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Interfaith Work In The Spotlight

Interfaith Work In The SpotlightAs Tufts' first female Muslim chaplain, Shareda Hosein is committed to expanding interfaith dialogue—a goal aided by the new Interfaith Center on campus.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.09.07] As a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve with three decades of military service behind her, Shareda Hosein has served her country. Now, as Tufts' first female Muslim chaplain, she is providing a different kind of service-as a resource to Muslim students and a champion of interfaith programs.

"I was wondering, what do I want to do when I grow up?" she told The Boston Globe. "This is what I want to do: be a chaplain."

Hosein's appointment comes as Tufts celebrates the opening of its new Interfaith Center.

"At a time when so many of the world's problems can be traced to tensions between the religions of Abraham, we are looking to bring our students and their religious leaders together," Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow told the Globe. "We hope that people will learn from each other even as they study and practice their own religious traditions."

Read more about the Interfaith Center in Tufts Journal

The center, at the former location of the Catholic Center, will house the offices of Tufts' Muslim, Protestant and Catholic chaplains and be used for worship services by members of the Muslim, Hindu, Quaker, Buddhist and Baha'i faiths. It was designed with the needs of multiple faiths in mind, inspired in part by interfaith centers at other local schools.

According to the Globe, "The ground level of the approximately 6,000-square-foot building includes a meditation room, washing areas, and shoe-storage bins to accommodate Muslim worshipers," who are required to remove their shoes before prayer. "Most striking is the large common space with high cathedral ceilings and 10-foot windows that infuse the space with natural light and a sense of peace," the Globe reported.

The new center dovetails with Hosein's plans to encourage additional interfaith initiatives at Tufts. She also hopes to develop more recreational opportunities for Muslim students.

"Social activities for Muslim students are very limited, because they don't go to nightclubs or drink alcohol, and that makes them almost like a minority and excluded in a lot of activities," she told the newspaper.

Serving as an advocate for students is easy for Hosein.

"I feel comfortable with the students," she told the Globe. "I see them as my children, not that they are. And I'm a lot older than they think I am."

Hosein, who enrolled in the Army after graduating from high school at Boston Latin Academy, hopes to one day become an Army chaplain-she has a master's degree from Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. Three years ago, her bid to become the Army's first female Muslim chaplain was denied because of concerns about whether the Muslim custom of limiting female prayer leaders would limit her ability to fully complete her chaplaincy duties.

Hosein doesn't foresee this being a problem at Tufts, where male imams, or prayer leaders, come in from the community to lead weekly services. Tufts graduate student Nauman Khan told the Globe that Muslim students would feel comfortable approaching Hosein as "an older sister or mother."

The 46-year-old native of Trinidad fulfilled that role last year, serving as an adviser to the Muslim Student Association when a controversy arose with a conservative student publication.

"She was really helpful," Shirwac Mohamed, cochairman of the Muslim Student Association, told the Globe. "She came to all of our meetings. When we had a hearing [on the matter], she was there all night with us. She's basically been holding our hand throughout the year."

"She did an outstanding service to my office in building bridges between all the faith groups," the Rev. David O'Leary, university chaplain, told the newspaper.

Photos by Melody Ko, University Photographer

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