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Celebrating Black History Month

It’s February: Black History Month.  In recognition of this month commemorating Black culture, identity, pride, and contributions to America, the Interfaith Institute will be featuring scholarship, writing, and art showcasing Black religious/spiritual/worldview diversity.

February 1st:

Teaching African American Religious Pluralism – Monica Coleman

Download the article


February 9th:

Meditations of the Heart – Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman (1899-1979), was a theologian and pioneer of the nonviolent civil rights movement of the 20th century. His vocation was inspired by the stories of the religious faith maintained and grown amongst the slaves in the United States. He was a Baptist pastor, but he found wisdom in Quaker mysticism from Rufus Jones and in the teachings of Gandhi. Thurman’s focus on interfaith was most influential when it came to unifying people of diverse backgrounds to fight for a common cause. He approached it in a behind-the-scenes way, inspiring others to use their gifts to pursue justice and celebrate marginalized identities. He was a mentor to civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Pauli Murray,Vernon Jordan, James Farmer, Whitney Young, and Bayard Rustin.

Meditations of the Heart is a collection of fifty-four of Thurman’s most well-known meditations, featuring his thoughts on prayer, community, and the joys and rituals of life. Within its pages are words that sustain, elevate, and inspire. From “A Man Becomes His Dream” to “I Need Courage” to “The Season of Remembrance,” Thurman addresses life’s moments of trial and uncertainty and offers a message of hope and endurance for people of all faiths.



February 13th:

Check out these resources on the experiences and contributions of African American Muslims in history from Islamic Network Group. (Islamic Networks Group (ING) is a peace-building organization providing face-to-face education and engagement opportunities that foster understanding of Muslims and other misunderstood groups to promote harmony among all people.)




Enslaved African Muslims in the United States –  Sylviane Diouf

Play video


Experiences and Contributions of African American Muslims in History –  Imam Faheem Shuaibe

Play video


January Newsletter: Interfaith Spring Symposium and more…

Dear Friends of the Interfaith Institute,

I am so pleased to be starting off our new year with you! We are excited to bring programming to you that continues to co-create a more caring world, build community, and foster collaboration. Our theme for this year and much of our programming is “Interfaith Leadership and Healing in Times of Crises.” We believe that this year presents challenges for us all and also promises the ability to work together to solve issues we face.

Augsburg, deeply rooted in the Lutheran faith to serve and practice hospitality, continues to offer the world a beautiful example of how to build connections across diversity. It is in fact, our differences that animate our collective strength. Coming together in fellowship to learn about each other’s worldviews and traditions allows us to dull sources of fear, open threads of conversation, and build a relational ethic of care.

We are also planning programs on timely issues involving recovery and faith communities and leaders. Our Institute staff is working closely with campus partners to offer programming to faculty, staff, and students in various sessions across campus in 2023.

Campus-wide highlights include:

Interfaith Scholars course, January 19th, 2023.
  • Interfaith Lunch and Learns geared toward students, faculty, and staff learning about each other’s traditions (January – April).
  • Presenting to a retired group of Augsburg faculty and staff on Interfaith topics (January 11th).
  • Participating in Augsburg’s annual Leadership Institute, a campus-wide training day for Augsburg student leaders, by teaching a workshop on Interfaith Advocacy Skills (January 21st).
  • Focus Campus-wide Conversation topics of Interfaith (Feb 9th).
  • Interfaith Sending is student-led worship showcasing Interfaith Scholars coursework and leadership skills and celebrating Augsburg’s religious diversity (April 25th).
  • Collaboration with Augsburg’s Sabo Center, to host a dinner bringing neighborhood faith communities and Augsburg staff together for a meal. This will be a chance to deepen relationships with the broader Cedar-Riverside community, as well as an opportunity for neighbors of different faiths to learn more about each other.
  • Interfaith in the Workplace. We trained over 300 employees in one of the largest construction companies in the country on how to navigate religious diversity. We look forward to continuing to offer these highly impactful sessions with other workplace sites across the country.

Interfaith Scholars Course Topics for the spring: Sacred Texts, Interfaith Leadership, Interfaith Peacebuilding Skills, Faith and Intersectional Identities, Interfaith Activism, Interfaith on College Campuses, Interfaith Leadership in Non-religious settings (ongoing).


Upcoming 2023 Events

Najeeba speaks at Interfaith Fall Dinner, Dec 8, 2023.

I am delighted to share the Inaugural Interfaith Symposium – March 2, 11:00 am CT

We are so excited to announce our first Annual Interfaith Symposium. This signature event will be hosted each March. The goal is to bring the best minds and practitioners from around the globe to our campus. Najeeba Syed will be sharing a lecture on our 2023 theme, interfaith leadership, and healing in times of crisis.

We look forward to making this an annual tradition and hope you will be a part of it!




With warmest personal greetings in this new year,

Najeeba Syeed

El-Hibri Endowed Chair and Executive Director

Augsburg’s Interfaith Institute


Reflection on Winter Solstice

Gratitude for the Darkness

Reflection by Jane Ulring, Managing Director of the Interfaith Institute.

In November of my second year in seminary, my health began to gradually deteriorate. The doctors couldn’t decipher my symptoms, and I was left to muddle through three years of fear and discomfort. There’s one evening from the worst Winter of my illness that stands out in my memory. Searching for comfort, I attended a candlelight Advent vespers service. As worship concluded, the pastor prompted us to share what we were grateful for as we anticipated Christmas. My spirit was not in a space of gratitude that night. I was hurting and weary and didn’t want to give thanks. But as I sat there in the dim candlelight some thoughts flickered forth: I was grateful for the gentle, intimate privacy the darkness of vespers provided while I was so raw and unwell. And I was grateful the service was at 6:00 pm, before I was too tired to go out. And then I realized, for the first time in my life, I was grateful for winter’s early nightfall.

I kept pondering these small gratitudes long after worship finished. Growing up, I always found Winter’s short days to be a nuisance. But now, I began to wonder if there was a wisdom dwelling within Winter’s long nights, and if I had, until now, failed to understand Winter’s role in the balance of things. These thoughts returned the next day when, feeling worse than the previous day, I woke from a late afternoon nap relieved to see the sun was setting; inviting me to curl up and go back to sleep.

So, I began learning about seasons and creation, curious about what I had failed to understand about the natural world. I sought out eco-theologies that celebrated Earth’s gifts and learned more about local ecosystems and environmental movements. Two books, in particular, helped me grow: Earth-Honoring Faith by Larry Rasmussen and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. These authors taught me the Earth is a complex sacred being, with wisdom to share if I learned the languages of trees, plants, waters, and seasons. This animated way of interacting with the world was different from the Christian example I grew up with. I was taught to think about nature as something passive I had dominion over, not a living being to learn from, grow with, and mutually care for.

I now relate to Winter as a sacred teacher of rest; her long nights hospitably offer me the gift of respite essential to life’s flourishing. I’ve often made negative associations with the darkness accompanying Winter’s short days. I connect darkness with endings and death and lack. But reframing Winter’s darkness as a holy invitation to rest, has helped me see new attributes. Winter’s teachings have helped me discover darkness is a source of beginnings, revitalization, and life. For instance, in scripture creation begins in darkness, a formless void. And the darkness of sacred text, home to the first act of creation, is echoed in our ecosystems today. Life begins in wombs and beneath the soil where there is no light.

Reframing the meaning of Winter’s long, dark nights inspired me to incorporate Winter Solstice into my faith practice. It is a holy day that reminds me of the fundamental relationship darkness has with rest, and with acts of creation and new beginnings. The Solstice occurs on the longest night of the year and marks the transition from night growing longer to night growing shorter. It is the apex of a natural cycle of contraction, when days shorten and lengthening evenings invite me and all living beings into a season of rejuvenating rest. It’s a time to conserve our energy, a time to reflect, a time to heal. Solstice also marks the moment this natural cycle of contraction transitions into expansion again. The days stretch gradually longer on the other side of Solstice and invite me to gather the lessons I’ve learned from a period of reflection, anticipate how the energy I’ve stored will inspire me to grow, and imagine what I’m called to create now that I am restored by darkness.

It is a holy day that reminds me of the fundamental relationship darkness has with rest, and with acts of creation and new beginnings.

I rarely get to experience the fullness of Winter’s gifts because the patterns of my lifestyle, society really, rarely slow down the way Winter would advise. My workday remains on a 9 to 5 schedule, and I often fill my evenings with additional activities, like going to the gym, or gathering with friends. And as Winter’s nights grow longer, I still generally gripe about the shortening days. However, there is an invitation I now know I’m ignoring when I whine about winter’s supposed gloom; a sacred call from the darkness to slow down, to shed responsibilities, reflect, and restore.

Regardless, when Winter Solstice rolls around I remember the holy shadows of that evening vespers service. I remember how exhausted and vulnerable and lonely I was, and how Winter’s shroud felt so stabilizing and relaxing. As I anticipate Solstice this year, I remain thankful for Winter’s wise and resounding invitation to the sacred practice of rest as part of creation.


The Northern Hemisphere Winter Solstice is December 21.
This article was originally published in December 2021.

Give to the Max: A Message from Executive Director Najeeba Syeed

Dear Friends of the Interfaith Institute,

Since my first day on August 1st, I have already hit the ground running and I would like to share a glimpse of the Institute’s exciting work with you.

Augsburg's Muslim Student Association leaders with Karim El-Hibri, Nancy El-Hibri and Najeeba Syeed.
Augsburg’s Muslim Student Association leaders with Karim El-Hibri, Nancy El-Hibri and Najeeba Syeed

This October, by vote of the full faculty and then Board of Regents, I was incredibly honored to be appointed to the rank of Full Professor, with tenure and a university wide appointment which means I can work with all departments across campus. This demonstrates Augsburg’s commitment to the success of the Institute at all levels. We were so blessed to have Nancy and Karim E-Hibri visit us on campus this semester and inspire our students in so many ways. We are thankful for their involvement and support.

As our team works to build the Institute, we are focused on three elements of interfaith transformational work: Care, Community, and Collaboration.

Our goal is to build on spiritual ethics of care within and across traditions of community to expand our collective capacity for compassion. We know we can only do this by creating intentional communities that bring us together, closer, and connected with a purpose for solving dire issues of our time. Ultimately, we want to collaborate in innovative ways to be the peacebuilders who are celebrated in so many holy scriptures and sacred teachings.

Najeeba and presenters at the National Spirituality in Education event.
Najeeba and presenters at the National Spirituality in Education event at Columbia University in New York on October 22.

This semester, we have already participated in seven public events. Some examples include:

Giving a keynote on how to educate children K-12 in peace and environmental ethics  for the National Conference on Spirituality in Education at Columbia University.
Lecturing on care and community which will reach tens of thousands at the Annual Festival of Faiths, one of the largest annual interfaith events in the country.
Presenting research on addressing mass incarceration from an interfaith perspective, using a restorative justice lens at a conference in Pasadena sponsored by Fuller Seminary and Interfaith America.

We have also been deeply involved with campus based programming, offering a well attended chapel session on interfaith vocation, guest lecturing in religion and communications courses on Augsburg’s campus, and continuing the Interfaith Scholars course which 12 campus leaders from diverse communities attend. We look forward to expanding campus based programming in collaboration with academic departments, campus ministries, student organizations, and off campus community partners.

This year, we have prioritized the current opioid crisis as a programmatic issue building on the programming done by our Institute and campus partners last year, led by Fardosa Hassan on our staff. This is the focus of our academic research and intervention. We have been convening campus partners to address the issue and to build an interfaith framing to expand faith leaders’ capacity to help stem a crisis which has cost more than 100,000 lives across the country and especially concentrated in communities who face other barriers. Our Institute will be publishing best practices and offering public educational programming  that can be utilized nationally for communities who are experiencing parallel addiction crises impacting youth and young people.

We can only be successful if we partner with you, to see a world where people care more, build stronger communities and collaborate to end conditions of despair and violence.

We hope you will consider supporting our work for Give to the Max Day going through Thursday, November 17.

Blessed are the peace makers!

With love and peace,
Najeeba Syeed

Perspectives on the Opioid Crisis in the East African Community: Part 2

Interfaith at Augsburg and the Muslim Student Association present:

“Perspectives on the Opioid Crisis in the East African Community: Part 2”

March 23, 2022 at 4:00 pm Central Time on Zoom


The East African community in the Twin Cities is experiencing a crisis of opioid addiction touching the lives of youth, young adults, and their families in our community. Two community leaders will share their perspectives and how they have responded to the crisis.

Mimi Sahlu – Mimi Sahlu is a small business owner. She is a community leader who helps others find resources. She is an activist and voice for East African women.

Abdirahman Mukhtar Abdirahman Mukhtar worked with the Confederation of Somali Communities in Minnesota, as a youth diversion coordinator and as the youth program manager at the Brian Coyle Center of Pillsbury United Communities, a hub for Somali immigrants. He strives to make a human connection with youth who are homeless, often alienated from their own community. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Daryeel Youth. DARYEEL (which means “care” in Somali) is a volunteer-based Street Outreach effort to support East African youth.

Register in advance for this webinar:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Interfaith at Augsburg and the Muslim Student Association thank the Batalden Ethics Grant Program at Augsburg for sponsoring this event.

Welcome to Chris Stedman as the Inter-Religious Resource Coordinator

Interfaith at Augsburg is pleased to announce that Chris Stedman ’08 will serve as Inter-Religious Resource Coordinator for the upcoming year. In this position, Chris will help Interfaith at Augsburg: An Institute to Promote Interreligious Learning and Leadership position itself to enhance interfaith leadership on campus and nationally, a goal identified in the Augsburg 150 strategic plan. His work will include the creation of teaching modules on “interreligious knowledge, skills, and leadership” that can be used in courses such as Augsburg’s professional graduate degree programs. He also will assist in strengthening Augsburg’s Interfaith Ally training. 

Chris is not new to the Augsburg community. In addition to being an alumnus, he has served in a number of capacities since 2016, when he joined Augsburg’s Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship as a fellow. Following his time at the Sabo Center, Chris served for two years as an interfaith fellow at Augsburg. Last year, he joined the Department of Religion and Philosophy as an instructor, where he teaches multiple sections of Religion 200.

Outside of his work at Augsburg, Chris is a nationally-recognized writer, speaker, and activist. He is the author of 2020’s IRL (“Essential.” —The AV Club) and 2012’s Faitheist (“Exciting and boundary defying.” —Houston Chronicle). Chris has also written for publications including The Guardian, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post. Most recently, his narrative podcast Unread (“Best Podcasts of 2021.” —Vulture) was released in June. It quickly found an audience around the world, including in Canada, where it hit number one on Apple Podcasts’s Society & Culture chart just a month after its premiere. Previously the founding director of the Yale Humanist Community and a fellow at Yale University, Chris also served as a humanist chaplain at Harvard University and a trainer and content developer for the Interfaith Youth Core. In recognition of his groundbreaking leadership in interfaith activism and humanist community building, Augsburg selected Chris for their annual First Decade Award in 2018.

Perspectives on the Opioid Crisis in the Somali Community


Thursday, September 30 at 4-5 pm

Webinar format hosted by Augsburg University Events

Event sponsored by Interfaith at Augsburg and Muslim Student Association with thanks to the Batalden Ethics Grant


Please join us for a panel discussion with:

Imam Abdisalam Adam, Assistant Principal of Highland High School in St. Paul, member of the Fridley School Board; former Augsburg Interfaith Fellow

Cadnaan Deeq, former Augsburg student

Farhia Budul, CPRS, CPP, FPRS, Executive Director, Niyyah Recovery Initiative 

Niyyah Recovery Initiative (NRI) is the first Recovery Community Organization in the nation to provide culturally responsive peer recovery support, education, awareness and advocacy in the East African immigrant, refugee, and Muslim population in Minnesota. 


At a time when the local Somali community is facing a crisis of opioid addiction, we will hear the perspectives of a community leader and educator, an expert in culturally responsive peer recovery support, and a student. In addition to learning more about the crisis we will focus on ways religious communities, health care providers and Augsburg are responding and might collaborate in the future. There will be time for questions from participants. 


Register in advance for this webinar:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.



Discerning our Moral Commitments Together: A Multifaith Conversation on Racial Justice and Human Dignity

Minnesota Multifaith Network (MnMN) is offering an interfaith convening called, “Discerning our Moral Commitments Together: A Multifaith Conversation on Racial Justice and Human Dignity” on Thursday, June 17, 2021, from 11:00am to 1:00pm CDT. Held online, all faith leaders, interfaith organization leadership and volunteers, people of all faith backgrounds, those of no faith commitments, and everyone committed to the flourishing of all communities in Minnesota are invited to participate in a deep conversation about our shared moral commitments as we grapple with all the ways the pandemic and oppression is causing harm. Speakers and small group circles will help build connections for justice and contribute to deepening a growing multifaith network in Minnesota. Tickets are $10 each with a 50% discount for MnMN members. To become a member, visit MnMN’s website at and click “Membership.” Contact with questions.

The Intersection of Religion and Science: A Conversation with Aisha Mohamed ’16

Date: March 2, 2021

Time: 4:00 – 5:00 pm

Zoom Webinar


You are invited to hear Aisha Mohamed ’16 explore the intersection of of religion and science as she shares her own experience of being a Muslim and a biology major at Augsburg. While at Augsburg she was active in MSA and was an Interfaith Scholar and now is a second year student at University of Minnesota Medical School. Aisha will explore ethical questions raised by the advances in science such as organ donation and stem cell research. Awareness of these ethical questions can create strong leaders in scientific and other fields while holding deep connection to their faith. Following Aisha’s presentation, two Augsburg students will give their responses and there will be time for questions from the audience.

Sponsored by:  Interfaith Institute, MSA, and Stem Peer Mentorship and supported by a Bataldan Ethics Grant.

The recorded Webinar is available on YouTube.

Neighbors Together in a Divided Nation: An Inter-religious Conversation

Date: January 26, 2021

Time: 4:00- 5:00 pm CST

Format: Zoom Webinar

Now available on YouTube.


The Augsburg University Interfaith Institute invites students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of ELCA Colleges and Universities (NECU) to join in reflecting upon how various religious and secular traditions call for our engagement in loving and serving the neighbor, working for healing, justice, peace and mercy, and the care of creation in a divided and often distrustful nation and world.


Farhan Latif, President of the El-Hibri Foundation, will moderate a conversation with:

  • Imam Makram El-Amin, Masjid An-Nur in Minneapolis
  • Professor Lori Brandt Hale, chair of Augsburg University’s Department of Religion and Philosophy
  • Rabbi Rabbi Arielle LeKach-Rosenberg, Assistant Rabbi, Shir Tikvah Congregation in Minneapolis

Following the presentations we will hear from student respondents, and there will be time for questions and conversation.


The recorded webinar is available on the Campus Ministry YouTube Channel.

About our presenters:

Farhan Latif is a philanthropic leader, social entrepreneur and cross sector mobilizer on minority inclusion.  His work is inspired by democratic values and universal norms shared by faith traditions and his leadership has challenged global extremism and ideologically motivated hate.  He is the President of the El-Hibri Foundation, focused on cross sector approaches to foster inclusion across religious and political divides. His work focuses on investing in Muslim leaders in partnership with allies to build capacity and resilience.

Imam Makram El-Amin has worked for  more than two decades as a religious and community leader, firmly rooted in the principle of our inherent human dignity. In addition to his weekly teaching duties, Imam El-Amin leads Al Maa’uun (Neighborly Needs) Community Outreach Services ( that addresses food insecurity, affordable housing, career services, and mentoring. A student of the late religious leader and scholar Imam W. Deen Mohammed, his thoughtful and moderate approach to Islam has afforded Imam El-Amin opportunities to share the stage with Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. He was a delegate to a historic interfaith event in Rome with Pope John Paul II and member of an interfaith clergy delegation to the Holy Land.

Lori Brandt Hale is Professor and Chair of Religion and Philosophy at Augsburg University, where she has taught since 1998. She holds degrees from the University of Iowa, the University of Chicago Divinity School, and the University of Virginia. Brandt Hale has devoted her academic career both to teaching and to studying the life and legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Rabbi Arielle LeKach-Rosenberg serves as Assistant Rabbi, with a focus on music, prayer and activism.  She was ordained by the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in June 2017.  She spent her final two years of rabbinical school working as a full-time rabbinic fellow at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City, where she developed innovative initiatives for people of all ages and backgrounds to deepen their relationship with prayer, music and spiritual practice.