Deconstructing Islamophobia and Religious Discrimination: A Domestic Immersion Experience

We visited the Diyanet Center as a part of our trip, which is the site of the largest mosque in the US.

Students visited the Diyanet Center, the site of the largest mosque in the US.

The popular assumption about Islam in America is that it is a predominantly Arab, immigrant identity. However, the experience I gained from my Alternative Break Program (APB), Deconstructing Islamophobia and Religious Discrimination fully dispelled that idea.

Another important lesson I learned from meeting and talking to members of the Muslim community in D.C., is that, although facts and figures are important, an even more powerful tool for fighting Islamophobia is storytelling. Until now, I underestimated the power of stories to convey the nuances and diversity of Islam, and the lasting impact they would have on my heart and mind.

Over the course of the week, my fellow students and I visited mosques, community partners, advocacy organizations, and government officials. I learned that all the Muslims we met that week drew upon their faith in a way that was unique to their identity and experience.  I began to realize that Islam is comprised of people from a wide variety of identities, and that intrafaith conversations can sometimes be even more difficult than interfaith conversations. Like many other religions, Muslims also debate the meanings of scripture and disagree on practices. I realized that in order to understand the ways in which Islamophobia manifests itself, I first needed a stronger personal understanding of the lived experience of Islam.

One of meetings that affected me most was with Congressman Keith Ellison, the representative of Minnesota’s 5th District. Ellison is also the first Muslim member of Congress. He told us that some people were upset by the fact that he took the oath of office with Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran. I thought this was incredibly interesting in how it problematizes the all too common idea that being Muslim is somehow opposed to being American. Ellison spoke about how faith plays a role in his work. For him, faith is important but it does not dominate his decisions. Ellison said, that while there is an institutional network that propagates Islamophobia, we as individuals can compel political change by sharing stories and appealing to common values. An example of what Ellison meant by appealing to common values came when we met with the members of Islamic Relief.

Islamic Relief is an organization that does charity and emergency response work. A few years ago, they were an essential part in providing residents of Colorado Springs with the resources they needed when they were displaced by a wildfire. Local Christian organizations were so impressed by their work, they asked Islamic Relief to help train them in disaster relief efforts. Growing up in Colorado, I was immediately struck. I wouldn’t have expected a center of Evangelical Christianity to welcome a Muslim organization so readily, but in moments of need they were able to see how people can – despite and because of their faiths – bridge the gap and help each other.

These moments gave me tremendous hope for the future. We may face tremendous obstacles overcoming Islamophobia in our current political and social climate, but there are people out there tirelessly helping to build bridges. In times of need, we share more in common than we might realize. I have resolved to be an ally that amplifies the multiplicity of Muslim voices and stories who is also willing to engage in hard conversations with people. I am grateful for my ABP experience and that it opened my heart and mind in ways that I did not anticipate.

Written by Bailey Bradford, C’19

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Howard Gray, S.J. Graduation Examen 2017

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“Hello, Graduating Seniors…” Outgoing Vice President of Mission and Ministry, Fr. Howard Gray, S.J. sat down this week to share a short reflection based on the Jesuit Examen with graduating seniors, inviting graduates to express gratitude for the most meaningful experiences of their Georgetown careers.  Fr. Gray shares what inspires gratitude from his own time at Georgetown as he, too, looks ahead to his life beyond the Hilltop.

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ESCAPE: a space for all students to feel included, understood and welcomed

32884888285_2b25c3f6e0_oIn August of last year, when I accepted the position of ESCAPE program director, I was told ESCAPE was unique and this would be the best job I would ever have.

Back then, I might have thought that statement had been infused with a touch of hyperbole. But, now I know it isn’t.

My first year flew by, and today I consider myself blessed to be part of ESCAPE. I have had the opportunity to interact with 368 new students on ESCAPE overnights, work with 45 dedicated student leaders, and share in the insightful, personal stories from 14 faculty and staff members.

Most of all, I am humbled by the students I have met. Students from all walks of life sharing themselves deeply with their fellow Hoyas in order to help others on their own journeys. I am continually surprised by how much fun students have singing songs loudly without a care to how they sound (they always sound amazing).

Recently, while recruiting ESCAPE leaders for next year, I received more than 100 applications from students. I felt a great sense of responsibility. I realized, I have been entrusted with a program that has a 26-year history of helping students connect and find a home at Georgetown.

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ESCAPE lasts for 27 hours and takes place at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center; just one hour away from campus. But, that’s all you need to take a break from the everyday stresses of an academic environment in a bustling city. I am excited to be a part of ESCAPE, continuing to help it grow and ensuring it remains a space for all students to feel included, understood, and welcomed.

I am grateful for my ESCAPE experiences and the gift of having played a part in the giving to others.

Written by Laura Mintel, ESCAPE Program Director.

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Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre celebrates Mass at Dahlgren Chapel

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Like most Monday mornings, I woke up, made myself breakfast and did some homework. I was midway through the semester, and used to my routine by now. Around 11:30, I went upstairs, put on a dress and headed to Dahlgren Chapel to sing at the noontime Mass.

Daily Mass is one of my favorite offerings at Georgetown. I love that, in the midst of the academic rigor and friendly competition that are integral to attending a top tier university, I also have opportunities to quiet down and meet Christ in the Eucharist several times a day.

But, Monday March 27 would be different from my usual routine. In fact, it was an especially important day. The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, was visiting campus and would be attending the noon Mass that day. To commemorate the occasion, President DeGioia, Bishop Knestout and many Jesuits would also be in attendance.

Dahlgren Chapel was almost full as students and community members filed in. I’m sure at least a few people were surprised when they showed up that day expecting their usual Monday afternoon Mass.

There are few things better than watching 17 priests, the Auxiliary Bishop of D.C. and the Ambassador to the Holy See process to the altar of your college chapel in the middle of an otherwise ordinary afternoon. The priests filled much of Dahlgren’s north transept as Archbishop Pierre, Bishop Knestout and Fr. Lingan took their seats on the altar.

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Archbishop Pierre gave a homily about Christ’s mercy and love following the Gospel about Jesus healing the son of the Roman official in Cana. The Archbishop reminded us that Jesus gave free-flowing wine in abundance to fulfill human need during His first miracle in Cana, and for His second miracle, He gave life back to none other than a Roman’s son.

The Archbishop pointed out the parallel between wine and blood, a message we would hear again very soon on Holy Thursday. He reminded us to pray, so that we may better know the Person of Jesus – the study of the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ as they co-exist within one person – and better encounter Eternity’s invasion of time. He exhorted us to remember Pope Benedict XVI’s words, as repeated in the beginning of Evangelii Gadium, that “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

After the Liturgy of the Word ended, all the priests joined the bishops on the altar for the consecration. From my vantage point in the choir, I watched as they all placed their hands over their hearts and recited the prayers. They each raised pieces of the Eucharist and participated in the mystery of the Transubstantiation. Elbow to elbow, barely able to move, they each acted in persona Christi together.

After the Eucharist was distributed and the Archbishop gave the final blessing, I left the chapel and stood in the quad. I took a moment to reflect on the intensely grace-filled experience.

Where else could I attend such a beautiful Mass with important Church figures in the middle of a school day? After drinking in the wonder of it, I returned home, changed into my jeans and went to my two o’clock class.

Written by Lilly Flashner, C’17

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Holi Hai!

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On April 2, a cloud of red, blue, yellow, green, and orange powder descended on Copley Lawn as students of all backgrounds gathered to celebrate the Hindu festival of Holi.

Also known as the “festival of colors,” Holi originated in parts of India and Nepal. It is celebrated in the springtime as a mark of good weather and the triumph of good over evil. In terms of religious significance and Hindu origins, Holi is celebrated in recognition of Prahlad, a young devotee of God. Devout in his faith of the Lord, Prahlad agreed to sit in a fire with his wicked aunt Holika (who was supposed to be immune to fire), confident that the Lord would listen to his prayers and save him. Indeed, God saved Prahlad and instead, Holika burned despite her special power. Typically, a bonfire is lit the night before Holi in recognition of their story.

33496521143_b4ddd8dbe0_oThe festival is a great way to reign in the newfound sunshine and warmness in the air. It also a fun release for students in the midst of the final push of the semester. Boxes of color were placed in the center of the lawn and each student was given a cup to fill with the color of their choice. Brahmachariji began the morning with Āratī and some invocation prayers, and told us the story of how Holi came to be.

Soon thereafter, students excitedly ran to the center of the lawn, shouting the famous statement announcing the start of the festival, “HOLI HAI!” and proceeded to baste their friends with colors. No one was shy, digging in to each color and painting many faces and white T-shirts provided at the beginning of the event. Pictures were taken and many laughs were exchanged. After everyone had their fair share of fun with the colors, members of the Hindu Student Association (HSA) served Idli and Sambar, delicious rice patties and hot soup with curried vegetables, to all the hungry attendees. It was clear that everyone’s spirits were high and the event was a huge success.

It is always a pleasure to see our cultural and religious traditions so well received and provide such an outlet of fun and memories for the entire Georgetown community.

Written by Nishtha Raval, C’19

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