In the fall of 2018, Dilnaz and Qaiser Waraich were pleased with their son’s choice to attend Butler University. He was beginning his junior year and had already made lifelong friends and built strong relationships with his professors. Driven by their Muslim faith, the Waraichs began having conversations about where their family values of giving back and promoting a greater understanding of Islam might intersect on Butler’s campus. The Waraichs viewed the authentic, lasting relationships that happen within Butler’s close-knit community as an opportunity to foster meaningful dialogue between students, faculty, staff, and the greater community.
After conversations as a family and with faculty and leadership at Butler, the family established the Muslim Studies Endowed Fund in October 2018 with the goal of supporting programming that advances understanding, mutual esteem, and cooperation for education and awareness about the Muslim faith.
“We’re way past tolerance; I don’t think we should be using that word anymore,” Dilnaz Waraich says. “There is such a misconception about Muslims in America, and we’re at the point where we really need to develop relationships. The only way you can get to those relationships is by having conversations.”
In an effort to promote more conversation, the family’s first goal for the fund was to support programming that would raise awareness about Islam at Butler and allow members of the Butler community to have exposure to Muslims from diverse walks of life. Earlier this year, the family made an additional significant gift to expand the scope of the endowment’s impact in the Butler community through support for student internships with Muslim organizations and for faculty research on Islam.
“The first thing this endowment really allowed was the regular presence of high-profile Muslim speakers on our campus, which is so important to broadening perspectives and allowing for diverse voices to be heard,” says Dr. Chad Bauman, Professor of Religion in the Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, where the endowed fund is housed.
During the 2019-2020 academic year, the Muslim Studies Endowed Fund brought three Muslim-American speakers to campus for lectures and dialogue through partnerships with the Center for Faith and Vocation, the Global and Historical Studies program, and other departments across campus. The series kicked off in October with a performance by Omar Offendum, a Los Angeles-based rapper, poet, and activist, which filled Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall and required the use of an overflow room. Along with his performance, Offendum also visited a number of classes for more in-depth dialogue and was available for one-on-one conversations during a drop-in session that was open to the Butler community.
“Many of our students don’t have a lot of exposure to Muslims and to the Islamic tradition, and the knowledge that they do have about the religion or the people is really filtered to them through the media,” says Dr. Nermeen Mouftah, an Assistant Professor of Religion and the Religion program’s specialist on Islam. “We’re trying to add complexity with programming that’s going to deal with politics, art, culture. We really want the programming to be across the spectrum so you can see all those different facets of Muslim life.”
In November, Ustadh Ubaydullah Evans, Scholar-in-Residence at the American Learning Institute for Muslims, gave a well-attended lecture titled “Islam and our Current Cultural Moment.” In March, journalist Leila Fadel held a conversation about reporting on Muslims in the American media. Now a national correspondent for National Public Radio’s race, identity, and culture beat, Fadel previously served as an international correspondent based in Cairo during the wave of revolts in the Middle East.
“I have just been truly blown away by the impact of the programming,” Mouftah says. “I’ve asked students who have attended to write short reflections after the events, and their reflections have been so poignant. It seems pretty clear that, for most of the students who are attending, these viewpoints and experiences they are hearing from these speakers are revelatory. They are turning over ideas that the students had and giving them new ideas. We’re simply bringing in these speakers who are experts in their fields, and it is raising the level of dialogue about Muslims in America.”
A culture of understanding
This year, the additional commitment to the endowment expanded the use of the fund to include support for faculty conducting research on Islam. Butler faculty members in any department who are carrying out research projects centering on Islam, interfaith dialogue, or religious pluralism will be able to apply for course development and research grants supported by the fund.
“It’s really important for faculty to have the support they need to do the research they are doing,” Dilnaz Waraich says. “Academia is run on research, so if we as a family can support faculty to go to seminars and dig deep into a certain topic and then come back and share what they’ve learned with other faculty members, that is very important. We want to make sure it is taught from a perspective of religious pluralism; it’s about learning about various faiths and how many commonalities they have about them instead of just highlighting the differences.”
Waraich says it was important to the family that the research and course development support be available to faculty from any department so that faculty will share what they are learning with one another across disciplines, ultimately promoting a culture of greater understanding of Islam throughout campus. Bauman says these faculty development funds also have the long-lasting effect of helping to inspire and retain Butler’s excellent faculty.
“The ability to support our faculty and encourage their work in research and teaching not only allows us to attract the top minds in our fields to Butler, but it encourages these faculty that Butler is a worthwhile place to stay, which has an enduring effect on the culture at Butler and on our students,” Bauman says.
Also new this academic year, the Waraichs’ latest gift will provide support for students pursuing internships with Muslim organizations such the Muslim Alliance of Indiana. Several funds currently exist within the Center for Faith and Vocation to support students pursuing internships with various faith-based organizations, but this is the first fund at Butler to provide support for internships specific to the Muslim faith.
“The Waraich family has a very coherent vision to promote greater understanding of Islam, which directs their energy and their philanthropic investment,” Bauman says. “We are very grateful that Butler is part of that vision.”
Though their son has now graduated from Butler, the Waraichs say they are grateful to have had the opportunity to get involved and contribute as parents while their child was on campus, and are inspired to think about the long-term impacts of their gift beyond their son’s experience.
“To be in the position to give is such a privilege, and it’s something we take very seriously,” Dilnaz Waraich says. “If other parents see where their family values meet what Butler is doing, I think higher ed is really an exciting place to be because you have young adults who are not only future leaders, but they are present-day leaders. The impact is both immediate and enduring.”
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