Promoting unity

Alumnus seeks to foster interfaith understanding on campus

An invitation to break the Ramadan fast changed the course of Ezra Humkar's life.

Photo: Brian Stethem

Mohammed “Ezra” Humkar still remembers walking the grounds at Cal Lutheran University in 2011, wondering if anyone even noticed him or cared to accommodate his Muslim beliefs.

The then-18-year-old was working on his master’s degree in business administration at the private college in Thousand Oaks when an invitation to break his fast one evening during Ramadan changed the course of his life.

Ramadan, which runs May 16 through June 14 this year, is observed during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During the monthlong fast that commemorates Muhammed’s first revelation of the Quran, adherents must abstain from food, drink, intimacy and smoking from dawn to dusk.

The 2011 email from The Revs. Scott and Melissa Maxwell- Doherty, who headed the campus’ office of ministry, was sent to all the Muslim students the couple knew, inviting them to dine at their home, Humkar said.

“I wasn’t able to go, but the fact they did that meant so much to me; I was shocked,” the now-26-year-old Simi Valley resident said.

“I had no idea that someone would do something like that, and all of the work I do today (as CLU’s new Muslim life coordinator) stems from that invitation.”

In his position, Humkar is responsible for representing the needs of Muslim students on campus and helping to create interfaith events.

Scott Maxwell-Doherty said he was immediately won over by Humkar’s passion, energy and vision when he interviewed him for the position last August.

“Ezra is going to bring an infectious energy that’s going to spill over into the community, attracting people to him because he’s just easy to be around,” the pastor told the Acorn. “For him, this isn’t just a job; it’s being a voice for those on this campus who share his faith.”

Humkar, who graduated from CLU in 2012, accepted the newly created position in November and already has big ideas to foster understanding among the various religious groups on campus.

“I’m just getting acquainted with people right now, but everyone I’ve met has been extremely open and welcoming,” he said. “I expected facing some challenges in my new role, but it’s been the complete opposite and . . . that goes to show my own ignorance by thinking otherwise,” he continued. “That’s something I’ve learned as part of this experience that’s not only me helping others, but also me growing as a person.”

In addition to being CLU’s Muslim life coordinator, Humkar works for a private-sector company doing online marketing and product design. He enjoys snowboarding and traveling and said his favorite trip was to Jerusalem, which is the birthplace of the world’s three major religions. “You can just feel the history when you walk through the streets,” he said.

Humkar also is the social media manager for Elhaam Magazine, an online publication he created with fellow CLU graduate Maryann Zanan that’s dedicated to providing spiritual inspiration and improving the understanding of Islamic culture in America. He also serves as program coordinator for the Al-Rasool mosque in Simi, where he plans special events, creates youth programs and develops the curriculum for classes.

Interfaith diversity

Five years ago, Scott Maxwell Doherty sent out a campus-wide survey to gauge religious life at CLU. The feedback that struck him most, he said, was the overwhelming number of comments on whether there was a desire to serve diverse faiths.

To address the concerns, Maxwell-Doherty said, he hired a rabbi, four Roman Catholic brothers-in-training and now Humkar.

“With Ezra on staff, we can now wrap our arms around the Muslim community and bring that group more into the light, rather than having those students feel set aside,” the pastor said. Humkar’s position, he added, fits squarely into CLU’s mission of training global leaders.

Asked how many religious groups currently exist on campus, the pastor said just a few are listed on CLU’s website: Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Hillel, Latterday Saints Student Association, Lord of Life, Muslim Students Alliance, and Young Life College.

But those are only a smattering of the large number that aren’t specified as a club or organization but still receive supervision from his office, Maxwell-Doherty said.

Humkar said his goal is to help create a bridge of understanding among those various groups on campus as well as help Muslims “get out of their bubbles and out into their communities more.”

“It’s really important for people to connect on a human level, and that gets understated sometimes because of bigotry or fear or isolation on all sides,” he said. “What we share with each other is stronger than what separates us.”

--- Published in the Simi Valley Acorn on Jan. 5, 2018