April 15, 2008 — Saman Hussain, a 2007 graduate of the University of Virginia and former leader of the Muslim Student Association at U.Va., will meet with Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, April 17, as part of an Interreligious Gathering at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.
At the 6:30 p.m. meeting between the pope and representatives of other religions, five young adults will present the pope with symbols of peace from their faith traditions.
Hussain will present a gift on behalf of the Muslim community. She will give Pope Benedict one of the most poetic verses of the holy Qur’an (24.35) in the form of a colorful calligraphic design. This verse emphasizes the encounter with God as Light, bringing peace to the soul of the believer. Traditional Muslim calligraphy has been used in this gift, finding its expression through contemporary technology.
Born in Pakistan, Hussain graduated in 2007 from the University of Virginia, where she majored in religious studies and foreign affairs. She currently works for the Department of the Interior in a management and policy internship program. Hussain was one of the coordinators of the 2007 Unity Walk in memory of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy, organized by the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. At U.Va., she was known for reaching out to other religious groups.
"This event, I hope, will be a unique opportunity for dialogue," Hussain said of her meeting with the pope. "I am looking forward to hearing the pope's views on the state of religion today and the future of inter-religious affairs here and in the rest of the world. I hope that his visit sets the stage and catalyzes the process for a systematic and meaningful discourse in the US and beyond.
"As a Muslim and as a firm believer in dialogue, I believe that honest, open exchange conducted in the spirit of mutual respect is crucial to avoid falling into polarized views of 'us' vs. 'them,' especially when this involves those who think differently from ourselves. Ultimately, we share a common Earth and ought to embrace and treasure our universal humanity."
Hussain will be available to speak with the media both before and after the event.