The Road to Understanding: Embracing Spiritual Diversity

Sep 29, 2023

Najeeba Syeed was only three years old when her family emigrated to the United States. The family’s homeland, the Kashmir region in south Asia, has long been at the center of religiously centered violence. While she was too young to have a complete understanding of the history of the region and how it related to her family’s move, this was ultimately Syeed’s first introduction to thinking about religion in a more critical way.

“I was struck by the realities of the violence that people faced, and that was a really big incentive for me to pursue and think about– how do religions create modalities for peace?” she recalls. With such a huge move occurring during her formative years as a toddler, Syeed’s adolescence would be filled with questions about religion and how it could create positive change in the world. By the time she reached the end of high school, she had set her sights on a Quaker college, inspired by their pacifist approach to conflict. Syeed felt that her Islamic religious background was a prominent reason she sought out a college with values similar to her own.

“I’ve always told people that I am a peacebuilder because I am Muslim, not despite being Muslim,” explains Syeed, “for me, it’s about religion particularly as a mechanism, tool, and agent for peacebuilding.” After graduating from Guilford College in 1995, Syeed continued to pursue a career revolving around religion and how it intersects with peacemaking and non-violent conflict resolution. 

Syeed has a wide spanning career – she has worked as a teaching fellow, a public speaker, and a professor. In addition to all of these roles, Syeed worked as the executive director at both the Western Justice Center Foundation and the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center. Syeed’s most recent professional endeavor has taken her to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where works as the inaugural El-Hibri endowed chair and executive director of Interfaith at Augsburg University. 

“People talk about the diversity of Cedar-Riverside and of Augsburg University, but it wasn’t a story of Minnesota that I knew,” expresses Syeed, “I had a very different perspective of how Minnesota is portrayed in movies or in books, and I was just incredibly moved by how our students represent so many different religious traditions, and also have a wide range of ethnic and national backgrounds. To me, being able to engage with our student body– it’s such a gift.”

As the endowed chair and executive director of Interfaith, Syeed works directly with students in the interfaith scholars program, as well as students that attend the many services and events held in Augsburg’s chapel on campus. Working as a leadership figure among Augsburg’s diverse student population, Syeed hopes to work with students to better understand how people are able to come together regardless of their differences – something she refers to as “religious, spiritual, and worldview diversity.”

“Everyone, every human being, has a view of the world. For some people, that worldview is grounded in religion. For some people it’s grounded in spiritual practice. For others it’s based on a moral perspective that may not be tied to religion or spirituality. I include the worldview term because we want to make sure there is room at the table for everyone,” explains Syeed. 

With Syeed’s new spot at Augsburg’s table, she brings a lifetime of work that promotes inclusion and understanding – pushing students to consider and value new perspectives.

Written by guest contributor, Jacey Mismash

More about Najeeba Syeed here.

Save the date! Najeeba will be hosting a Forum 365 Professional Development Lab on November 7, 2023, 11am-2pm. Watch for more details here.

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Photos by Sarah Morreim Photography
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