A Brief Personal Introduction

My name is Nora Zaki and I’m a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, where I earned a Master’s degree of Divinity. I concentrated in Islamic Studies, Arabic and chaplaincy. Currently, I am working at a Florida hospital completing Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), a form of theological education that takes place in clinical settings. For seven years (undergraduate and graduate studies), I was immersed in the academy, and now I work with the public at a hospital. Dealing with peoples’ suffering on a more intimate level has been an eye-opening experience. Now, we, the students, are the textbooks. We study our responses when we see a mother taken away by DCF after she brings her daughter into the hospital; when we see the helplessness of a burn victim; or when we cry with a patient whose son is now a dead body on the hospital bed. It has been a challenging experience but also one leading to deep introspection about what matters most in life.
But, the hospital setting is also familiar to me because my late father was an ER doctor. He was a Muslim and proud of his faith. He sought to live out this faith through his work helping people in grave physical distress. My dad married my mother, who converted to Islam and hence, I am part of an interfaith family. Although I was raised as a Muslim and am a proud Muslim, interfaith engagement has always been a part of my life, because my mother’s family is Christian, and my father’s family is Muslim. This is not to say that our extended family does not experience any religious tension. For example, one Thanksgiving my maternal grandma put up a sign on her door that read, “No religion and politics spoken here.” Let’s just say that we spoke a lot about the tangy cranberry sauce and creamy pumpkin pie!
The fundamental question I’d like to pursue as a chaplain and future academic is this: how can we create authentic relationships across religious traditions? I do not have to be your best friend, but if we want to see a society where all human beings are treated with respect, we will need to communicate openly, sharing our hopes and dreams, and our pain and vulnerability. Otherwise, we cannot truly see each other’s full humanity. My colleagues and I in the CPE program have had the opportunity for some courageous conversations about race and privilege. Brene Brown, author of many books on human emotions and a professor of social work, has helped us think critically about these conversations in the context of chaplaincy, for we are working with a wide variety of people – religious, non-religious, old, young, disabled, able-bodied, and some people who may not want to speak with me as a “woman” chaplain.
While I love talking about Islamic theology and the prophetic traditions—similarities and differences—in the Qur’an, the Gospels, and the Hebrew Bible, I am convinced that interfaith work must not only engage with theological questions, but address issues of justice, including those that divide our society. As difficult as it is, my struggle is to try and follow the following Qur’ānic verse from chapter 4 (known as “The Women”) verse 135: “O you who believe! Be steadfast maintainers of justice, witnesses for God, though it be against yourselves, or your parents and kinsfolk, and whether it be someone rich or poor, for God is nearer unto both. So follow not your caprice, that you may act justly. If you distort or turn away, truly God is Aware of whatsoever you do.”

Share this!
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Reddit
  • RSS
  • Twitter