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By Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director.
This invocation was delivered at Notre Dame de Namur University’s Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 9th, 2015. Maha was the first Muslim to present such an invocation. She was joined on stage by university President Judith Maxwell Greig, Ph.D. and Fedele Bauccio, Chief Executive Officer of Bon Appetit.
Salam alaikum/Greetings of Peace:
Congratulations to all of you who are graduating; you have come to the end of a long journey and will be embarking soon on the longer journey of life.
As you go through that journey we hope that you will take with you the lessons you learned from your years here, the friendships you made, and the values you gained, the core values found in all religions, including Islam; values such as Community, Diversity, Excellence, Goodness, Integrity, Justice, Learning and Service.
These values transcend religion and culture to create a society that values diversity but is united in its commitment to a better world.
Today, as the news brings us stories of how religion divides people and creates conflict, your experience here with classmates from 32 states and 28 countries has shown you another reality, one that inspires me and my organization every day as we dialogue with young people about the commonalities we share, and the differences we celebrate in our various faith traditions.
My holy book, the Qur’an, proclaims that human diversity, including religious diversity, is part of God’s plan:
According to the Quran chapter 11, God tells us
“Your Lord would have made humankind one people, had that been the divine will …”
And in Chapter 5, God tells us
“For each of them, We have established a law, and a revealed way. And if God wished, God would have made you a single nation; but the intent is to test you in what God has given you. So let your goals be everything good. Your destiny, everyone, is to God, Who will tell you about that wherein you differed.”
The Qur’an affirms that, despite differences, all Abrahamic religions have the same goal – to glorify and worship God, the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, peace be upon all of them:
God tells us in the Quran in chapter 29:
“Say, We believe in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are one and we submit to Him.’”
And in Chapter 2, God tells us that
“…For every community faces a direction of its own, of which God is the focal point. Compete, therefore, with one another in doing good works. Where ever you may be, God will gather you all unto Himself: for, verily, God has the power to will anything.”
Pope Francis in 2013 voiced similar sentiments. He said, “Given that many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I give this blessing from my heart, in silence, to each one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God.”
Many of various faiths and backgrounds throughout the world share this embrace of those of other faiths.
Recently, a group of Muslims protected a synagogue in Norway after a deadly shooting. And right near us, in San Ramon, Christians gathered around a mosque following a spate of Islamophobic attacks.
It’s in that spirit of interfaith respect, friendship, and, yes, love that we gather to celebrate you today. The future now lies in your hands and the future is bright. Not only do you have the values of your Scriptures to guide you, but also you have the lessons and values that you learned at this university which we pray will continue to guide and inspire you.
I conclude with this brief prayer:
Oh, God, merciful and compassionate as you are, we pray that you fill our lives and our hearts with that same mercy and compassion towards each other, and towards our world that today is in dire need of that mercy.
Oh, God, help us to be messengers of peace and love, and to extend that love to all your creation.
Oh God, we ask you to bless us, and bless each and every one of our graduating class, and help them in their future pursuits, aspirations, and successes.
Peace be upon you.