Fall season is about in Albany. Leaves are turning; the air is getting crisper. September marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar, commonly known as the Hijri calendar. The excitement of a new year has come intertwined with the unique beauty of autumn.

New Year’s celebrations among the Muslim community are somewhat unique in that there is ample emphasis on prayer, some families observe fasting during the first 10 days of the year with additional observances of rituals on the 9th and 10th of Muharram (the first month of the Hijri calendar).

Being part of a vibrant college town and working as an administrator at an institution of higher learning prompts its own set of reflections during this time. What values am I modeling, what values am I teaching? Is my work effective enough? Am I cultivating the kind of community that would nurture not just mine, but all future generations?

It is with these thoughts that I started working with colleagues and community members on developing a local chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom — an interfaith effort to bring women from two Abrahamic traditions together in solidarity.

The opportunity is actually a gift — one that was not available to many when we were growing up because the walls of religious differences were too high to breech. My native Pakistan has a 95 percent Muslim majority. Such strength in numbers meant growing up with a sense of privilege and entitlement that permitted us to live a life almost completely oblivious of the remaining 5 percent. 

My mind raises many questions around that. How and when did we decide that our differences are so enormous that we do not "need" each other? I can only be grateful that being part of an immigrant community has opened up new avenues for finding similarities where differences have always ruled and conquered.

The motivation to pursue love, connection and sisterhood is everywhere. News article after news article illustrates how divided our nation is. Racial tensions are at their worst. We are regressing as a species; becoming less kind, hurtful and oblivious to the well-being of our young.

I feel compelled to do my part in ending that pattern. My skin color, my accent, my identity as an immigrant and most frequently my faith has often prompted a response that at times feels soul-crushing. However, this is the time to be resilient. This is exactly the kind of environment where community building needs to go beyond the "known" and "familiar." Politics has divided us all; I am hoping faith can bridge that gulf.

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My new year’s resolution is simple. May we embrace change, may our hearts be guided towards forgiveness and coexistence but above all: May we leave the kind of legacy our children are proud of inheriting.

My family belongs to a thriving community of Muslims at the Corvallis Mosque. I often notice women from other faiths sitting behind rows of worshipers, just observing us in silence. I want to take that same reverence to another community of faith and build a connection with them that is careful, intentional and informed.

Our first meeting occurred this week. About 10 women, representing both faith groups, gathered and discussed how best to be in community. Learning from the rich histories and traditions coming from each faith group, we hope to expand this effort. Perhaps this would be the beginning of other new alliances and connections. No better way to start the new year but with hope.

Dr. Amarah Khan is the associate director for Global Diversity Initiatives in the Division of Student Affairs at Oregon State University. An anthropologist by training, she has been a member of the OSU community since 2009. Prior to arriving in Corvallis, she worked for about a decade as a humanitarian aid worker with various organizations across South Asia and the United States. A native of Pakistan, she specializes in gender issues in international development and works to advance cultural competence on campus by sharing stories of learning in various cultural settings.  She lives in Albany.

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