Today’s guest bloggers are Ansaf Kareem and Anand Venkatkrishnan. Ansaf Kareem is a senior at Stanford University, majoring in Political Science and Economics. He also serves as Senior Class President and co-founder of the non-profit IDEAS. Anand Venkatkrishnan is a senior at Stanford University majoring in the Classics (Greek and Latin). He will pursue graduate studies in Sanskrit and South Asian Religion. As IFYC Fellows, Anand and Ansaf co-founded the interfaith action group Stanford F.A.I.T.H (Faiths Act In Togetherness and Hope).
When we found out that both of us would be IFYC Fellows at Stanford, we met for coffee one afternoon last summer, before our senior year, to talk strategy. One of us is a Pakistani Muslim, and the other an Indian Hindu; one is into marketing, the other into Marx; one is class president, the other is class clown. But as children of the diaspora in America, we share as much as we differ–and what draws us most closely together is our faith. We thought that building active interfaith cooperation at Stanford would be a relatively slow process- that we might be able to organize one or two service projects by the year’s end. What we couldn’t imagine was that we would help rally hundreds of students, on a cold January morning, to respond to hate with love.
Two weeks ago, members of the extremist Westboro Baptist Church announced their plans to picket outside Hillel at Stanford. Campus chat-lists were in uproar. Responses ranged from ignoring the group entirely to direct confrontation. Instead, our good friend Joe Gettinger, president of the Jewish Students Association, called a meeting of diverse campus leaders to channel this energy into a unified response. This gathering, dubbed “Stanford United,” would affirm and celebrate Stanford’s own diversity, irrespective of the protesters’ presence. With Joe’s encouragement, we attached a letter to the invitation from Hillel to the entire Stanford community, in which we invoked the legacy and promise of interfaith leadership. “As a Hindu and Muslim,” we wrote, “we feel it goes to the heart of our respective traditions to stand in solidarity with others who are attacked on the basis of their identity. In other words, if we did not stand alongside Jews, gays and lesbians, or any other group who may be maligned this Friday, we would not be the Hindus and Muslims we strive to be.”
This letter had a ripple effect across campus communities. Catholic priests announced the rally during Mass, Muslim leaders made appeals to their student base, and LGBT and faith communities were brought together in unprecedented numbers. The image of members of Campus Crusade for Christ with tears in their eyes at one student’s spontaneous bagpipe rendering of “Amazing Grace” will remain salient in our memory. For many freshmen, this was the most meaningful experience of their young college career. Our actions at Stanford are already nurturing future interfaith leaders, who will shape the public discourse on religion as a bridge, instead of a barrier, or bubble, or bomb.
The narrative we highlight here is that it was not despite our differences that we could come together as a community, but because of them. Religious particularity is not only about domination, or persecution, or political intransigence; it gives us the ability to interrogate ourselves, to take learning seriously, to be surprised and humbled by the fact of existence. We are not interested in apologetics, but in fellowship; not merely in hearing another’s story, but in writing a new chapter together.
Stanford is listening. Are you?
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.