What inspired Nicole to join Interfaith Council!

Pope’s Advent Message: Defend Human Life

The season of Advent began on November 27th, and Pope Benedict XVI made headlines when he dedicated his annual homily to a call to defend the lives of children, born and unborn, worldwide. Advent is a time when Roman Catholics prepare spiritually to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ through prayer and penitence. The Pope’s evening prayer service at the Vatican was part of a worldwide pro-life vigil, urging people to respect the dignity of human life in its most basic form. He spoke out against abortion and “the selfishness of adults and the clouding of consciences”, discussing the complexity of the human embryo and its ability to interact autonomously with the mother. The Pope also emphasized the “sad panorama of injustices” that threaten children after birth, such as poverty, hunger, and disease. Ultimately, he urged world leaders to promote a culture that respects and supports all human life. Advent is a time of expectant waiting for Christians, and the Pope ended his homily with the following statement:

“One can say that a person is alive as long as he is expectant, as long as hope lives in his heart”

Resource: Catholic News Service

No matter what your opinion is regarding abortion, I feel that Pope Benedict XVI has given us a wonderful message that can be applied to the interfaith movement. We are all living human beings who share in a common hope for a better tomorrow, and for this, why should we not respect the dignity of one another?

Nicole Valdez
Vice-President of TCNJ Interfaith Council


“Let My People Know!”



On November 7th of this year, a monumental undertaking was officially completed, reverberating throughout the world of Judaism.

On this day, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, recognized by Time Magazine as “a once-in-a-millennium scholar”, finished his translation of the Talmud, the compendium of Jewish Oral Law which serves to supplement the written Tanakh, the Jewish Bible. The magnitude of this achievement is perhaps most evident by the fact that Rabbi Steinsaltz began this project over 45 years ago, beginning at the age of 27.  Today at 73, he is somewhat frail after a short illness, but as intellectually compelling as ever. “Let my people know,” the Rabbi says, in a play on words of Moses’ famous plea to the Egyptian Pharaoh in which Moses exclaimed, “Let my people go!”

Regularly working 16 hour days for decades over the course of his magnificent undertaking, Rabbi Steinsaltz was motivated to complete his translation of the Talmud because of several restrictions inherent in the Talmud since its conception. Because much of the almost 6,000 page Talmud was originally written in Ancient Aramaic, it was for centuries inaccessible to steinsaltzJews who were only fluent in Hebrew. Rabbi Steinsaltz’s edition includes modern Hebrew with vowels (omitted in the original ancient text), as well as parts in English, Spanish, French and Russian. His own commentaries were also included in this new edition.  The world renowned and yet strikingly humble rabbi has  revolutionized the world of Jewish scholarship, granting many who were once restricted by their limited linguistic breadth access to an essential part of their faith and history. His work also allows for non-Jews who want to immerse themselves in a large part of Jewish history to do so. In giving the world a key to the writings of the Jewish people, perhaps we will all grow a little closer. Superstition regarding the actuality of who the Jews are and what they believe now has the chance to disappear forever.

The importance of the Talmud, as it is inextricably tied to the Jewish people’s faith, is rooted in the fact that it offers meticulous explanations of the laws passed down from generation to generation, which go all the way back to the giving of the Torah by God at Mount Sinai over 3,000 years ago. Jews are encouraged to delve deeply into the essential meaning of their scriptural traditions, and many have structured their lives around that very endeavour. With Rabbi Steinsaltz’s work, this task is made much more feasible.

Jewish tradition teaches that in one’s life, man can never obtain ultimate knowledge of everything; he only inches closer to that absolute truth through continued study. For over 1,500 years since the Talmud was first completed, there have been commentaries meant to elucidate the meaning of the innumerable words marked in holy ink. During this time, the Talmud was the core of this seemingly eternal pursuit. “Talmud is a book that has no real parallel… it is a constant search for truth, for absolute truth,” Rabbi Steinsaltz says.

As it has only been several weeks since the completion of his work, it is perhaps impossible to realize just how integral Rabbi Steinsaltz’s work will prove to have been. But this achievement may soon be lauded by some as the Jewish literary event of many lifetimes, indeed. A reverent Yashar Koach, “Congratulations” from me to you, Rabbi.




Treasurer, Interfaith Council at TCNJ

What IF? Speak IN…A recap!

On Thursday, November 11, students from various different religious and philosophical traditions gathered to ask the question “What IF?” What if people of all faiths and traditions took action together to change the world? What if students at TCNJ came together and renovated abandoned streets of Trenton? What if TCNJ students united to bring hope to the community of Trenton?

A consensus was reached that every TCNJ student has a personal duty and obligation to help the greater community of Trenton and many of us realized that our own religious and philosophical tradition inspires us to give back to the community or undertake selfless acts to help others. Most of the students had done some form of community service but their intention was to do it for their college application process.    TCNJ students are actually lucky to live near Trenton where they can render their services.  Trenton is one of the most impoverished cities in the US and the community itself is disheartened.

Nicole Valdez, Vice President of Interfaith Council, is taking a class where she has to build a relationship with a prisoner who is in prison for 5 years for distributing and manufacturing drugs.  But when asked what are is plans when he gets out of prison?  He said, he will moving to the suburbs and basically doesn’t want anything to do with the city.  If the people in Trenton are giving up on Trenton, who else is going to help the Trenton community?  That is where the students of TCNJ come in!  For the spring semester, TCNJ students of various religious and philosophical backgrounds will work together and renovate an abandoned street of Trenton and work hand in hand with the greater community of Trenton.  This will not fix the problems of Trenton, but it is a start!

I would also like to thank Interfaith Youth Core and the wonderful members of my steering committee, Nicole Valdez (CCM), Megan Gerity, Josh Breslin (Chabad), Ala Jitan (Islamic Society), Zarah Aslam, Sadia Tahir, Abby Stern (Hillel), Kyle Tomalin (SSA) and many others 🙂 Thank You!

Amtul Mussawir Mansoor
President-Interfaith Council

Churches are being attacked, Mosques are being attacked…what has the world come to?

all religions and philosophical religions preach peace!

A few days ago, I read the following headline:

“A suicide bomber killed 67 people Friday at a mosque frequented by tribal elders opposed to the Pakistani Taliban. Hours later, three people died in a grenade attack on another mosque associated with anti-Taliban militia (Yahoo News).”

A few days later, I read this headline:  “Iraqi authorities reported that at least 57 people were killed and nearly 70 wounded during an attack by militants on the Our Lady of Salvation Church where more than 100 people were held hostage Sunday.  An al-Qaida-linked group, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility.”

Is there no sanctity for human life? Is there no respect for places of worship? I felt anger and disappointment towards those terrorists, who are defaming the name of Islam.  In the Holy Quran, it says if you kill one person, it is as if you’ve killed mankind (5:33).  They are clearly not following the teachings of Islam.  Most people may not know this in Western society  and may associate Islam with terrorism and fuel Islamophobia.  But then I saw a glimmer of hope! Through interfaith cooperation we can clear misconceptions not only about Islam, but also about Christianity, Judaism, Atheism, among other major world religions and philosophical beliefs.  This will promote respect, and interfaith relationships about mutual beliefs.  I know for a fact that no religion in this world promotes killing but rather promote peace, compassion, and kindness.  Let’s focus our energies towards that!  A small step can go a long way. Let’s set an example for the people of Pakistan and Iraq!  They are trying to “Americanize/modernize” many aspects of their societies, let us hope that they also include the aspect of interfaith in their modernization!

-Amtul Mussawir Mansoor

President of Interfaith Council at TCNJ

Importance of Interfaith Work

Last year, when advertising Interfaith Council on campus, I heard a girl say, “Why should I join Interfaith Council, you don’t get anywhere with it.” I don’t know what she meant by her statement, but I do want to let her and all the pessimists out there know about the importance of interfaith work.

Interfaith is the way to peace in the 21st century.  Due to the technology, a development in the Middle East, Africa, India, can be heard in the United States in the matter of minutes.  Due to this increased frequency and intensity of interactions between religiously and philosophically diverse people, will it lead to more conflict or more cooperation?

Interfaith actively promotes respect of religious/philosophical identity, building mutual relationships, and cooperating to serve the common good.  It’s mission is to build bridges, not bombs.  Through these simple values, we can make a better world for our future children.

This has been done in the past and can be done now! Marvelous cultural achievements and scientific discoveries have come out of religiously and philosophically pluralistic societies in the past.  Take Spain for example.  In medieval Spain, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim culture thrived together and preserved the wisdom of antiquity during the dark ages of Europe.  If they can do it, why can’t we!


-Amtul Mussawir Mansoor

President of Interfaith Council at TCNJ


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Commit to Your World

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What pushed me to create an Interfaith Council at TCNJ?

As religious diversity is increasing so are the inter-religious tensions. By creating an interfaith organization on campus, one can bridge the gaps between people of various backgrounds by removing misconceptions about the various religions, the root of most inter-religious tensions. This will in turn, foster peace and understanding among the various religions and help in creating healthy communities.

As a child, I was brought up as told not only to follow one’s own religious obligation but also to adopt the good of other religious communities. Not to my realization, but this made me a very open person. My parents never taught hatred against any religion, and the phrase “Love for All, Hatred for None” would be often repeated as a reminder. My parents thought me that all the different religions of this world were sent by God so they deserved their due respect, and respect is what I gave them.

Last year, when I was a freshman, the world was shook by the Mumbai Bombings in Mumbai, India by Muslim terrorists from Pakistan. The pain felt in my heart was indescribable because of 2 reasons. One, these so called “Muslim” terrorist defamed the name of Islam which ironically means peace. No religion has ever taught to kill innocent people. Second, the 173 innocent lives that were taken by these terrorists. My heart goes out to them and their families. The Chabad (Jewish) organization at TCNJ were conducting a memorial service for the murder of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivkah Holtzberg and 4 other Jewish members and I got up the courage to attend the memorial service.

Being the only non-Jewish, Muslim, from a Pakistani descent at the memorial service, I was very intimidated and there were definitely a few surprised people. But they welcomed me with open arms and this made me realize that people who want to attain peace will not let a few terrorist get in their way. I made an impromptu speech and condemned the Mumbai bombings and instead explained to them the true teachings of Islam. The gathering was really appreciative of what I had done. Since then the idea of creating an Interfaith Council had been in my head but needed an initiative.

While listening to President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo, Egypt on June 4, 2009, one phrase stuck with me and is as follows: “In fact, faith should bring us together. And that’s why we’re forging service projects in America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews…around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action — whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.” The further I pondered over this phrase, the more I felt obligated in creating an interfaith community at my college. So I took the initiative of founding the Interfaith Council at TCNJ. I asked a few students of various religious backgrounds in helping me found this organization and with great enthusiasm they came on-board (Thank You Nicole, Josh, Rahool, and Megan). With this purpose in mind, we set about making Interfaith Council an official organization at TCNJ. With tremendous efforts, this became a reality, by the grace of God, on Feb. 3rd, 2010.

Since then, the Interfaith Council has held weekly discussions on topics ranging from “Concept of God” and “Life after Death” to “Concept of Good and Evil in Various Religions.” And for the coming year, Interfaith Council is going to take TCNJ by storm! (God willing)

-Amtul Mussawir Mansoor

President of Interfaith Council at TCNJ