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Chapman University forges ties with local Muslim community

Leatherby Libraries Dean Charlene Baldwin (center) and Dean of the Chapel Rev. Gail Stearns accept a Quran and a check for $5,000 from OC businessman Fareed Farukhi.

Leatherby Libraries Dean Charlene Baldwin (center) and Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel Dr. Gail Stearns accept the gift of a Quran and a check for $5,000 from Minaret Business Organization members, presented by Fareed Farukhi.

Chapman University’s Fish Interfaith Center and Leatherby Libraries are partnering in an initiative to forge closer ties with Orange County’s Muslim and Muslim-American communities — and the first evidence of that nascent partnership was on display at a recent luncheon of the
Minaret Business Organization (MBO)
held at the Interfaith Center.  Charlene Baldwin, dean of the Leatherby Libraries, and Gail Stearns, Ph.D., dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel, were surprised and delighted to receive a gift of a historical Quran that once belonged to the Prince of Jordan, along with a check for $5,000 from MBO members. Fareed Farukhi of Buena Park presented the monetary gift, from Dr. Khalid Nur and Dr. Gemma Ko, and the Quran, which was donated by Dr. Haitham Bundakji.

. MBO is an association of Muslim business people and entrepreneurs that focuses on peer-to-peer professional development, networking and support.

The gift represents the beginning of a drive to raise funds for a display case and an illuminated copy of the Quran, to match the existing display cases in the Interfaith Center created for a historical Bible, Book of Mormon and Torah. “It’s been a longtime dream of ours to have another display case to exhibit a historical Quran,” said Dr. Stearns.  “This gift will go a long way toward achieving that goal.”  The “books of the great religions” display cases in the Fish Interfaith Center — works of art created by
Los Angeles wood marquetry genius William Tunberg
— cost around $30,000 each and are funded through private donations.  (Chapman’s Interfaith Center boasts the world’s largest collection of works by Tunberg, who was also commissioned to create the altar furnishings, an interchangeable display of religious symbols, and sculptural wall art.)

This elegantly boxed and decorated Quran, presented to Chapman University by Fareed Farukhi, once belonged to the Prince of Jordan.

This elegantly boxed and decorated Quran, presented to Chapman University by Fareed Farukhi, once belonged to the Prince of Jordan.

The partnership evolved through Chapman staff member Essraa Nawar, coordinator of library development and co-chair of the events and arts committee in the Leatherby Libraries. “Last week I
presented at the National Diversity in Libraries conference
, and my
Twitter account
has been blowing up ever since with questions about all the diversity and globalization events that we have at Chapman,” Nawar told the audience. “They’re asking ‘how do you guys do all those things?  How do you carry out all these events with all the other things you do?'”   She explained that the connection between Chapman and the MBO evolved after Farukhi reached out to her and shared “his five- or six-year plan for creating a Universal Heritage Center that is basically along the lines of all the global diversity programs we have at Chapman.”

Nawar said she herself was a great example of Chapman’s commitment to global understanding: “One of my first assignments after I was hired here at the library was to curate an exhibition on Jewish heritage.  At the exhibition, one woman came over to me and said it was pretty intriguing that here I was, a Muslim woman working at a university established by the Disciples of Christ, curating a Jewish event.  And I thought, yes, that’s basically the essence of what Chapman is.”

Farukhi added that his hoped-for Universal Heritage and Research Center would be a think-tank that would bring together Muslims and members of all religions for study and mutual understanding.  “It’s kind of a vision from God – I don’t stake any claim to it,” Farukhi told the crowd.  “It’s about all of us; it’s not about one single ethnic people.  Yes, we are all of different religious natures — of different faiths and callings and backgrounds and languages. But at the end of the day, we are all one family, one humanity.  The Universal Research Center embraces our collective heritage — that richness; how do you preserve it?  I wanted to put this in front of you folks because you are the movers and shakers of this community.  Chapman has all the resources that it takes and you have amazing people here.”

Essraa Nawar of Leatherby Libraries speaks at the MBO luncheon in Fish Interfaith Center.

Essraa Nawar of Leatherby Libraries speaks at the MBO luncheon in Fish Interfaith Center.

Farukhi said he didn’t want the Center to be a “static place when you go and see relics,” but rather “a thriving and alive place that looks to the future. It’s a long-term vision, and it will cost a lot of money.  But hopefully in this audience and in the future there will be people who will step up and offer their support.”

And there are important steps to be taken in between.  The Fish Interfaith Center, for example, would like expand its staff.  “I would love to have an imam and a rabbi beside me as we serve this campus and go out into the community to represent Chapman,” said Dr. Stearns. “I always think of the military model: that we can, each one of us, serve the campus, but also work with people in our own traditions. You’ll continue to see improvements in the Interfaith Center as we progress.”

To sum up the day, all the hopeful plans, and Chapman’s commitment to bringing people of all beliefs together, Dr. Stearns cited the quote from astronaut Sultan Salman Abdulaziz Al-Saud, which is emblazoned on the pavement of Chapman’s Ambassador George L. Argyros ’59 Global Citizens Plaza: “The first day or so (looking at the Earth) we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth.”



Mary Platt

Mary Platt is director of the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University

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