GR mayor declares 2015 the ‘year of interfaith service’

GVL/Lauren Loria

GVL/Lauren Loria

Shelby Pendowski

When Grand Valley State University junior Mohib Azeem migrated from Pakistan to the U.S. over two years ago, he carried his Islamic faith and a wary view of other religions with him.

Today, as the president of the GVSU Muslim Student Association, he still holds his faith close, but, he has also acquired the mission to spread religious tolerance.

“I feel as humans we can all do bigger things than fight,” Azeem said. “We can all work toward making peace for the betterment of community.”

On Sept. 11, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, along with other members of the community, came together to declare 2015 the year of interfaith service.

The year of interfaith service, founded by the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, was first held in 2012.

“Each year, the service brings together people from all denominations to do good throughout the community,” said Patrick Weisgerber, a GVSU graduate student working with the Kaufman Interfaith Institute.

“We started off with the 2012 year of interfaith understanding and that focused on how we can live with each other and understand one another, and how we can move forward from there,” Weisgerber said. “Now we know the best way to move forward is one thing that is very integral to so many people in the world – the idea ‘love your neighbor and yourself.’”

Since its conception, the year of interfaith service and understanding has brought people together to do good with projects through various organizations such as Habitat for Humanity of Kent County.

However, the service is doing more than volunteer work by bridging the gap between all the different religions, faiths and beliefs.

That bridge, said Azeem, is constructed out of one piece of common ground – we are all just human beings.

“It shows that we are all humans and we have not experienced what they have experienced,” Azeem said. “But we can show people we are all humans and humanity still lives within everyone. We can bridge gaps if we bridge the gap together.”

From the years of spreading this tolerance, Azeem has met a number of people such as his best friend Shelby Bruseloff, the president of Hillel. Hillel is an internationally recognized Jewish student organization that, similar to Greek organizations, has different chapters throughout the world.

After attending various conferences and working closely with the year of interfaith understanding, Azeem is working closely with other religiously affiliated groups on campus. They are currently working on creating a new organization called Better Together at GVSU.

“(We hope to) bring in different clubs and then go city-wide,” Azeem said. “It would be a good start to promote better understanding of each other and to show people we are more than what we believe.”

The club is still in its planning stages, but will be open to the student body soon and it is open to everyone, Azeem said.

Whether it is through Better Together at GVSU, the year of interfaith service or through specific religious groups, people throughout Grand Rapids are working to break down the walls of intolerance.

“Just because some people do terrible things in the name of their faith, does not mean everyone does,” Weisgerber said. “With all of the chaos going on in the world right now, a lot of people attribute that to religion and to the people who are claiming those certain religions, and it just isn’t true.

“I think that an important part of interfaith is understanding how different people understand their faith and different perspectives of those faiths and how they come together.”

For more information on the 2015 year of interfaith service email
[email protected].

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