South Africa's ambassador to the U.S. Ebrahim Rasool addresses religious leaders, teachers and students at an event to launch the new Claremont Lincoln University.
Leading local and international clergy members gathered Tuesday for the official opening of a graduate-level theology university in Claremont. Organizers say it’s the first multi-religious program of its kind, with a mission that’s vital to a post-9/11 world.
Najeeba Syeed-Miller teaches Inner Religious Education at the century-old Claremont School of Theology. She says the new university offers a unique curriculum that will pave the way for greater understanding of her faith.
“As American Muslims, we are very excited about the transmission of knowledge into the American context,” she said.
Syeed-Miller says she is not alone in her belief that Islam can be promoted as a peaceful way of living and said she's working towards that narrative finding a real place in the world.
Syeed-Miller was among a variety of educators, leaders and students from different religious backgrounds and ethnicities that made up the audience at new institution’s launch. There, she and her peers listened intently to South Africa's ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool.
Rasool addressed old versus new ways of teaching religion, saying, “Ten years ago, we saw the danger of teaching religion and faith in old ways. We saw the terror released by religious fundamentalists.”
The “old ways,” he told the crowd, involved clerics and theologians fighting in their own corner. Now, he says, more than ever, faith leaders need to educate, work and even pray together to develop and sustain understanding and compassion.
“Otherwise all we do is reinforce victimhood, reinforce militarism and reinforce violence as the default position of the world,” he said.
That won’t be easy says Sulekh Jain, who leads the International School for Jain Studies near Houston. The Indian religion Jainism emphasizes non-violence.
“The journey is not complete, we are not there," says Jain. "The world has not become free from terrorism, has not become free from hatred has not become free from prejudices.”
Jain says Claremont Lincoln will generate an interfaith dialogue that goes beyond a social level. He says academic training is essential for students and leaders to gain greater knowledge of other cultures, and possibly the discourse needed to stop further tragedies like 9/11.
Master of Divinity student Vera Alice Bagneris agreed with Jain, saying, "The catalysts for change comes from within the religious community. When we change, people have the opportunity to change, because we’re the ones that bring the message to the people."
Claremont Lincoln is named in honor of David Lincoln, a trustee of the Claremont school, and his wife, Joan. The Arizona couple donated $50 million to help expand the School of Theology which launched the new university.