Learning to thrive in the growing pains

Guest Contributor

The following is a guest post to the Imagining Justice in Baltimore Huffington Post blog by Mahnoor Ahmed, the Associate Director for Student Development and Diversity at Towson University. It was originally published on The Huffington Post on May 10, 2017.

Each contributor represents her or his own opinion. We welcome this diversity of perspective and are not seeking a single definition of justice between traditions, nor denying the multivocal nature of justice within traditions. The long-term goal of the Imagining Justice in Baltimore initiative is to create a model of interreligious learning and dialogue around differences that demonstrates how a robust commitment to religious pluralism can shape public life.

Ahmed provides mentoring, advising, and leadership training for all students, with a focus on supporting the Women’s Resources program and the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Development program. Previously, she was the Assistant Director of Diversity and Intercultural Development at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Ahmed holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Bryn Mawr College and a M.S. in Educational Leadership from Towson University.


“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” That is what Cornel West says. In public, and also in motion. Always in motion. After all, allyship is a verb, not a noun. Islam also teaches us that our liberties are tied to each other. After all, “none of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” (Hadith)

As I’ve spent a year parsing this out as an Imagining Justice in Baltimore (IJB) Community Leader, sometimes I’ve been left wary and wearied. My distaste for some manifestations of organized religion is often at odds with how much my spiritual and moral compass are intertwined. Still, I have to admit that before this dialogue series, I hadn’t really paused to intentionally intellectualize this part of my identity.

I began to examine my lens for justice, and how it is motivated by my understanding of religion. As a result of this examination, I’ve pondered the relationship between my spiritual identity and choice of profession in a way I haven’t considered before, at least not publicly. Given that it is generally impolite to reference religion and politics in most professional settings, this erasure cuts deep. So deep in fact that it transgresses into the personal and normalizes.

As a professional in a student affairs community, my revelations of religious identity have led to both credibility and apprehension. I am often trying to strike a balance between my vulnerability, personal identities, and the place where I am most effective as a resource for all students. I must clarify here that I can be (most of) myself, (much of) when I am engaged in my work. This is certainly not true of all the spaces I move through. It is more a testament to the unique generosity and courage of those that I work most closely with.

In my work, our mission is to broaden the concept of inclusion to evolve from just multicultural support services to comprehensive social justice. It is not simple. This idea of justice. This radical idea of justice for all. It is nuanced; the ability to dialogue, empathize and advocate across difference without compromising your beliefs or negotiating your values. It is emphasizing that we need not just endure the challenges, but thrive in the growing pains.

As learners in the IJB series, we have had the opportunity to read and reflect on different faith leaders. Their impressions of justice in their religious traditions are strikingly similar to the nuanced and messy expectations of justice held in many activist, educational circles. The inspiration for these journeys might be very different, but both seem to arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the struggle for justice cannot be reduced to just a matter of one form of equality.

As I’ve drawn connections between my personal and professional intersecting identities, it has become easier to connect these seemingly connected dots. There is a reminder that my understanding of my faith and liberty is intricately linked to my understanding of compassion for strangers. And that it is my faith that compels me to believe that we must hold space to be accountable for justice in public.


The city of Baltimore is part of a national conversation around questions of justice, race and community. At this pivotal moment in our city’s history, indeed our nation’s history, the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies highlights the continued importance of bringing diverse religious perspectives to address civic and social challenges. In the initiative Imagining Justice in Baltimore the ICJS will contribute the perspectives of local Jews, Christians and Muslims to the public conversation about justice, and injustice, in Baltimore. Each contributor represents her or his own opinion. We welcome this diversity of perspective and are not seeking a single definition of justice between traditions, nor denying the multivocal nature of justice within traditions. The long-term goal of the Imagining Justice in Baltimore initiative is to create a model of interreligious learning and dialogue around differences that demonstrates how a robust commitment to religious pluralism can shape public life.

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