(RNS) — In August of 2019, Azza Karam turned the primary lady and first Muslim to be appointed secretary-general of Religions for Peace, changing William Vendley, who had led the worldwide interfaith group and labored for peace throughout Africa and Asia for greater than half of the group’s 49-year historical past.
Her historic appointment wouldn’t be a subject of dialog for lengthy. Inside just a few months of her taking on, the world was within the grips of the coronavirus pandemic and the staggering loss of life toll and international recession it sparked. This yr, the U.S. pullout of Afghanistan introduced on political chaos in that nation, with ripples around the globe.
Karam spoke to Faith Information Service’s Eric J. Lyman in the course of the first Religions for Peace convention held no less than partially in particular person because the 2019 version the place she was appointed.
The previous senior adviser to the European Union and the United Nations talked about how her childhood in Egypt ready her for her function and the way non secular leaders can confront hot-button matters like peace in Afghanistan and coronavirus vaccine hesitancy.
The interview has been edited for readability and size.
Have you ever had time to mirror on the importance of your being the primary lady and the primary Muslim to go Religions for Peace?
I’ve considered it, even when that’s as a result of it could be unimaginable for me to not see many issues from a girl’s perspective, with a girl’s sensibilities. I additionally suppose there are issues I may do as a Muslim. In my acceptance speech I reached out to Muslim leaders to affix the Religions for Peace and there was an instantaneous constructive response and lots of got here on board as members of the World Council, our governing board.
I’m not serving as a girl or a Muslim, however there was a exceptional stream of goodwill and a wiliness to work collectively, whether or not Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Buddhist, Jewish or Hindu.
What in your previous ready you for this function with Religions for Peace? Or does one simply hit the bottom operating and be taught as you go?
As an Egyptian Muslim lady rising up in a really conservative household, it could really feel like no matter I did, it was not adequate. That meant I needed to work tougher, longer, extra. The social situations helped put me in a spot the place, sure, you must hit the bottom operating. For those who don’t, you’ll fall flat in your face.
I additionally really feel like my private historical past has made me a bit extra delicate to the struggles of those that can not articulate their ideas or who aren’t allowed to talk freely — males or girls, or individuals of various races, faiths, social lessons. I feel there may be an added layer of sensitivity, exactly as a result of issues didn’t come simple for me. It means I’m naturally looking out for many who could also be in the identical boat.
You should have felt such as you have been being examined over the past two years, with the pandemic and all its impacts, then what occurred in Afghanistan?
As an individual who is consistently questioning and looking for, it helps to construct a sure sense — not a lot of fatalism, however of preparedness, of understanding that issues are going to be troublesome earlier than they get simpler. One of many issues I’ve realized in my life, and I’m now in my mid-50s, is that there’s pleasure in service. This perception in service is a good supply of encouragement and power that I generally faucet into.
Religions for Peace relies in New York, you’re from Egypt and your college job is within the Netherlands. The place do you contemplate house?
That’s an excellent query. Proper now and for the previous a number of years I’d say my house is within the U.S., particularly New York.
The largest information story this yr would be the takeover by the Taliban after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. What’s the function of spiritual leaders there?
We live in an age the place faith, non secular leaders, non secular ideologies, are taking part in an essential political, social, cultural and even financial function. I’m not simply speaking concerning the religious area right here. I’m speaking very virtually, concerning the political and the monetary area. In Afghanistan, now we have to understand how difficult the state of affairs is. We’ve got to keep in mind that each non secular chief in Afghanistan just isn’t a part of the Taliban. There are non secular minority leaders and communities. We’ve got to take a look at all of that wealthy tapestry of spiritual context in Afghanistan.
At a minimal, Afghanistan forces us to be discerning concerning the totally different non secular roles, obligations and influences. We are able to not talk about “faith” within the singular. We’ve got to be extra discerning about society, politics and concerning the totally different religions coexisting.
Some evangelical church buildings within the U.S. are calling on their congregations to keep away from the coronavirus vaccines. What’s the easiest way to confront that downside?
There are numerous religions and lots of, many non secular individuals. The variety of these inside these teams who’re talking out in opposition to the scientific proof is comparatively small. If we have a look at the broad group of spiritual establishments, whether or not Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and so forth, we understand a big majority is definitely calling for a scientific perspective concerning vaccines. There’s an excessive amount of thought that taking vaccines is definitely nearly a spiritual obligation. We simply need to preserve advocating.