Hoya Paxa

Tackling Education in Washington: The White House Interfaith Challenge

When President Obama first announced the White House Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge in March 2011, I was unbelievably excited.
At the time, I was a freshman at Georgetown enthusiastic about finding my niche in college, as well as exploring my religious identity, and how that intersected with my American nationality. As a sophomore, I am now strongly committed to this Challenge because interfaith cooperation is extremely important to me on a personal level.

I have come to realize that interfaith cooperation is an exemplary reflection of my core values, both as an American and as a Muslim. For example, I passionately believe that America’s ability in successfully blending diverse cultures and beliefs into a melting pot is one of its greatest strengths.

Through interfaith cooperation, we reference the idea of E Pluribus Unum, the sense that our commonalities as Americans are much greater than our differences. In this era of division, examples of interfaith cooperation can be a powerful way to heal our nation.

Similarly, I have great respect for the Holy Quran’s emphasis on diversity, as it states in Chapter 5, Verse 48: "If God had willed, he would have created you all as a single religion. His plan is to test you with what he has given you. Therefore, strive for good works." For these reasons, I believe that promoting interreligious cooperation makes me both a prouder American, and a more devout Muslim.

My first exposure to interfaith cooperation in college was at the White House Interfaith Leadership Institute in October 2010. Through this Institute, I learned about the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) a non-profit, Chicago-based organization dedicated to "making interfaith cooperation a social norm on college campuses."

I was a freshman in only my fifth week at Georgetown, and I was still concerned about getting LOST around campus, let alone changing campus. However, after hearing the stories of young students like me who had made a difference in their communities, I felt empowered to do the same in my new home of Washington, DC.

For this reason, several other students and I ran a Hunger Banquet to raise awareness about the problem of food inequity. We invited speakers from Campus Ministry, and focused on the importance of student interfaith efforts in creating social change. However, the message of interfaith cooperation was not only targeted at religious students.

At the Banquet, students of Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish backgrounds discussed their experiences alongside other students who identified as atheist or agnostic. This experience is only one example of how diverse groups of Georgetown students can come together for a common cause.

As part of our commitment to the White House Challenge, Georgetown has chosen to tackle the issue of education and literacy. This issue is especially salient to students at Georgetown, since the disparity in education is clearly visible in DC. While the institutions of higher education are among the best in the nation, the public school system is one of the worst.

Georgetown students are no strangers to community service; many existing campus groups have already made extraordinary commitments to helping underprivileged areas. Education is a central value in virtually all religious and non-religious traditions, and I therefore believe that our campaign can seamlessly integrate interfaith action into the mainstream of Georgetown. By harnessing Georgetown’s great success with interfaith dialogue, our campus can become a model for interfaith action.

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