Baha'i News -- Religious groups strive for minority inclusion at U. Nebraska

Religious groups strive for minority inclusion at U. Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Editor's note: This is the fourth in an eight-part series on campus ministries and religious organizations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Brad Wolf sent a package of food to his residence hall room during spring break. Kosher food, to be exact. And all of it, he said, is a bit hard to come by in Lincoln.

But if the University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore gets his way, kosher food -- and a dose of fellowship -- might become a little easier for Jewish students to find in Lincoln.

Wolf has been trying to organize an on-campus chapter of Hillel, a worldwide student Jewish community that embraces all Judaic sects. Wolf is close to founding his group, he said, with monetary backing and faculty support from the UNL Center for Judaic Studies.

Now all he needs is students.

"The organization is not hard to get together," Wolf said. "It's just finding the Jewish students. It's not going as well as I was hoping, but I'm not giving up."

Some students, Wolf said, might feel apprehensive about acknowledging their Jewish heritage in the hometown of Gerhard Lauck, a leading neo-Nazi propagandist.

But Wolf said he wanted to provide Jewish students at UNL with a solid sense of community and the opportunity to "talk about anything," rather than be afraid.

"Basically, it's a place where Jewish students come together, regardless of how religious they are, to be acquainted with the Jewish community where they're going to school," Wolf said. "It will help Jewish students to be more well-known on campus."

Wolf said he hoped a Hillel group would honor the Jewish Sabbath and celebrations together, perhaps carpooling to local synagogues. He said he would also like to persuade grocers to carry more kosher foods.

Wolf is not alone in his crusade to connect students through common beliefs; the campus is peppered with organizations that provide unity for students with inherited and accepted beliefs, as well as those with an interest in religions.

Though not all are presented here, many student groups are making sure the voice of God is, if not heard, at least talked about.

THE UNL BAHA'I ASSOCIATION

Don't be fooled by the four members of the UNL Baha'i Association -- the little group gets a lot done.

UNL junior international business major Katie Bodie, vice president of the Baha'i Association, said the organization's mission statement centers on the ideals and principles of the Baha'i faith and sharing them with other groups on campus.

Mikhaila Schneider, a junior international studies and French major and Baha'i Association treasurer, said the Baha'i faith was founded in 1844 in Iran.

The beliefs, she said, pivot on 12 principles, much like Christian commandments.

Bodie said the association schedules speakers and conferences regularly; recently, it sponsored an interfaith panel discussion at the Nebraska Union to inform students about a variety of religions.

The group, she said, also participates in volunteer services, including a youth study circle between Lincoln and Omaha, wherein students focus on Baha'i teachings, service projects and social interaction.

"The Baha'i Association is really getting active, participating with other associations to help out and get involved," said the association's president, Neda Molai, a senior management information systems and international business major.

THE CAMPUS FREETHOUGHT ALLIANCE

UNL's Campus Freethought Alliance has a lot of questions -- and, according to president Christian Norton, that's the point.

Though primarily comprised of atheists and agnostics, Norton said the alliance is meant to be a group of "free-thinking" students who use critical thinking, reasoning and investigation to question their beliefs.

"It's important to understand what you believe and where that belief comes from, rather than saying 'someone told me,'" Norton said. "I think most people have rationales for why they believe something, but I think most people are willing to learn, be understanding about what they believe or what they don't believe."

Norton said alliance members meet at least every other week, usually at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, to discuss controversial and pertinent topics, such as abortion and faith healing.

The group sometimes holds fund-raising events for its general fund, he said; in the past, members have "sold their souls" for a few hours of hanging out and talking.

Tuesday night the organization attempted to raise money through a "Take a Skeptic to Church" program where students could volunteer to take a member to church for $5. But no bids came in.

Not discouraged, Norton said the group would carry on.

"It's open to anyone," he said. "We encourage people who have different values to come so we can get a good discussion going. We want to get people thinking about what they believe."

THE MUSLIM STUDENT ASSOCIATION

Members of the Muslim Student Association, much like those of the Campus Freethought Alliance, also deal with questions -- more specifically, answers to community questions about Islam.

The focus of the group, said Ahmed Ismail, a senior computer science and math major and past president of the organization, is to both knit together the Muslim students on campus and open up lines of communication between Muslims and non-Muslims.

"We increase bonding and friendship by several means, including having internal (activities) like lunch, celebrating special events," Ismail said. "We also want to introduce Islam to the public, and we have invented many ways in doing so."

Ismail said the association holds an annual book sale with books about Islam and other cultures -- some written in Spanish. The association also sponsors Ramadan night, where Muslim students break their day-long fasting during the holy Islamic month.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Ismail said the group organized several forums to dispel rumors about Islam and answer questions the general public might have about Islamic beliefs.

"We like to be everywhere we can and everywhere we are called to be," Ismail said. "The interest (in Islam) has been high before Sept. 11 and has increased a little bit after. We're pushing toward getting the knowledge to students.

"We reach out to those who don't know yet."

Ismail said the association was bringing in a speaker Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. to discuss the social standing of women in Islamic culture, and was planning a three-day conference next fall to examine the achievements of Muslim women in North America.

"Hopefully, we can make it a success," Ismail said. "All of us try to help the whole of the population to get an idea of what Islam's about."


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