but in a sense, they do. It bothers me that people continue to have this evil perception of me, and of Muslims in general. It bothers me that they have no knowledge about Islam and that they base their feelings off of the propaganda spewed in the media. Someone needs to hand them an “information literacy for dummies” manual, if that even exists. In the end I pity the people who have such unfounded anger in their hearts. If only there was an over the counter medication, a one-time dosage type of thing, to eradicate the root of bigotry in their hearts. The love pill: Plant the seeds of peace in your heart. Ah. Pfizer would go crazy.

Turbulent times such as these remind me of my Interfaith-y friends. Especially Nipun, but really all of them, Lauren, AnuP, AnuG and Caroline.
And they remind me to think of the Sunnah and of the kindness of Prophet Mushammed (peace be upon him).

Hadith: On the authority of Abu Huraira who said: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: Each person’s every joint must do a charity every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it is a charity; a good word is a charity; every step you take to perform prayers is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity.

And [thus, O Prophet,] We have sent thee as [an evidence of Our] grace towards all the worlds. (21:07).


Amenah Arther
Service Chair

The difference between what we do and what we’re capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems. -Gandhi

The sky was overcast and gloomy outside when Hindu Students Community and InterFaith Alliance members gathered in the BSC early Saturday morning, October 2nd: not a good omen for a day of manual labor outdoors. Inside we were warm, thankfully, but some members of the IFA agreed that the weather wasn’t the only thing making them a little apprehensive about the day ahead of them. As everyone crowded around the donuts and t-shirts, I realized that for the first time in a very long time, I was a minority. It was a very strange feeling being one of four Caucasian people in a room full of Indian students, but I think anyone working for pluralism ought to put herself in this sort of situation as often as possible and learn from it.

We began with Hindi prayers, and then the volunteers divided into two groups. My half carpooled to a garden in an urban neighborhood where plants and vegetables are grown and distributed to the surrounding community. The project is run entirely by local volunteers and is funded by various grants from the city of Saint Louis. It was raining, but we started pulling up weeds and swinging the action-hoes anyways. As we talked about memories from elementary school, especially games at recess, the clouds began to clear. By the end of the first hour, the sky had turned a beautiful blue, and that strange, tense feeling inside me of being a minority was gone.

Between the entertaining conversation and delicious home-grown apples, shoveling mulch and tearing up stubborn weeds weren’t such boring tasks, and we were all surprised at how quickly 1 PM approached. We packed up our things, and Rosalie, the garden project’s coordinator, thanked us a hundred times over for all our hard work.

“You know what I’ve noticed?” said Rosalie, “Students are students. I’ve had elementary students come here and they get in little fights and I have to break them up, but they still students. And I got a high school group come here and work in the garden; they students too. And now I got you college kids–I call you kids because you’re younger than me–but you’re all the same. You’re still students.” Yes, we are all in school, but I think when she said “students”, she was really referring to the youthful idealism she recognized in all her volunteers. She saw in us a playful optimistic attitude towards life that is inherent in any group of young people who live, learn, and serve together. Participating in Gandhi Service Day 2010 reaffirmed my belief that if people can set aside their inhibitions and apprehensions in order to work towards a common goal, the world will come to realize that we are Better Together.

-Allison Davis (IFA Freshman Representative)

On October 8th Eboo Patel came to speak at SLU. As part of the committee responsible for bringing him to campus, I was very excited to meet him and hear about his perspectives.

The event itself was a terrific success. The room was filled with over 1,100 students. But more important than the numbers, I could visibly see the impact Eboo’s speech had on the audience. Students sat in rapt attention as Eboo shared his stories about his personal involvement in the Interfaith movement and exhorted students to have the courage to stand up when they see a grave injustice happening. It was particularly interesting to see how he managed to convey the importance of the interfaith movement. Arguably interreligious cooperation is not as prominent in our consciousnesses as say poverty or starvation. Dramatic images of starving children in faraway lands tug at our eyes whenever one goes to a news website, but interfaith work despite being as important is just simply not as “popular.”
By relating historical examples such as the actions of Dietrich Bonheoffer during WWII and his personal experiences such as his mother fearing for his children’s safety merely because of their Muslim names, Eboo was able to make a cogent argument for interfaith cooperation. I think social justice campaigns like the Better Together event which aims to tackle food justice will further expand interfaith awareness and show how interfaith work also ties in with other social justice issues.

St. Louis University Junior
OneWorld Magazine Managing Editor

Interfaith Week to promote pluralism.

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