Graduation is always an exciting time in Claremont, and this year’s ceremony was no exception. There are always up-lifting stories that emerge at this time of year – such as the bus load of parishioners from Central City Community Church on skid row who came to see their pastor graduate. But this year’s most remarkable story (at least in my mind) was one that began as a private conversation and culminated in a very public conclusion.
This year’s commencement included what we believe is the school’s first Muslim graduate. Out of honor and respect for her achievement, we invited Imam Jihad Turk, religious director of the Islamic Center of Southern California, to give the opening prayer for the event. (This is a photo of me with Imam Turk and Dean Susan Nelson.)
Before the ceremony, as we lined up to process into the ceremony, he expressed his gratitude for being invited to Claremont and asked if it would be appropriate for him to chant the prayer in Arabic before reading it in English. This is the way it is done in his tradition, he explained, but did not want to risk offending the graduates or their families with an unfamiliar practice.
As Claremont continues its transformation into a multi-religious university, the opportunity to experience and be impacted by those beyond the Christian tradition will be increasingly important. So I did not hesitate to welcome his request.
When the procession concluded, and the graduates settled into their seats, Imam Turk rose in front of Kresge Chapel and chanted the first surah (chapter) of the Qur'an. His intonations soared through the crisp morning air, and a peaceful silence fell on the crowd.
In English, the surah reads, in part:
Guide us along the straight path, the path of those upon whom You have bestowed Your blessings, not the path of those upon whom is anger, not the path of those who have gone astray.There is little doubt in my mind that our graduates – be they Christian clergy or secular scholars – have much to learn from the wisdom of great traditions beyond the Judeo-Christian .
Experiences such as these reiterate the vibrancy and imminent imperative of Claremont’s mission to be a place for people of diverse beliefs and background to study together. We have much to learn from each other, and Claremont is posed to help lead the way.