My Experience as an Interfaith Fellow (in a nutshell) – Niha Shamsi

I still remember the knots that I had in my stomach when I entered the Curti Lounge for our first meeting as interfaith fellows in the beginning of the school year. As someone who was struggling to seek and define her faith for herself in an increasingly secular world, I was nervous and unsure of where I would fit in in this fellowship. Even after our first meeting, I recall meeting with Ulrich afterwards and communicating my concerns about not being able to contribute as much as the other fellows, especially because I still had a lot of unanswered questions myself regarding my own faith and background. However, after some reassurance from Ulrich that I was meant to be in this fellowship, I can wholeheartedly say that I am glad I made the decision to stick around.

Being in this fellowship has provided countless worthwhile experiences. From engaging in deep discussions about our core beliefs, to receiving the opportunity to visit religious sites that I have not been to before, this year has been a whirlwind and it has greatly expanded my outlook on the necessity of interfaith dialogue. I am so grateful for receiving the opportunity to meet so many inspiring individuals who have come together to share their stories and promote religious and spiritual diversity. In a world where, most often, the emphasis is placed on highlighting differences in a negative manner, this group is ever-so imperative in discovering that differences aren’t always a bad thing. By forcing me to step out of my comfort zone and open up about things that I never would have been able to do before (such as my personal connection with my hijab and my journey towards rediscovering my faith) with a group of students that I just met this year, this fellowship has allowed me to grow and deepen my bond not only with my own faith, but with faiths I had little prior knowledge about. 

One critical thing that I learned this year is that this fellowship is truly what you make of it. Unfortunately, for me, I did not make this realization until this pandemic forced us all to come together in a way that we have not done so before: virtually. For some reason, even though we have not been able to see each other in person for the past couple of weeks now, I have genuinely not felt as close to the fellows as I do now. Something about all of us being stripped from our normal environments and having to adapt to sudden and scary changes has led me to appreciate being part of this wonderful community even more. This pandemic has certainly opened my eyes to how beneficial and comforting it is to have a group like this during these times of uncertainty.

For those that are hesitant about taking a leap of faith (no pun intended) and immersing yourself in sometimes difficult and introspective conversations about your beliefs, please don’t be. My year of being an interfaith fellow has made me realize that I am not the only one who is still in the process of figuring themselves out, and that it’s completely okay to be uncertain about some of your personal beliefs. Sharing my experiences with fellow peers, who were facing similar struggles themselves, has provided me with a sense of comfort in knowing that we are all still navigating our journey towards self-discovery. The world needs more interfaith discussion, now more so than ever, and even if you still haven’t completely “found yourself” yet, your voice is more powerful than you think. This fellowship has provided me with the framework needed to further cultivate a spirit of inquisitiveness regarding interfaith dialogue and learning about those around me on a more substantial level. I look forward to going out in the world with the knowledge that I have acquired from my peers and cultivating the spread of religious and spiritual literacy not only on this campus, but in my future endeavors as well.