Imam Muhammad Ashafa
Muhammad Ashafa is co-founder of the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, Nigeria.  Ashafa grew up in a conservative environment, as the eldest son of a Muslim scholar and spiritual leader of the Tijaniyya Sufi order. He followed the family vocation and became an Imam himself, in the context of an Islamist movement in northern Nigeria. This movement reached its peak during the 80’s and 90’s, resulting in increased tensions with the Christian communities. In 1992, violent interreligious conflict broke out in Kaduna State.

Muhammad Ashafa went on to become Secretary General of the National Council of Muslim Youth Organizations, an organization promoting debate and confrontation against Christians. During a confrontation between Christians and Muslims in Zongon Kataf, Muhammad Ashafa lost two cousins and his spiritual mentor, while Secretary General of the Kaduna State chapter for the Youth Christian Association of Nigeria (YCAN) Pastor James Wuye lost his right hand. Imam Ashafa recalls a critical turning point, when a mutual friend of the Pastor and Imam said to them: “The two of you can pull this nation together, or you can destroy it. Do something.” Over the next few years, through increasingly frequent meetings and separate religious epiphanies, the two men slowly built mutual respect, and decided to work together to bridge the divide between their communities. In 1995, the two former opponents decided to work together and build bridges between their respective communities through the founding of Interfaith Mediation Centre, a religious grassroots organization that has successfully mediated between Christians and Muslims throughout Nigeria.

 

Rabbi Azriel C. Fellner
Rabbi Azriel Fellner graduated from George Washington University and received graduate degrees in English and American Literature. He was ordained in 1967 at the Jewish Theological Seminary.  Rabbi Fellner began his rabbinic career in Alaska as a military chaplain. He was the sole Rabbi for the entire state, and responsible for the spiritual needs of all branches of the military as well as the Jewish civilian population. He was Rabbi of the synagogue in Anchorage and an adjunct professor of English Literature at Alaska Methodist University.

His first civilian pulpit was at the West End Synagogue in Nashville, TN, and he later served as Rabbi at Oceanside Jewish Center on Long Island and Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, NJ.   Rabbi Fellner has also served as Rabbi with Tov Tours and Passover Kosher Travel. In the past twenty years, Rabbi Fellner lectured on homiletics to rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary.  In addition, he was the Social Action Chairman of the Rabbinical Assembly and a contributor to the magazine Conservative Judaism.  Rabbi Fellner also studies motion pictures and television, focusing on Jewish images and themes, and has given a series of lectures on film at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. He recently lectured at Warner Brothers’ Studios about his unique understanding of the 1927 film release of “The Jazz Singer”.

 

Azhar Hussein
As a Pakistani-American and a Muslim, Azhar Hussain has been personally affected by global extremism as well as sectarian violence in Pakistan. Today, he leads a critical effort to equip the next generation with the knowledge and skills necessary for peace and reconciliation. Growing up in Pakistan, Azhar (Azi) witnessed firsthand the influential role of the madrasa education system on Pakistani students and society. Formerly the Vice President for Preventive Diplomacy at the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD), Azi worked tirelessly to engage the Pakistani madrasa leaders and help them develop skills to be agents of peacebuilding. On behalf of ICRD, Azi has worked in partnership with local Pakistani religious and civic organizations to design a system of comprehensive training programs for madrasa leaders that equips them with the skills necessary to facilitate these changes.

Through his commitment to the Islamic principles of peace, tolerance, and reconciliation, Azi is laying the groundwork for sectarian harmony within Pakistan and for the reduction of global extremism. After his time with ICRD, Azi became the president of the Peace and Education Foundation (PEF). With PEF, Azi seeks to deepen the work of ICRD to include trainings for madrasa teachers and leaders while building on work with universities to develop certificate programs for madrasa teachers. Azi’s work exhibits a deeply held belief in the power of religion to heal, to motivate and to empower people to bring about powerful social change within their societies and the world at large. What drives his efforts to reform the madrasas is his conviction that religion can be a force for peace and unity rather than division and violence.

 

Daisy Khan
Daisy Khan is Executive Director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), a global program, social network and grassroots social justice movement led by Muslim women. WISE is dedicated to empowering Muslim women to fully participate in their communities and nations and amplifying their collective voices.  Khan is also Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), a New York based non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening an expression of Islam based on cultural and religious harmony, as well as building bridges between Muslims and the general public. At ASMA, Daisy Khan has created a number of groundbreaking intra- and inter-faith programs. She continues to mentor American Muslims on assimilation issues, balancing faith and modernity, the challenges of living as a minority, and intergenerational questions. To strengthen the voices of women and youth within the global Muslim community, she created two cutting-edge programs of international scope: Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow (MLT).

Khan has appeared on numerous media outlets, such as CNN, Al Jazeera, and BBC World’s Doha Debates and is a weekly contributor to the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog and is frequently quoted in print publications, such as Time Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Saudi Gazette, and the Khaleej Times.  Born in Kashmir, she spent twenty-five years as an interior architect for various Fortune 500 companies. In recognition of this important work, Khan is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Interfaith Center’s Award for Promoting Peace and Interfaith Understanding, Auburn Seminary’s Lives of Commitment Award, and the Annual Faith Leaders Award. She was also selected by Women’s eNews as one of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century.

 

Prof. Kate Ott
Dr. Kate Ott is a feminist, catholic scholar addressing the formation of moral communities with specializations in sexuality, technology, children/youth, and professional ethics.  She is Assistant Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Drew University Theological School and the University Faculty Scholar of Everyday Ethics.  She is at work on a new book, Life Enhancing Settings: The Technology and Ethics of Everyday Living. Her other books include: Sex + Faith: Talking with Your Child from Birth to Adolescence and the co-edited volume Faith, Feminism, and Scholarship: The Next Generation. She is a Scholar in Action with the Carter Center’s Mobilizing Faith for Women and Girls program.  To find out more about her work visit www.kateott.org.

 

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Internationally renowned educator, speaker and author Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin attained rabbinical ordination at Yeshiva University from his mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and his Ph.D. from New York University. His outstanding contributions to Israel and to world Jewry over the course of his career have made him one of the leading voices of today’s Modern Orthodox world. Rabbi Riskin founded and serves as Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone, a network of educational institutions based upon the synthesis of Torah values with contemporary living and tikkun olam. In 1983, Rabbi Riskin left a thriving career as spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue to make aliya and become the founding chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel, where he lives today with his wife, children and grandchildren. He is a veteran contributor to The Jerusalem Post and author of multiple books.  He belongs to the Modern Orthodox stream of Judaism and is active in interfaith work, founding the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation.

 

Director Chris Rodriguez, PhD.
Chris Rodriguez leads New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. Prior to his appointment, in July 2014, Director Rodriguez served for more than a decade in the U.S. intelligence community, where he monitored terrorist groups in the Middle East and South Asia, closely collaborating with partners at the federal, state and local levels to identify and counter persistent threats to the United States and its allies. In 2011–12, he served as a policy adviser on Governor Christie’s staff.  Director Rodriguez has been recognized with several awards from the Director of National Intelligence.  He served in Iraq in 2006–07 and has traveled to over two dozen countries.  Since taking over OHSP as Director, Rodriguez has grown the membership and scope of the agency’s Interfaith Advisory Council.  Director Rodriguez holds a bachelor’s degree from Williams College and a master’s degree and PhD from the University of Notre Dame.

 

Laura Shaw-Frank
Laura Shaw-Frank is a founding board member of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and currently serves on JOFA’s Executive Board.  Shaw-Frank is a PhD candidate in modern Jewish history at the University of Maryland and is currently Director of Recruiting, Placement and Alumnae Affairs at Yeshivat Maharat. She is also a history teacher and Israel guidance counselor at SAR High School in Riverdale. Prior to becoming a history educator, Laura was a commercial litigator. Laura has a B.A. from Columbia University and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. She lives in Riverdale with her husband, Rabbi Aaron Frank, and their four children.

David Thaler has a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a J.D. from New York University, and a B.A. Summa Cum Laude from Tulane.  He currently serves as a Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and served for many years in the Service’s International & Dispute Resolution Services Division.  Commissioner Thaler has over 15 years of experience performing labor mediation, advising joint labor-management partnerships and in training business and labor leaders on five continents in both conflict management and related skills.  Professor Thaler teaches courses in practicum of conflict resolution and mediation and advanced mediation.

 

David Thaler
David Thaler has a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a J.D. from New York University, and a B.A. Summa Cum Laude from Tulane.  He currently serves as a Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and served for many years in the Service’s International & Dispute Resolution Services Division.  Commissioner Thaler has over 15 years of experience performing labor mediation, advising joint labor-management partnerships and in training business and labor leaders on five continents in both conflict management and related skills.  Professor Thaler teaches courses in practicum of conflict resolution and mediation and advanced mediation.

 

Pastor James Wuye
James Wuye, Assemblies of God Pastor, is co-founder/director with Imam Muhammad Ashafa of the Interfaith Mediation Center of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue in the Kaduna State, Northern Nigeria. During the 1980s and 1990s, James Wuye got involved in Christian activism, and for eight years he served as Secretary General of the Kaduna State chapter for the Youth Christian Association of Nigeria (YCAN), an organization representing all Christian groups in the country. During a confrontation between Christians and Muslims in Zongon Kataf, James Wuye lost his right arm. Continued fighting and resentment would be the easy choice, but James Wuye was convinced otherwise. He, along with Imam  Muhammad Ashafa, decided to build bridges between the Christian and Muslim communities.

With this aim in view, the pastor and imam launched the Interfaith Mediation Center of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue, an organization with over 10,000 members providing interfaith training to young people in schools and universities, to women, religious leaders, and politicians. The center has thus contributed to defusing tensions in the 2002 and 2004 clashes in Kaduna and Yelwa. Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa have received the Breme Peace Award in 2005, the Prize for Conflict Prevention awarded by the Fondation Chirac in 2009 and the Deutsche Afrika-Preis awarded by the German Africa Foundation in 2013.

 

Ehsan Zaffar
Ehsan Zaffar currently serves as an advisor on civil rights and civil liberties issues at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington D.C., where he teach courses on civil rights, privacy and national security.  He is a panel member and mediator at the Agency for Dispute Resolution where he mediates intra and inter-community disputes.  Zaffar works to help build strong and resilient communities. Prior to government service he worked with communities in post-conflict and post-disaster environments both domestically as well as internationally.  He also helped to found a small, self-sustaining mobile legal clinic in Los Angeles to deliver legal care and assistance to remote, at-risk or economically depressed communities.