by Omer Awan, M.D., ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellow

Having studied Comparative Religion as my major in undergraduate studies at George Washington University, I have always had a profound respect and appreciation for all religions, particularly the monotheistic faiths. However, I have never interacted with the other faiths as intimately as I have this last year through ICJS’s Congregational Leaders Fellowship. This experience has had an enormous impact on me as a Muslim, a student of religion, a citizen, an American, and a father.

This fellowship gave me the opportunity to really build bridges and meaningful relationships with fellow Jewish and Christian citizens. Through regular monthly virtual meetings, I got to hear firsthand views on common themes such as dignity, respect, spirituality, the Divine presence, and social justice; and how they fit into the various understandings of different faiths. This dialogue left a permanent imprint on my soul, and fostered a deeper understanding of the common ground that all three monotheistic traditions share with respect to the integrity of the human spirit, with man’s role as vicegerent on this Earth.

These relationships of community, brotherhood, sisterhood, and understanding are so central to develop given all the political, social, and racial turmoil that has plagued America in the last year or so. Through dialogue and mutual understanding, we come to realize the true value of religion, and the common themes of humanity, love, and dignity that permeate all religious traditions. This fellowship could not be more relevant than in the confusing times we find ourselves in.

Specifically, having had the chance to participate in a Jewish congregational activity was very instructive for me as a Muslim. I learned quickly how devoted the congregation was to their love of God. Just by listening and observing, I saw the outpouring of love they all showed to each other and me during the service. This was reminiscent of Islamic services that we offer at our congregation as part of the Islamic Society of Northern Baltimore.

I am also excited to be working with Chevrei Tzedek on a community outreach project serving food to the needy population of veterans at The Baltimore Station. This project has fostered a mutual understanding of love, respect, and community between two different congregations coming together for the sole purpose to serve others, which is such a central and pivotal dimension of all religious traditions. These bonds and ties have been created in the name of this fellowship, and for that, I am forever grateful.

I am most grateful for the relationships and friendships I have created through this fellowship, people I likely would not have ever met otherwise. I text and email with many in this fellowship, and I hope and pray these relationships develop and flourish in the future with many more meaningful collaborations where we can serve others and the communities we live in together. Creating a culture and environment of understanding, friendship, and fraternity is the true essence of this fellowship. Thank you ICJS for a memorable experience that I hope will grow for many years to come!

The ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship is a year long fellowship designed to connect local congregations from within the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith communities and expand their capacity for interreligious engagement and leadership. Throughout the year cohort members will offer reflections on interreligious leadership. Each contributor represents their own views and opinions. We welcome this diversity of perspectives and seek to foster dialogue around the topics presented.

Dr. Omer Awan is an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a congregant of the Islamic Society of Northern Baltimore, and a member of the 2021 ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship. Learn more about our Congregational Leaders programs…