The Center for Reconciliation and Duke Chapel co-hosted an interfaith dinner and conversation on Jan. 25, 2018, featuring Kenza Isnasni, humanitarian activist; and Norman Wirzba, professor of theology, ecology, and agrarian studies. The two guests shared Muslim and Christian perspectives on the theme “Food, Faith, and Land.”
A graduate student at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane in Morocco, Isnasni is the co-founder of Marrakesh Organics, an organic olive farm and ecological training center that tackles environmental health, human health, and intercultural understanding.
Raised on a farm in Alberta, Canada, Wirzba researches practices that equip church communities to be more faithful members of creation, including the recovery of the doctrine of creation and a restatement of humanity in terms of its creaturely life.
Isnasni discussed the Muslim food practices that preserved spiritual health as well as a right relationship with the earth.
“When we learn to cultivate the soil and bring life to it, we are actually refining and perfecting our souls. The earth yields us just as we want to yield it. Cultivating the land benefits all organisms, creates wealth and biodiversity, and is a constant act of charity. As our prophet, peace be upon him, is noted as saying, ‘Anyone who plants a tree or a food crop and all humans, animals, and birds eat it will be recount on the day of judgment as charity for them,’” Isnasni said.
Isnasni also described how nature invited a deeper spiritual connection. “(Nature) is what my teacher once called the great mosque, or the great church. An environment that triggers deep contemplation and sacred communion with the divine. It teaches us to be part of something much greater, humbling and full of beauty, beauty that we often forget.”
Wirzba talked about how people’s view of food directly reflected their treatment of the land and those who worked the land.
“When we think about food primarily as a commodity, the things that are most important to us are going to be things like,’Is it available?’ ‘How much does it cost?’” Wirzba said. “The effects of that consumer decision, which is a natural outcome of thinking as food as a commodity, is such that we’re going to abuse land, we’re going to abuse animals, we’re going to abuse farmers and farmworkers.”
Wirzba then shared how his grandfather taught him the link between one’s faith and respect for the land. “He knew that the care of his animals was an expression of his love for God, his gratitude towards God,” Wirzba said.
Against the backdrop of Isnasni and Wirzba’s talk, Muslim and Christian community members from the Triangle area gathered around tables and discussed the relationship between food and faith. Imam Abdul Waheed, Duke’s Muslim chaplain, closed the dinner with a word of prayer.
The dinner took place at The Cookery, a Durham establishment that provides a full commercial kitchen for entrepreneurs to launch their food businesses. The food was catered by Durham company Snap Pea Catering, which provides food that is locally sourced and pays workers a living wage. The menu included dishes such as carrot corn dogs, garlic stone ground grits, and sweet potato verines.
The event was part of the Intersection Project at Duke University, which fosters faith-centered relationships and creation-focused action between students of Muslim and Christian traditions. The project is supported by the Issachar Fund and was born out of an interfaith “hackathon” that took place in Chicago in May of 2016 and exploratory meetings in Istanbul in 2015.