Saturday, 20 December 2014

Interfaith Education - Esha Chaman on Diwali and Christmas

The following is a piece by one my dear, dear friends Esha Chaman who, as well as being my university housemate both in Leicester and Italy, was also kind enough to give me my first taste of an interfaith event by inviting me to her own away-from-home Diwali party one year. Here she shares her reflections of interfaith events at school and how Diwali and Christmas have shaped her perspective on interfaith and inclusion:

One of my earliest memories of school is when I was five years-old and, at my teachers request, I had to stand in front of my classmates, clutching a purple and turquoise Pocahontas lunch box which my parents had given me the night before as a Diwali present. As I stood awkwardly before the eager-eyed group gathered in front of me, my teacher asked me questions about how I had celebrated Diwali with my family, in attempt to incite some enthusiasm. I replied casually but was secretly thinking about how much I wanted to prise open my new lunchbox.

In retrospect this was the beginning of my interfaith education in both my primary and secondary education, recognising and celebrating other faiths and religious festivals which were normally outside the school curriculum. Though at the time my interest in informing my peers of the glittering delights of Diwali and Rama’s gallant rescue of Sita was outweighed by the juvenile excitement of my new present, being encouraged to do so was an act of interfaith inclusion of non-Christian festivals.

Thankfully interfaith interaction and inclusion were not only students nervously standing before their peers and mumbling being encouraged to share vague information about their religious festivals. It mostly took a pro-active form in cooking and sharing traditional treats on the school premises, creating decorations for events such as Christmas, Chinese New Year, Easter and Eid Al-Fitr, donating food to homeless shelters for Harvester, and partaking in theatrical productions of the Nativity play. 
One of the biggest events of the school year was International Day; an after-school festival celebrating the plurality of ethnicities and cultural diversity of the student population through dance, feasting, music, and shaky attempts of swirling Henna patterns on many hands which occasionally fell under my responsibility.

As both my West London-based primary and secondary schools were populated with a diverse mix of students of various ethnic origins and nationalities, interfaith inclusion was integral for showing respect towards everyone’s cultural and religious heritage. A conscious effort to recognise other religious and cultural events such as St George’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, Hanukkah, Vasaki and Thanksgiving would be marked by morning assemblies and the school kitchen rustling up themed feasts for the school lunch. The importance of encouraging interfaith interaction within schools at a young age lessens the risk of marginalising non-Christian students, and dissolves barriers that threaten to create segregating binaries of ‘us’ and ‘them’. 
If Britain wants to boast about its triumphant multi-cultural society, the practice of interfaith inclusion outside of Religious Studies within British schools and recognising non-Christian religious festivals is one of the solutions to encourage a cohesive awareness and understanding of the diversity that surround us. Taking into consideration an endless list of extremist groups worldwide who disparagingly dismiss interfaith inclusion through their sheer tyranny, it has become more important than ever for different religious and humanistic communities to converge and integrate with each other in the face of such adversaries.

The legacy of traversing across religious and cultural borders at school has become a normality in my adulthood. And for me in particular the celebration of Christmas is a testament to this. Despite not being a Christian it is normal for me to celebrate Christmas as much as it is to celebrate Diwali. And this is due to the inclusion of the festival I had experienced at school, as well as my own family’s willingness to partake in the festivities and permitting me to do so. Though some people have sneered at this and questioned my eligibility to celebrate Christmas as a non-Christian, the fact is that Christmas in Britain has increasingly become an inclusive and secular event. Also, who could resist the infectious merriment and prospect of gorging on everything from cheese to mince pies? 
 At school the excitement of Christmas parties and the daily distribution of cards never eclipsed the religious significance of the event. Partaking in the Nativity Play and daily carolling were amongst many other ways of recognising the religious story of Christmas, as well as embracing the British celebratory traditions. My own participation in celebrating Christmas has inspired me to encourage interfaith integration in my celebrations of Diwali as an adult. In my last year at university, unable to join my family back in London, I hosted a Diwali party and spent it with my friends, most of whom were non-Hindu. And last year I invited a friend of mine to join me and my family for our annual Diwali celebrations.

My education gave me an everlasting understanding of interfaith inclusion and awareness of different faiths and cultures, which is integral to British society today where differences often take precedence of being pointed out rather than the similarities. The same celebratory principles of gathering with family and friends, sharing, feasting, giving in both a charitable sense as well as presents and jubilation are central to all major religious festivals. Therefore why should we be reluctant to participate in some way, however grand or minuscule the gesture may be? We should be encouraged to listen, learn and participate just as my peers were when I was five, and projects such as Interfaith Ramadan provide much-needed space for this dialogue and practice to take place.

Esha Chaman lives in London, and works freelance as an operator at Al-Jazeera and voluntary contributor for Words of Colour and The Culture Trip. She is a feminist, egalitarian, and culture and travel enthusiast, interested in social politics and international relations. Recent article: A Walk Around Bologna - The Best of Local Culture.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Reclaiming the Radical Feminism of the Qur'an

Several months ago, I came across a call for submissions by Trista Hendren to contribute to her upcoming anthology Whatever Works, an exploration of the relationships between feminism and faith in different traditions, including women's voices from Pagan, atheist, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. The following excerpt comes from my piece, an essay which explores areas where Muslim Feminism and Christian Feminism converge, the problem of complacency within the Muslim community, and why I consider the Qur'an to be a radically Feminist text. For the full text hop over to Trista's brilliant blog The Girl God.

“As a feminist, how could you willingly subject yourself to such a misogynistic religion?”

It's disheartening to think how many times I've been asked this question since I converted to Islam. However, given my own misgivings towards the status of women in Islam before I became one myself, I'm not completely surprised that some people think calling myself a Muslim Feminist is akin to being a meat-eating vegan. When the majority of Media representation shoehorns Muslim women into either victim or terrorist categories, persuading people that my feminist convictions are given wings by my Islamic faith, as opposed to being clipped by it, is going to be tough.

Feminism and faith have always been closely linked to one another in my mind. I was raised in a household where both of my parents were Protestant ministers and considered equals in their spiritual leadership roles as Salvation Army officers. I was surrounded and greatly influenced by women leading prayers, congregations, and even heading up the church on a national and global scale. Women leading the way in faith has always been my norm. So when I converted to Islam, I found myself at the receiving end of the question: why would you give all that up? 

For the full article, head on over to The Girl God blog.

Update: Later reposted at AltMuslimah. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Suraiya Jafari: An American President - An Interview with Author Cindy Moy

In celebration of the publication of Suraiya Jafari: An American President, I'm delighted to share an interview with author Cindy Moy. I was among the lucky few who were able to read advance copies of Moy's brilliant debut novel and offer my own endorsement on the dust-jacket,

"Moy places an American Muslim woman at the heart of a novel in which themes of nationality, gender and politics collide in providential ways. Worn out stereotypes and age-old predudices unravel as gutsy protagonist Suraiya weaves her own rich tapestry of identity, faith, and culture."

I'll be sharing a more detailed review later in the month but for now you can hear from the author herself as she speaks about the origins of the novel, the process of writing, as well as the inspirations behind her lively characters. 

Suraiya Jafari: An American President is available for purchase on Amazon. You can also have a sneak peek and find out more by reading both the prologue and first chapter of Suraiya Jafari on Cindy's blog

Author Cindy Moy

What led you to write Suraiya Jafari: An American President?

I was watching the election returns the night of the 2012 presidential election, when Barack Obama was seeking reelection and Mitt Romney was trying to get elected on the Republican ticket. As soon as Obama was declared the winner, the political commentators started debating who would be viable candidates for the 2016 presidential election. Could a woman, say Hillary Clinton, get elected? Was a Hispanic congressman such as Marco Rubio a viable candidate? 

Nobody was asking the question that I considered the most relevant: Who is the most qualified to lead the country?

I mentally created a character that would never be a viable candidate in America in 2016, and then figured out a way to get her into the White House. At that point, I hadn’t planned on writing a novel. It was purely an academic question for my own amusement. That character turned into Suraiya.

What were the most challenging aspects of writing your first novel?

When the idea of Suraiya first came to me, I pushed it away, thinking that there was no way that a white, Christian woman could ever realistically portray an American Muslim woman of Indian descent. Finally I realized that Suraiya is as much about the mindset of the mainstream American voter as it is about Suraiya.

I reached out to dozens of Muslim writers, artists, and leaders, but only a few chose to talk to me. I found a collection of essays written by American Muslim women, and those were very informative. I grew up in a conservative Christian environment. While reading those essays, I realized that many of the values regarding marriage, the role of women, and homosexuality was the same, although the religious basis for those views was different. Most people I know, regardless of religion, struggle to find the balance within their belief system. I had an Indian-American Muslim woman read the final draft, and she suggested a few tweaks, but she assured me that I had represented Suraiya well. 

Who or what inspired the main character Suraiya?

Suraiya is inspired by several people. Her personality and integrity are based on an Indian-American friend of mine from law school, Savita. Savita is one of the smartest, funniest, and kindest women I know. At first I was going to name the main character after her, but she told me that Savita is an Indian Hindi name, and that I needed an Indian Muslim name. That was my first inkling that my learning curve in creating the Jafaris was going to be very steep. It was Savita that came up with the name Suraiya Jafari. 

Suraiya’s family background in Africa is influenced by another Indian-American friend, Chux. He was born in Mozambique, and his first memory as a child is being in the internment camps there. Chux is also known for his avocado ice cream and masala chai recipes. Suraiya’s military career and initial political campaign is based on the 2008 campaign of J. Ashwin Madia, a Marine Corps lawyer who ran on the Democratic ticket. Many of the political attacks on Suraiya, including the darkening of her skin in her opponent’s campaign ads, really happened to Madia.

Are any of the storylines in the novel based on events or people in your own life?

My husband’s grandparents emigrated from China, my children were adopted from China, and my background is German and Scandinavian. Some of the questions that Suraiya gets about where she’s from or her native tongue are questions that my husband and kids have faced. The conversation about whether Suraiya should go to a college that offers free tuition to students of color is a conversation that we had in our own household.

The majority of the events that take in the book are based on real-life events from history. My background is in journalism and law, and my college minor was Political Science, so I had a solid foundation on which to begin my research. Suraiya’s political rise to the White House is directly based on the rise of former President Gerald Ford. Ford was a congressman from Michigan serving as the House Minority Leader when he was tapped to take over the vice presidency from Spiro Agnew, who was indicted on bribery charges in 1973. Before Ford moved into the vice president’s residence, President Richard Nixon resigned and Ford was sworn in as President. Suraiya’s service in Afghanistan, and the Christmas Day incident that cements her friendship with the younger soldiers, is a conglomeration of events that happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam.

The attempted coup is based on what is known in American history as the Business Plot, although historians disagree on how close the plan actually was to success. It was foiled by the most decorated Marine of that time, Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, who the industrialists tried to recruit to lead the coup. Butler gathered evidence against the conspirators, then alerted the Franklin Roosevelt administration of the plan. 

Have initial reactions to your novel surprised you?

I’m always surprised when people mention a scene from the book, and tell me that it’s too far-fetched to ever happen in real-life. The more preposterous the scenario, the more likely it is to be based on a real event.

Which character did you most enjoy bringing to life?

Cala Jafari, Suraiya’s mother, is the most wonderful character, because she embodies the maternal relationship we all strive to escape and emulate. Her temperament is based a bit on Madhuri Kumar, from The Kumars at No. 42, but the interactions come from my relationship with my own mom, who passed away while I was writing Suraiya.

Indian women always ask me how I managed to describe their relationships with their mothers so accurately, and I always get a chuckle out of that. The mother/daughter relationship is universally difficult.

What message/s would you like people to take from your work?

As voters, we like to put people in boxes. Democrat or Republican. Christian or Non-Christian. Pro-life or pro-choice. That creates an us versus them mentality, and no one wins in that situation. We are human beings, and humans are not so easily defined. We need to look beyond a few boxes to really get to know our family members, our neighbors, and our leaders. Only then will our ballot decisions be truly informed.

Alternate answer: You don’t have to be a white Christian male to be a hero!

What are your expectations for the book?

My hope is that people will get to know Suraiya and reconsider how they view people who are different from themselves. Readers who are Caucasian tell me that for the first time, they are aware of their use of the hyphen to describe people who are not white. Readers who are Muslim or Indian are happy that someone like them is portrayed as a leader and champion, rather than a terrorist or a victim.

Which authors or writers have inspired you in your writing?

I read mostly nonfiction, and am partial to historical biographies, which probably explains the shape of Suraiya’s story. As part of my research for Suraiya, I read Soldier Dead by Michael Sledge, about the recovery of soldiers’ remains. It was a difficult read, emotionally and mentally, and I thought Sledge gave the subject the respect and objectivity it deserved. When it comes to fiction, I like to get lost in detective novels that delve into why people behave the way that they do. P.D. James is especially brilliant at crawling around in the minds of her characters.

What are your current projects?

Before Suraiya, I was working on another novel, a screenplay, and a modern philosophy blog ( Then Suraiya rather consumed me, along with helping to take care of my mom during her illness. I managed to keep the blog going until the end of 2013. It’s still live, but I’m no longer adding posts.

Now I am back to the original novel, a farce about two badly behaved women searching for meaning in their families and careers. It is far more irreverent and profane than Suraiya. All the confines placed on women, by society and ourselves, get acerbically skewered. The main characters get to say all those things we think to ourselves but never say aloud for fear of offending others.

★ ★ ★

You can buy Cindy Moy's novel Suraiya Jafari: An American President via Amazon and you can get a flavour for the novel by reading both the prologue and first chapter of Suraiya Jafari on Cindy's blog

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Looking Back on Interfaith Ramadan 2014

The response to Interfaith Ramadan has been phenomenal this year. The positive comments, encouragement, and support that I, and the Interfaith Ramadan contributors, have received has been overwhelming. Thank you so much for reading, sharing, and commenting on the series. It's been such a pleasure to get to know new faces and observe new friendships being made as the series progressed. I was touched by the sheer number of private comments and emails I received from people wanting to share their stories and experience of interfaith and their happiness that there are others out there who share their passion. These heartfelt messages were a real blessing for me this Ramadan.

I'm incredibly thankful to the Interfaith Ramadan writers who were willing to put aside precious time from their busy schedules to produce beautiful and inspiring works for others to enjoy. This series was such a source of inspiration for me this Ramadan, they encouraged me, lifted my spirits when I felt down, and motivated me to keep going throughout the month.

Several writers wrote inspiring pieces about interfaith as a lifestyle and described how it had influenced them and their beliefs from childhood into adulthood. Carmen Ibrahim explored the spaces in between our comfortable faith bubble and the world beyond it. Sister Lucy offered her global experiences of interfaith in Monasticism Meets Islam. Others explained how their involvement in interfaith strengthened their personal faith with their own tradition, including Salvation Army officer Nick Coke's piece Interfaith Engagement is a Lifestyle and Charlotte Dando's Are you Open to New Light? which looked at interfaith from a Quaker perspective.

It was wonderful to hear stories from members of Interfaith families, including Susan Katz Miller's vibrant experience of interfaith in Senegal, Solsikke's experience of Being a Christian married to an atheist, and Stephanie Meade intensely personal journey as she finds her way in Ramadan as a non-Muslim.   

There were several articles which focused specifically on the act of fasting. Samra Hussain, as the mother of four young children, shared her expectations and concerns as a mom before Ramadan began and, when we caught up with her afterwards, she thanked all the Interfaith Ramadan readers who had given encouragement and kept her in their thoughts and prayers over the month.

It was fascinating to hear stories of fasting in other traditions, from Leanna's First Fast as a Baha'i when she was a teen to Crystal S. Lewis's exploration of fasting and reflection within the Christian tradition through her discussion of Isaiah 58.

This month was also a time when people joined in fasting as an act of solidarity with Muslims around the world. Among the new faces I encountered this Ramadan, I was delighted to discover Rose Virginia Butler and share her inspiring story and her solidarity fast in One day of Pagan RamadanThis Ramadan was also noteworthy because it was the first time in decades that the fast of Tammuz 17 coincided with Ramadan. Many Jews and Muslims used this opportunity to come together in solidarity to support communities and individuals currently facing oppression or suffering persecution. Many found Rabbi Rachel Barenblat's heartfelt message The Walls Begin to Fall on her blog The Velveteen Rabbi particularly helpful during this time of reflection. 

In the spirit of greater community cohesion, there were a large number of informal interfaith iftars this year as well as brilliant events organised by The Big Iftar and Ramadan Tent Project. Dr Andrew Smith shared his experience of an intimate interfaith meal with friends and Julian Bond spoke of a Ramadan of Firsts where Lambeth Palace hosted its first iftar with speakers including Archbishop Justin Welby and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra.

Alongside these beautiful personal stories, there were challenging articles by Jeremy Rodell (Why the faithful need secularism) and Jim Steele (Religious Labels: Constructive or Constrictive? written in response to Should we label children according to their parents' beliefs?), which explored the problems of interfaith when it collides with the raising of children and state education. Similarly, Dr Karl E. H. Seigfried tackled the practicalities of interfaith when it comes finance and the inclusion of 'minority' faiths in Do you believe in Interfaith? 

Several writers offered detailed insights into Islamic terms and concepts. Author Qasim Rashid adapted a chapter of his best-selling book Extremist as a critique against the awful actions of ISIS in Iraq and the surrounding region in A Ramadan Message to ISIS: You Don't Speak For Islam. Farouk A. Peru explored the word islam itself in Other Faiths or Other Paths?  Zaaynab-Le’Von presented various ways in which people of faith can deepen their imaan in Believing is Seeing. Nusrat AbdurRahman looked at the beauty of fajr in Making a case for 'Ramadan Muslims'. And, in her second article for Interfaith Ramadan, Crystal S. Lewis offered insightful commentary on Women's Rights in Christianity and Islam. And finally, Maryam Din offered a powerful piece on LGBTQ Muslims and the importance of visibility in The Balancing Act of Being A Queer Muslim.

It was a privilege to be approached and interviewed by newspapers, magazines and blogs who wanted to promote positive interfaith stories this Ramadan, including The Guardian's What is it like to be a Muslim in Britain today? and Pinksky magazine's kind words in What's the Future of Interfaith Ramadan?  The warm and friendly interviews with Lucinda Borkett-Jones of Christian Today and Vicki Garlock of Faith Seeker Kids were particularly fun. It was an unexpected surprise to be featured in the Pearl Daisy blog, Chesterfield Pagans Interfaith: Is There Anybody Out There? and the Christian Muslim Forum Give Peace A Chance, who kindly asked me to write their Eid Greeting this year. The support of brilliant interfaith activists and organisations like Hind Makki, OneHumanist, the Abrahamic Forum, Interfaith Families DC, and the Woolf Institute, was greatly appreciated throughout the month.

My heartfelt thanks to family and friends with special thanks to Peter, Johnny, Julian, Joseph, and Estelle for their constant support and sage wisdom. To Colin and Tauseef who were prepared to drop what they were doing at a moment's notice to proof read at an unearthly hour in the morning! Thank you to Mariam and Esha for their adorable loveliness. And my sincere thanks to Jami, Kristina, Maryam, Sarah, Brenda, and Emilia for their encouragement throughout the month. And a special thank you to all the readers who shared Interfaith Ramadan on social media and helped to promote it this year.

I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions for Interfaith pieces throughout the year and for Interfaith Ramadan next year. If you'd like to be involved, please get in touch.

Wishing you all a lovely, peaceful Summer,


Saturday, 2 August 2014

How Was Ramadan? | Catching Up with Samra Hussain

Ramadan is all done for 2014. As it approached, I felt happy, I felt excited, but I also felt nervous and and scared. I worried about losing my temper with my children and about how hungry and thirsty I would feel during the long summer fasts.

I wrote in detail about my challenges and fears in an earlier post before Ramadan: Concerns of a Mom As Ramadan Approaches. Some of the readers got back to me through comments on Sarah Ager’s blog, while others on my own Facebook and Twitter account. Every one of those people, regardless of their faith or beliefs wished me well and hoped for a smooth and blessed fasting experience.

Samra Hussain

And tonight, as I sit here reflecting about my Ramadan experience, I am first of all filled with love and gratefulness towards all those people who both openly and in their hearts wished me well during Ramadan, because I truly believe that it was because of your kind thoughts and prayers that Allah Most Merciful indeed blessed my Ramadan.

My previous Ramadan was a much more difficult experience than this time. Last year, I had many moments of feeling light headed and feeling jittery and hypoglycemic. But this year, I felt barely any of that. In fact, I remember going through the first day of fasting wondering how it was possible that I was feeling so healthy. I did have a few moments of feeling hungry or thirsty but they were mostly fleeting and not even close to being unbearable. It was as if God radiated special love and attention on me. I felt unworthy and sometimes wondered if it was even okay to feel alert and active while fasting.

As Ramadan carried on, each and every day, I marveled and gave thanks to God for making me feel healthy and bright enough to fast and take care of my family. And each and every day I remembered to pray for the people who prayed for me and my family.

I am still amazed at how much I was able to accomplish while fasting. My husband and I had placed our four young children at a summer camp from Mondays to Fridays. My husband also mostly worked from home during Ramadan which was another HUGE blessing for our family. We were able to rest a bit after dropping them, then we completed errands and I prepared the meals for breaking the fast.

For the first two weeks of Ramadan, I had also enrolled two of my sons in daily swimming lessons after camp. It was really hectic after camp, when we brought the children home, fed them light snacks and then I drove the two boys for their lessons. I bathed them at the recreation centre showers then fed them at a bench outside, finally taking them home for bed time. Meanwhile, my husband cared for the other two children, bathing and feeding them so that by the time I got home with the boys all the kids were bathed, fed and ready for bed. Once the kids went to bed we would crash on the couch for a bit. Sitting there as I paid attention to my body, I realized that I was not as exhausted as I should have been, which was a miracle. It was really nice to break our fasts in peace and then perform our prayers and engage in extra acts of worship such as reciting Quran, calling on God’s names (known as ‘dhikr’), extra ritual prayers (salat), or watching/reading religious material.

It was an interesting and eventful Ramadan, because during the first week, my mother in law went through a knee replacement surgery, and then during the second week, first one of my sons caught a throat infection and had to go on antibiotics, and then at the end of that week another one of my sons had an accident at his camp. He was climbing up the steps of a slide, when he fell forward and hit his mouth really hard on the metal steps. When I got to camp to pick him up, I saw his swollen lip and his front two teeth were bent inwards. Terribly worried, I called our dentist, who told me to first take him to the hospital emergency room to get examined. 

Thankfully my husband was able to pick up the other children from camp on time, take them home and care for them. I was also grateful when the doctor determined that he had no internal injuries and just needed to see the dentist about his bent teeth. The next morning, I took him with a heavy heart to the dentist and paced the waiting room while the dentist removed the fractured portion of his teeth. My family was blessed a million times in that the roots of his teeth were still intact, which is why there was minimal pain as the dentist removed the snapped portion of his teeth.

In addition to visiting my mother in law who was in extreme pain from her surgery (and still is in a lot of pain) and picking up and dropping off the children and dealing with the injuries and sickness, I had to deal with my temper around the children. Although I was able to clamp down on my desire to get angry when they did outrageous and dangerous things better than usual, there were still many moments when I had my outbursts. 

At times I felt so crushed and overwhelmed by my children’s dependence on me that I would forget that they are still newbies at life on Earth. But every time I did lose my cool, I would feel immediate regret along with despair over my inability to stay calm and composed at all times. After all, fating is not just about refraining from food drink. It is also refraining from giving in to our ego and mood swings. Sometimes I wonder if any of my fasts are even accepted by God. I hope God forgives me for the times I lost control over my temper around the children.

My every moment of regret and plea for God’s forgiveness was met with the realization that we are all interconnected and that everything good, including raising children to be healthy adults, is achieved through dedication, kindness, cooperation, and self-sacrifice.

So thank you to everyone who prayed for me and my family this Ramadan. I wish and pray for all of you to feel God’s peace in your lives. I wish and pray for all humanity to feel God’s peace in their lives. Ameen! 

★ ★ ★

Samra Hussain is a stay at home mom. Her passions include reading and writing. In her free time she likes to write for her interfaith blog while also working on her teen fiction novel for girls. She can be found at her blog For the Love of God and you can follow her on TwitterMake sure you keep an eye out for Samra's debrief once Ramadan is over to see how she got on.

Previous Post: Eid Mubarak! (Written for Christian Muslim Forum) 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Eid Mubarak! (Written For Christian Muslim Forum)

This year, I was thrilled and honoured to be asked by the Christian Muslim Forum to write their annual Eid message. I'm incredibly grateful to this organisation, not only for the work they do throughout the year but also for the phenomenal support and encouragement they have given me since I began this blog two years ago.  

Below is just a short fragment. Head on over the Christian Muslim Forum to read the full version

"While there is much to be thankful for this Eid, we are also united by a shared sense of sadness as we remember the ongoing suffering which many endure around the world, which has been particularly intense this Ramadan. 
At a time when Christians, Ahmadiyya, and Rohingya Muslims face persecution in Iraq, Pakistan, and Myanmar respectively, and scores of civilians are dying in Syria and Gaza, it is all too easy for us to fall into despair at the current state of the world.  
Many of us have felt helpless in the face of so much suffering. It is in these moments that we have to step up, speak out, and join together as people of faith and work alongside each other to be the change in the world - to show that faith can be one of the most powerful forces for good."

Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed Eid full of love, light, and laughter!

Curator of Interfaith Ramadan

                        One Day of Pagan Ramadan | Rose Virginia Butler 

The Balancing Act of Being a Queer Muslim - Maryam Din

This is part of the Interfaith Ramadan series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

When people learn of two particular aspects of my identity usually they’re left a little perplexed and you really can’t miss the look of confusion on their faces as they try and figure out how it makes sense. I identify as a queer Muslim and it is these two parts of my identity that not only causes a lot of confusion, and result in a million and one questions (sometimes even really inappropriate ones), but it is also these aspects in which I face the most intolerance and abuse.

Being a queer Muslim, I tread an interesting line, a balancing act if you will. I face queer-phobia from some sections of the Muslim community and Islamophobia coupled with racism from some sections of the LGBTQ community. This means that I literally have to downplay the importance of my religion in some LGBTQ spaces and also having to downplay my sexuality in some religious spaces. The reason why myself and many people like me who identify both within the LGBTQ community and religious communities feel compelled to do this boils down to safety, physical and mental safety.

But you know what though? It isn’t all doom and gloom. It is also because I identify as queer and Muslim that I feel like I have a completely different outlook on life. You know the saying you can only know what someone’s going through if you walk a mile in their shoes? Well, I find that having such marginalized identities (I tick all of the boxes on the equal opportunities monitoring form - ethnicity, religion, sexuality and disability) allows me to be able to empathise with people’s struggles. This brings me perfectly onto the next bit. It’s because of my sexuality that I am able to be a better Muslim. That sounds so bizarre right? Let me explain. Islam deals with a lot of human rights and social justice issues and it is these aspects along with the socialism that I resonate with the most.

The most recent example I have of this is when a now friend, reached out to me. Let me set the scene a little first. I find that because I am so visible as a queer Muslim a lot of people are quick to criticize me and my ‘life choices’ and particularly question why I am so open. It the idea of not airing your dirty laundry in public. The day I came out to myself, I made a promise that I would never hide myself again. Clearly I took this to an unintended whole new level and now I’m visible from workshops to conferences to national radio.

Coming back to my new friend… She came out to me a few months ago and our later messages articulate perfectly why I am so open and unashamed about who I am. Here’s part of our interaction:

Me: I see my visibility as a duty for others who are not able to be visible to whatever reasons.
Her: I don't know how many strangers have messaged you before like i did, probably lots, but now you have proof of it. You being "visible" gave me hope and courage and factored in me feeling less alone. So i will always appreciate that.

Reading that interaction still moves me even now. Visibility in a world which oppresses and marginalizes people is a political act. It is an act which unequivocally says that we are proud to be who we are and more than that, we love ourselves and will be unapologetic in who we are and what we stand for. Visibility says that we will not conform and we will challenge you and the status quo. Visibility, perhaps most importantly, saves lives.

Maryam Din is a social activist and graduate in International Relations and Politics who identifies as a Black queer feminist Muslim. She has a passion for visibility and activism within the intersections of gender, sexuality, culture and religion. She blogs at [ 5pillarsand6colours ] 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

One Day of Pagan Ramadan - Rose V. Butler

I’ve always been interested in religion and the way different people express their faiths, even when I was a fundamentalist Christian and believed many of these people were going to Hell. When I began delving into ancient history and studying more of the Old Testament, I decided Christianity wasn’t for me and started searching for something else. Exploring the faiths of the world was an amazing experience, one I wouldn’t trade for the world; to this day, I think everyone should take a world religions class and explore spirituality in their own way. In the end, I settled on Wicca, but the traditions and spiritual expressions of the other Abrahamic faiths—Islam and Judaism—are still beautiful and fascinating to me, so much so that I love following some of their online communities on Patheos, YouTube, and Instagram.

It was these communities that sparked my interest in Ramadan and made me sorry that Wicca didn’t have its own month-long period of devotion. Sure, Wicca is very flexible—especially as a solitary practitioner—so I could have come up with one of my own, but it just wouldn’t have been the same doing it by myself. During Ramadan, millions, if not billions, of people all over the world take part in the fast at the same time; there is a sense of community and kinship between fasters. It’s the same for many Christians during Lent.

As Ramadan began this year, I toyed with the idea of fasting, if only for one day. When I found out a local mosque was holding an interfaith iftar on July 19th, I thought that would be the perfect day, but as the day approached, I wondered why I was doing it. Again, I looked into the theology of Islam, but it appealed to me very little. I admired the cultures and the traditions, but could not reconcile it with my personal theological beliefs.

Then the conflict in Gaza flared. It was then that I realized I wanted to fast to show my support for religious freedom all over the world. More and more injustices came to mind, from prejudice in the workplace to the fight over hijab in France and elsewhere. It is my sincerely held belief that people should be able to practice whatever peaceful religion they want to practice without being harassed or singled out. I also believe that people should be able to cover or uncover as much of their body as they’re comfortable with. Fasting would be my way of saying, “I support religious freedom.”

With this in mind, I had a surprisingly easy day fasting. To be honest, I think it was because I spent nearly the entire day out of the house, so I wasn’t tempted to snack or sip while I was watching TV or anything. I even did my best to be kind in all I did, and I don’t think I even snapped at anyone. I did wake up at four o’clock in the morning to eat my overnight oats, chug a quart of water, and pray to my God and Goddess—and promptly went back to bed. Then I went to the farmer’s market (where I was tempted many times with, “Are you sure you don’t want a sample???” and forced to trust my partner’s judgment when it came to fruit selection). Then, in the evening, I went to work (I had to skip the interfaith iftar because of it) … Did I mention I work in a restaurant? This was when I may or may not have gone a little crazy. It was unusually slow that night—or was it?—so there was little to do but focus on my growling stomach. I kept praying and looking at the clock and praying some more, and finally, at 8:30, I munched on a couple of dates I brought for the occasion and downed a bunch of water.

I think what surprised me the most was the amount of support I received, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. My coworkers—none of whom are Muslim—were awesome, cheering me on the last few minutes of my fast. Everyone online, including the wonderful people surrounding Interfaith Ramadan, was very supportive. A few days later, I bonded with the man opening my new bank account after my partner, spotting the man’s Middle Eastern name, very casually (*coughnotcasuallyatallcough*) asked me, “Is Ramadan still going on?” to which the man replied, “You know about Ramadan??”

Did fasting bring me closer to the divine? Perhaps. I was acutely aware of my actions throughout the entire day, so I was very careful not to snap at anyone or get upset about the little things. I had also downloaded a prayer app that made my phone vibrate at the prayer times. Originally, I downloaded it so I would know when I could eat and drink, but I found myself pausing when it went off at other times, just to say a little prayer and remind myself why I was going without food or water for sixteen hours. Fasting definitely made me aware of the people who go without food or water because they have to, and if remembering and feeling compassion for them doesn’t bring you closer to God, I don’t know what will.

Rose Virginia Butler is a lifelong writer who has a variety of interests, including religion, books, social justice, ecology, food, and fitness. She is a solitary Wiccan and a member of her local Unitarian Universalist church. Rose is currently an English student at an online university with the goal of supporting herself through her writing. You can find her on her blog (, which has links to other social networking profiles.

Previous post: Interview with Christian Today
Related post: Looking for Peace in the Grey Areas

Interview with Christian Today | Sarah Ager

I was incredibly fortunate to be approached by one of the editors of Christian Today and asked to share my story of conversion and speak about why interfaith is so important to me personally, and why it's crucial for society at large. There were also some refreshingly tough questions about Salvation, the Trinity, and violence in the Muslim world.

Although the article was met with rather a hefty dollop of criticism (to put it mildly), it also received praise from Christians and Muslims alike who appreciated that such a popular Christian magazine had reached out and been bold enough to present a positive story about Christian-Muslim dialogue, in the knowledge that there would probably be considerable backlash for doing so. 

I'd like to say a special thank you to Lucinda Borkett-Jones, who was an absolute delight to chat with and incredibly generous in her write up of our conversation. I'm also very grateful to the readers of Christian Today who sent me public or private messages of support and appreciation. At times such as this, when tension so often derives from the cracks we have allowed to form between religions, those who take risks to challenge others on matters of principle and strengthen ties between people of different faiths (even if it means readers may press the dreaded 'unlike' button) deserve to be highly commended for their actions. 

And I hope that the readers who liked and shared the article found themselves challenged in a positive way and were given hope that there are innumerable Muslims out there working for peace and that it's possible work together to counter-act the terrible things done in the name of both our religions. 

Below is a short extract from the article which, if it tickles your fancy, you can find in full here

"At university, Sarah Ager was known for her Christian faith. Her parents are Salvation Army ministers. She grew up going to church and being in the church choir. Belief in God and being a Christian were a fundamental part of her identity, until she converted to Islam when she was studying English in Leicester. 
She wasn't peeved with the Church, didn't know much about Islam, and she didn't convert in order to marry a Muslim. 
So what led her on this journey? She decided to look into Islam when she met some Turkish Muslims at university. "The main reason I started studying [Islam] was because I was embarrassed," she says. 
"I knew nothing about Turkey or Islam, I didn't know what they believed; I was intimidated. I thought 'I have to at least Google this religion'." 
But Sarah didn't stop at a quick Google search..."

Previous Post: My First Fast: A Baha'i Perspective

Saturday, 26 July 2014

My First Fast: A Baha'i Perspective | Leanna

I was terrified.  There is no other way to describe it.

I gulped down more water, another bite of toast, and felt panic settle into my overstuffed belly: the sun was rising, and I was going to starve!

In my defense, I was 15 years old and already inclined to melodrama before becoming a teenager.  But there was nothing insincere about the overwhelming nervousness I experienced as I watched the sunlight fill our family kitchen on the first day of my first fast.

As a child growing up in a Bahá'í family, I had watched my parents - and in later years my older siblings - take part in the annual fast that precedes our new year in the spring.  I understood on an intellectual level the spiritual benefits of fasting from sunup to sundown for 19 days - how it helps us to focus on spiritual rather than earthly matters, how it allows extra time for prayer and reflection, how it leads to spiritual insights, and how it encourages a sense of togetherness among community members.

On an intellectual level.

On a gut level I was totally panicked.  And now I was finally 15, considered the age of spiritual maturity in the Bahá'í Faith and the first time I was required to fast.  As the first day of the Fast drew closer, I tried to think of excuses why I couldn't fast, but I didn't fall under any of the exceptions listed in the Bahá'í laws: I didn't do manual labor for a living, and I wasn't traveling, or pregnant, or ill, or elderly.  In the end, all I could do was cross my fingers and hope that my period would come early (which, of course, it didn't).

And so I found myself, belly sloshing with too much water and food, watching the sunrise as if it were something out of a horror movie.

I went to school as normal and tried to concentrate, although I was feeling a bit queasy from nerves and all the food I had forced myself to eat early that morning.  But the hours dragged on, and I survived.  In fact, things seemed rather normal.  I didn't feel faint or dizzy, as I had expected.  To my relief, I actually felt fine.

My energy started to fade in the afternoon.  I remember clearly sitting in my World Literature class, where we were reading - as fate would have it - Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.  The teacher had allowed us some time for individual reading, so the classroom was still except for the occasional shuffling feet or bored cough.

Something happened to me that afternoon that I will never forget.  As I read about the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, something clicked - not just in my head, where I already knew the importance of renunciation for spiritual growth - but in my heart, where I had been too afraid to believe it.  There was no angelic choir or dazzling radiance from above, but a quiet feeling of utter lightness filled me, and for the first time that day I relaxed and experienced a real sense of peace.

I still get very irritable when I fast, and I do find myself counting the days until it is over, but that sense of peace has never really left me.  Mixed into the inevitable fatigue are also moments of insight and calm, when I can recapture the feeling from that day, and remember that, in the end, the body is just a body, and the spirit world is beautiful beyond our wildest imaginations.  And that even a 15 year old drama queen can find moments of peace.

Note: As per the Bahá'í laws, I have not fasted for the past several years because I was either pregnant or nursing, but we have found other creative ways to share the spirit of the Fast with our two young children.

Leanna is a stay at home mother to a sweet, funny, rambunctious four year old boy and his adorable, smiley baby brother.  She draws inspiration from the Writings of the Bahá'í Faith and tries to raise her Monkeys in a fun, spiritual, loving environment.  She and her husband, who is from Costa Rica, are raising their boys to be bilingual and bicultural but more importantly to be "world citizens."  All Done Monkey is dedicated to sharing this journey with you!

Leanna is the co-founder of Bahá'í Mom Blogs and founder of Multicultural Kid Blogs.

Previous Posts:
What's the Future of Interfaith Ramadan? | Sarah Ager (Curator)
Do You Believe in Interfaith? | Dr Karl E. H. Seigfried

Friday, 25 July 2014

What's the Future of Interfaith Ramadan?

Last week I was kindly asked by Pink Sky Magazine to speak about Interfaith Ramadan. In the interview, shared a bit of background on my own interfaith family and how Interfaith Ramadan came about, my opinion on why interfaith is making headway, and where I see the project going in the future. Below is a short snippet taken from the interview.

What problems do you face in this type of blogging?

The first misconception that people have about interfaith is that it is a sort of ruse, an attempt at conversion cleverly hidden by a smile and a cup of tea. Interfaith work simply cannot work if one or both parties are trying to convert the other. Interfaith dialogue requires honesty, both to ourselves and to each other, and of course this means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. People are unable to open up if they feel that the other person has ulterior motives. For these reasons, attempts to convert have absolutely no place in interfaith.

Sometimes there is an inaccurate concern that involvement in interfaith means you are somehow diluting your own faith. While the reality is that most individuals engaged in interfaith dialogue and activism find they feel more connected to their own faith tradition as a direct result of engagement with others.

It's important to note that the overall aim of interfaith is not to make everyone the same, but instead to acknowledge and respect difference, to learn from the experience of others, and encourage each other to grow within our own tradition so that we can do our bit to make the world a more inclusive and peaceful place.

You can find the full interview here.

Previous Article: Do you Believe in Interfaith? | Dr Karl E. H. Seigfried
Next Article: My First Fast: A Baha'i Perspective | Leanna

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Do You Believe in Interfaith? - Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

A couple of months ago, I asked the director of a United Kingdom think tank focused on religion and society if organizations like hers were more comfortable with atheism than with religions outside of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. She answered affirmatively, stating that a lack of faith is “more familiar” than any non-Abrahamic tradition. She is not alone in this sentiment.

Interfaith most often means intra-Abrahamic. There is a shared heritage between the three large monotheistic faiths that can provide a natural starting point for dialogue between the traditions. If an atheist presents an argument regarding the existence of God, that argument is necessarily part of Abrahamic dialogue. By agreeing that the discussion concerns the immanent reality of God, the atheist agrees to terms that are innately bound to an Abrahamic worldview.

For those of us who belong to faith traditions outside the Abrahamic sphere, the fundamental assumptions of standard interfaith conversation do not necessarily apply. Many well-meaning and openhearted people in the interfaith world declare that “there are many paths to God.” This is a progressive position to take when trying to bring together Christians, Jews and Muslims. However, it leaves practitioners of polytheistic faiths outside of the tent. The atheist who asserts “there is no God at the end of the path” is more welcome than the polytheist who states “there are many gods along the path.”

The atheist and the follower of an Abrahamic tradition are part of the same conceptual world; they are arguing within a culturally bound structure. The polytheist does not agree to the basic premises of this system. For someone who shares the world with gods, goddesses, wights, giants and other powers, the concept of a single, omniscient, omnipotent God moving over the surface of the waters is as foreign as the idea of elves and spirits deciding the fate of a Member of Parliament would be to a Muslim.

My own tradition is Ásatrú, the modern iteration of pre-Christian Germanic religion. The worldwide heathen community is relatively small, but it spreads across many regions of the planet and encompasses a great diversity of belief and practice. The archeological, historical and literary record relating to the roots of the religion encompasses a great variety of source materials from the past 4,000 years: Bronze Age rock carvings in Scandinavia, records of interactions between the Roman Empire and continental Germanic tribes, chronicles of heathen-Christian clashes during the Viking Age, the preservation of myths and legends in post-Conversion Iceland, and folk practices that survive into recent times.

The modern revival dates to 1972, when Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson founded the Ásatrúarfélagið (“Æsir Faith Fellowship”) in Iceland. Ásatrú soon began to appear around the world in the form of national organizations, regional groups, small communities, and individual practitioners. It is now Iceland’s largest non-Christian religion, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs last year approved Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) as a recognized emblem of belief for military grave markers.

What place is there for heathens in interfaith organizations? I have yet to find even one national-level interfaith organization in the United States that has a single Ásatrúar on its board, advisory panel, administration or staff. Last year, the rabbi who co-founded an interfaith journal told me that his group’s “Board of Scholars and Practitioners” (with over fifty current members) had no place for a heathen – there was simply no room at the inn.

On the other hand, these interfaith advisory boards seem to have little actual impact on the organizations they supposedly advise. The editor-in-chief of a religion news organization that covers the intersection of faith with politics and culture told me that her group’s “Advisory Council is (as is the case with many non-profit orgs) in name only. It has absolutely zero to do with our coverage. We don't talk to them, or they to us.”

Why do organizations bother with these advisory panels full of faith leaders, then? To understand that, we need to ask what a religion think tank, an interfaith journal and a religion news organization have in common – aside from their purported dedication of openness to varied faith perspectives. There is a clear way to find the answer: follow the money. They all receive grants from government agencies, corporate foundations, anonymous donors and others who are attracted by the supposedly inclusive idea of “interfaith.” By pointing to a list of advisors from across a spectrum of religious traditions, the organizations can claim a multicultural approach that is attractive to granters.

From a broader faith perspective, however, this version of multiculturalism is really monocultural. Where are the voices from outside the Abrahamic axis? Apparently, they can’t pay the price of admission.

This influence of cash on inclusivity is not a secret. When I asked one of the organizers of a global conference focused on religions of the world if the event would include representatives from minority faith communities, he gave a financial answer: “Of course we are committed to reaching out to everyone. Financial requirements limit the things we can do. But that's the case with everything it seems. We aspire to better things, and then money has its say.”

Money does indeed have its say. As the recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court of the United States showed us, members of religious traditions that can muster cash and votes can directly influence the course of public life. Those without such assets – like the members of the Native American Church that were less successful in their own Supreme Court case – do not have the ability to break through into the nation’s dialogue on religion.

I can already hear the rebuttals from staff members at interfaith organizations: none of us make real money working in this field, we depend on volunteers, we include everyone we can, we had a Wiccan once, etc. However, the young man who handles “mass communications” for a large interfaith youth organization told me, “You’re spot on about many interfaith groups keeping mostly within the Abrahamic traditions. Whether or not this is a result of those religious groups already being very large and generally privileged is up for debate, but I think that plays a big role.”

Without being able to deliver large amounts of cash or numbers of voters, how do those of us who belong to small minority traditions break into interfaith dialogue? The rhetorical focus on Abrahamic monotheism and the exclusion of our communities from leadership positions seem to provide insurmountable obstacles.

I do think there is a solution, but it depends on the dedication of those within existing organizations and on the level of their commitment to real interfaith work. There are two things that need to be done immediately and with sincerity. Tokenism and superficial fixes will make no lasting difference.

First, interfaith organizers need to take a good look at their programming. In order to achieve a more diverse participation in interfaith events, a conscious effort must be made by organizers. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, it’s no longer enough to book an imam for a Passover celebration at a Catholic church and think you’ve checked off all the boxes. Interfaith groups need to figure out ways to take the dialogue out of the Abrahamic box and open it up to all traditions.

There are many topics that would be interesting to monotheists and polytheists alike. Examples include:

  • How do members of a religious community strike a balance between adhering to ancient forms of their faith and responding to realities of modern life?
  • How do we create a discursive space in which believers in the literal reality of a tradition’s mystical elements can engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue with practitioners who see ancient texts as cultural or metaphorical?
  • What weight should religious people give to scholarly works on their faith written by academics who are not part of their faith – or are even hostile to it?
  • When the perpetrator of an extremist act claims allegiance to a religion, how should members of that tradition publicly react – and how should they deal with inquiries from the media?

None of these questions privilege any faith tradition or suggest that answers from, for example, a Presbyterian minister and an Ásatrú goði have different levels of importance. A forum on these sorts of issues would create a level playing field between all faiths, regardless of how many gods each one has.

Unfortunately, merely asking these types of questions will not be enough to bring members of marginalized faiths to interfaith events. A sincere move must be made to bring in those who have been shut out. It may be difficult for interfaith organizers to find members of minority faiths in their region. If so, time will be well spent searching the internet for minority organizations, small groups or individuals and then reaching out personally. You may be ignored, and you may be rebuffed. It will take some time to convince people that your tune is really changing and that you honestly want to hear their perspectives on the issues – and that you aren’t simply seeking greater ticket sales or the ability to pencil the name of another faith into a grant application.

This leads to the second thing that needs to be done: interfaith organizations must engage in some serious affirmative action. To pick just one of innumerous examples, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee’s board of directors has thirty-two Christians, three Muslims, two Jews and two Buddhists. All of them are identified with an established church or religious organization. Here and in other interfaith organizations, participation at the leadership level seems linked to affiliation with an existing organization. In other words, the requirement to be part of the system is that one is already part of the system. Where does this leave heathens, many of whom are lone practitioners, worship with their families, or belong to small kindreds unaffiliated with any large regional or national group?

According to the editor I quoted earlier, these boards often are nothing more than a list of names on a website. However, to the members of a minority faith who looks into an interfaith organization in their region and sees a list like that of the Milwaukee group – a list that is ninety-five percent Abrahamic and has no representative from a polytheistic tradition – there is simply no reason to imagine that they would be welcome. It’s time for the organizations to make some room at the inn, even if they think they can’t possibly fit another name into the HTML code for the web page listing their board members.

If the organization’s actual leadership – i.e., administrators and staff – contains no one with a background outside of the Abrahamic tradition, there is very little reason to expect programming to change in any fundamental way. If no voice on the planning committee argues passionately for inclusion of minority perspectives or questions the inherent Abrahamic bias in the way that many interfaith events are presented, nothing will change. Now is the time for all good people of faith to fight for the inclusion of underserved communities at all levels of their organizations.

Maybe you’re involved in an interfaith organization that truly is inclusive, that has really freed itself from the Christian-Jewish-Muslim dialogical track, and that has actively recruited members of minority traditions for real leadership positions. If so, hail to you! I would love to hear from you and learn how you made this needed change.

Maybe you’re a heathen and think this is all a bunch of hooey, that heathens should go it alone, and that we should simply give the finger to the interfaith world that has ignored Ásatrú for so long. I respect your position and wish you all the best as you work within your own community. I do not claim to be a representative of heathenry or to speak for anyone beside myself.

Personally, I think that including perspectives from Ásatrú – and from Dievturība, Rodzimowierstwo, Romuva, and other revived pre-Christian polytheistic traditions – can only bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to the wider interfaith discussion. If you truly support the free exchange of ideas between all religious traditions, there is no real way forward but to throw open the doors and seek out those whose voices haven’t been heard.

If you believe in interfaith, it’s time to act.


Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried is the author of The Norse Mythology Blog, named the world’s best religion weblog 2012-2014. He has been a featured writer and lecturer on Norse myth at the Joseph Campbell Foundation and the Wagner Society of America, and he is the author of all Ásatrú definitions in the Religion Stylebook of the Religion Newswriters Association. He has taught Norse mythology and religion at Carthage College and Loyola University Chicago, and he currently teaches for the Newberry Library’s Continuing Education Program. Karl holds degrees in literature and music from University of California at San Diego, University of Wisconsin at Madison and University of Texas at Austin. He also studied literature and art history at Loyola University Chicago Rome Center in Italy. He recently received an academic scholarship from University of Chicago Divinity School and will begin working on an MA in Religion in Fall 2014.
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