Tito Momen stresses the importance of religious freedom

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Religious persecution affects two-thirds of the world, according to Tito Momen, UVU alumnus and author of “My Name Used to Be Mohammed.”

UVUSA collaborated with the Interfaith Student Council (ISC), for its monthly Pizza and Politics event in the Ragan Theater Feb. 28 on the shifting landscape of religious diversity and the need for interfaith dialogue.

Keynote speakers included Momen and professor Brian D. Birch, director of the Center for the Study of Ethics.

“As the world continues to integrate and globalize there is even greater need to understand peoples of other faiths and cultures and there is no better place to do this than in the university setting,” said Birch.

Momen, who was born in Nigeria, spoke for about 30 minutes on his journey out of Islam. He shared anecdotes about how he was on track to become a Muslim cleric, but was disowned by his family and spent 15 years in an Egyptian prison.

Religious freedom was not a principle Momen was familiar with growing up. Although he ultimately left the religion of his birth, he always maintained a strong belief in God.

“Discrimination is almost everywhere,” he said. “The more I keep to my faith, the more I see the hand of the Lord.”

Momen is the founder of the First Generation Foundation, a non-profit that is dedicated to aiding and fellowshipping Christian converts from other faiths. “It is my calling, I have to do this,” he said.

Gabriel Toscano, member of the UVU Interfaith Student Council, spoke about the role the university plays in supporting people like Momen in telling their stories.

“Our whole goal is exposing students and the UVU community to different traditions, faiths, cultures, nationalities, to break down prejudices, to increase knowledge and awareness of other people’s beliefs,” said Toscano. “UVU is deeply committed to providing students with opportunities to connect with those of other faith traditions and ethical perspectives.”

Birch discussed the timely need for more interfaith conversations.

“I can scarcely think of a better time to be exploring ways in which human beings work through their religious and ideological differences. One can scarcely pick up the newspaper or turn on one’s computer without being bombarded about stories involving some form of religious conflict,” he said. “In our own country, debate over same-sex marriage remains front and center. You can’t get far into this discussion without addressing the role of religion.”

A student who attended the event shared her thoughts on the importance of inter faith dialogue.

“We need to be a little more tolerant with religion,” said Pamela Miller, a junior political science major, “Not everybody thinks like us and we don’t think like them.”