Mary E. Graham, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Sport Management, has been named Falk College associate dean of faculty affairs effective Jan. 2, 2024. This newly created leadership position reports to Falk College Dean Jeremy Jordan and is dedicated…
Student Assembly of Interfaith Leaders: Building Empathy and Shared Purpose at Syracuse University
Twice per month, a group of students gather in Hendricks Chapel for dinner and meaningful interfaith conversation. From Muslim to Christian, Hindu to Jewish, and many others in between, these students who make up the Student Assembly of Interfaith Leaders (SAIL) gather to learn and listen. Their mission is to deepen their understanding of each other’s faiths, as this knowledge is the foundation for building bridges of unity, empathy and shared purpose. The group chooses various discussion topics throughout the semester, including themes like lunar and solar calendars, holidays, symbolism, food, sacred texts, religious tools and altars, myths, core values and more.
To develop a foundation for the current academic year, SAIL chose the recent introductory topic of fostering mutual familiarity. “We aim to be in the process of promoting understanding, respecting and building knowledge between individuals and groups of different religious backgrounds,” says Mian Muhammad Abdul Hamid ’25, convener of the group and a student in the School of Information Studies. “We embark on this journey of discovery and mutual respect. Please come prepared to share, listen, and learn from one another’s faith experiences. Together, we will continue to build bridges that connect us in the spirit of harmony.”
Hamid, a leader in the Muslim Student Association (MSA), credits his fellow SAIL member Ren Morton with the introductory topic of fostering mutual familiarity. Morton is pursuing a Ph.D. in social science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She is a co-leader for Syracuse University’s Pagan Association. Hamid was concerned that the students would be afraid to share their beliefs and opinions, so he was grateful to see that multiple students spoke up repeatedly and were excited to learn and share their own traditions. “By introducing this topic, students will be able to be aware of different faiths, and we can later jump into deeper topics and gain a better understanding of one another’s faith,” says Hamid.
Morton is a Ph.D. graduate student and the only parent in the group. She feels that creating a safe space is important and she hopes that the group will continue to connect SAIL members, especially when there are global concerns. “I believe strongly in the axiom that there is more that unites us than divides us. Familiarity and friendship, practicing respect for other people’s beliefs, and understanding the nature of religious conflict and religious trauma can go a long way in de-escalating tensions. Tensions can be from the past, in the present, or may arise in the future,” said Morton. “It is my hope that all those who participate in SAIL will leave with more compassion and appreciation for other religions, going on to embody that appreciation in their spaces and practices.”
Those gathered at SAIL recognize how their own judgements can sometimes stunt the ability to connect with those outside of their own worldview. To this, Hamid quoted a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, Umar Ibn Al-Khattab: “We judge by what is apparent and we leave their inner secrets to Allah (God).”
With Al-Khattab’s statement and his participation in SAIL, Hamid is extra cautious because people follow different faiths for many reasons. He goes on to say, “After participating in SAIL, I am more open-minded to hearing interfaith peers and their outlook on life. I believe SAIL influenced me to not be judgmental and to be more open.”
Kayla Cuttito ’25 is one of the newest members of SAIL. Cuttito is a double major in Political Science and Environment Sustainability & Policy with minors in Geography and Policy Studies at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She is excited to be part of the group and notes, “It’s very inspiring to be part of this community of individuals who are empowered by their experiences to share their faith with others.”
Through the years of SAIL’s existence, Hendricks Chapel’s associate dean Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz has enjoyed seeing the spiritual progress and thoughtfulness of so many students. As the advisor to SAIL, Kantrowitz oversees each meeting and brings wisdom as an advisory board member for Interfaith Works of CNY. “It brings me immense joy to commune with these incredible student leaders,” she said. “We grow and grow during the meetings. I learn something new each time we meet.”
SAIL is comprised of representatives from the 25 religious and spiritual life groups of Hendricks Chapel and seek for participants to develop as interfaith leaders and to function as a student advisory committee for the dean of Hendricks Chapel, Rev. Brian Konkol. Those who are interested in participating are encouraged to connect with convener Mian Muhammad Abdul Hamid or advisor Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz to gain more information.