Interfaith Dinner Fosters Unity Between Cultures

Sister Sanaa Nadim and Dean of Students Timothy Ecklund talk about unity at the Thanksgiving meal

By Andrew Goldstein and Michael Kohut

A ballroom full of peoples that are seldom seen together en masse sing out to each other. “Come to the feast of heaven and earth! Come to the table of plenty! God will provide, for all that we need, here at the table of plenty.” The scent of food wafts through the air as students and faculty of multiple cultures and creeds celebrate coming together at Stony Brook University’s 29th Interfaith Thanksgiving Dinner.

For many, especially the university’s Muslim students, the event was an important reminder of unity and gave a sense of normality after Donald Trump, a candidate with an exacerbated anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric, was elected as president of the United States.

“The day of the election I was really scared, I felt so afraid I couldn’t even get out of bed the next morning,” Sana Ahmad, a junior health science major at Stony Brook, said. Sana wears a hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering. “I’m coming to terms with it now, mostly because I think it’s important to be there to support my friends and family, and to show that we’re not scared.”

Five different chaplaincies and member associations joined to support one another. Baptists, Catholics, Jews, Protestants and Muslims were all in attendance and each participated in the other’s expressions of faith. The Christians said Muslim prayers and the Muslims sang hymns. They ate the traditional turkey, corn and mashed potatoes together – foods that were not native to the history of any of the organizations at the event.

“At this time there are a lot of people who feel frightened for their future,” Tahiana Abad, a sophomore health science major, said. “To have events like this, events that make people feel safe and like everything is going to be okay, is one of the most important things a campus or community can do.”

For sister Sanaa Nadim, Chaplain of Stony Brook’s Muslim Student Association, the path to healing comes through forgiveness. “Tonight when I spoke I quoted Abraham Lincoln because I think the path to unity comes from believing it’s possible, especially in light of recent events with the election.”

“It was interesting to see cultures come together especially in our current political climate,” Joseph Wolkin, vice president of the Stony Brook Hillel, said.

It’s just so nice to get everyone together because everyone is grateful for what they have, especially with all of the craziness over the past week with the elections,” Joanne Buonocore, Catholic Campus Minister at Stony Brook University, said. “We’re not living in fear. We can believe differently and still coexist together.”

“Thanksgiving is a great, broad Holiday everyone can take part in,” Rabbi Joseph Topek, director of the Stony Brook Hillel and Interfaith Center Chairperson, said. “Almost all religions have a concept of giving thanks and coming together for a such an American holiday really fosters coexistence.”

The election of Trump comes at a time when about half of Democrats and Republicans say the opposing party makes the feel afraid, angry or frustrated, according to a poll released June 22nd by the pew research center.