Najeeha Khan works on an exercise with Miguel Amaguaña during the 2017 Summer Peacebuilding Institute Community Day. Khan then president of the James Madison University Muslim Student Association, came seeking information about dialogue and mediation. The 2018 event is February 2. (EMU file photo)

SPI Community Day connected JMU students to resources for religious education event

Najeeha Khan, past president of the James Madison University Muslim Students Association, attended 2017 SPI Community Day with a specific goal in mind: to learn more about mediation and facilitation.

The annual one-day event, coming up Feb. 2, features seminars and workshops highlighting various skills important to community engagement and organizing. SPI Community Day is modeled after the Summer Peacebuilding Institute which is held on the EMU campus every May and June.

In Khan’s case, the connections she made helped her made a big difference in her Greene County community.

She teamed up with a fellow JMU student, also a friend from Greene County, when they heard about an event, “Understanding the Jihad Threat.”

Their next moves are recounted in a Winter 2018 Madison magazine article, published by James Madison University.

Both Khan and Barker felt that they had to do something to counter the negativity that had arisen back home. What if they brought the model of constructive dialogue they had learned at JMU to their hometown?

They began plans to conduct a seminar, “Engaging Conversations with the Muslim Community,” an event they hoped would cut through angry rhetoric by allowing people to see and hear from each other.

As they began organizing, they talked to various JMU professors, Harrisonburg community members and Eastern Mennonite University faculty who worked with dialogue and mediation. “We knew we couldn’t do it alone,” says Barker. “We had never done such a thing, but we knew there were people at JMU who had.”

After being awarded a $500 grant from the JMU sociology department to fund their project, Khan and Barker hosted an event for about 50 Greene County residents that begin with a circle process.

“In the circle, everyone gets to see and hear from each other,” Barker is quoted in the article. “We wanted community members to actually be talking to each other, not just listening to a lecture.” The effect would hopefully demonstrate that there is “a common humanity among all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim,” she says.

The conversation was followed by a panel discussion that included EMU graduate student Nourah Alhasawi, a professor of Islamic studies at Princess Nourah University in Saudi Arabia, as well as the imam from the Harrisonburg mosque, Khan, and a JMU professor.


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