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Long Island Islamic center honors Christian professor

Christian professor Larycia Hawkins was honored at the

Christian professor Larycia Hawkins was honored at the first awards event at the Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Hawkins was a tenured political science professor at Wheaton College in Illinois when, in December 2015, she announced that she would wear a hijab in what she said was an act of solidarity with Muslim women. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A Christian professor who donned an Islamic headscarf in a show of solidarity with Muslim women was honored Saturday by a Long Island interfaith organization.

The Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury chose Larycia Hawkins as the honoree for its first awards event. The institute opened last October as part of one of Long Island’s largest mosques, with the goals of dispelling misconceptions about Islam and building understanding among different faiths.

Hawkins was a tenured political science professor at Wheaton College in Illinois when, in December 2015, she announced on Facebook that she would wear a hijab in what she said was an act of solidarity. She also said Muslims and Christians worship the same God. The school, which is an evangelical Christian college, suspended Hawkins. She and the school reached an agreement for her to leave in February.

Before the program, Hawkins said in an interview that while receiving the award is an “honor and a privilege,” she also felt sheepish about it. “It’s embarrassing to do something that your soul just called you to do and to be honored for something we should all be called to do which is to stand in solidarity,” said Hawkins, now a visiting faculty fellow at the University of Virginia.

Upon receiving her award, Hawkins told the crowd of several dozen people that she viewed her act as a devotion to Jesus and what Christians are called to do, which is “place ourselves in the midst of oppression to walk with the most vulnerable of our time.”

“Hijab is a concept that we should all embrace,” she said. “Hijab is simply a way of honoring God with our bodies.”

The program included a presentation by Shaida Khan, a former trustee and the founder of the Domestic Harmony Foundation, a women’s advocacy group. Khan discussed the hijab, pointing out how even within her own family, she, her mother, grandmother and daughter all had different approaches, from covering the entire body to not wearing it at all.

Khan noted that women in other religions such as the Christian and Jewish faiths have worn headscarves. Women have been arrested for refusing to take off their hijab in countries or cities where it is banned, Khan said, mentioning the “burkini,” a swimsuit version of the full-body burqa, which was banned in Cannes, France this past summer.

“Clearly the veil has been a charged political, cultural and moral issue, as well as a source of misunderstanding and conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as between observant and nonobservant Muslims,” she said.

The keynote speaker at the event was institute trustee and SUNY Old Westbury President Rev. Calvin O. Butts III. He, like Hawkins, brought up the current presidential election and the recording of Donald Trump boasting of aggressive behavior toward women, saying Trump is helping to spread hate and bigotry and is “dangerous” to women, minorities and Muslims.

Butts also discussed ISIS, saying that “you cannot associate ISIS with Islam any more than you can associate the Ku Klux Klan with Christianity.”

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