Community Cafe hosts local community leader


Maria Heines | Staff Photographer

Former Pitt student Wasi Mohamed spoke about community engagement and religion on Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Community Cafe hosted by Pitt’s Honors College.

By Nicole Marzzacco, For The Pitt News

On the 35th floor of the Cathedral of Learning, students, faculty and local community members gathered Thursday afternoon to listen to Wasi Mohamed — one of the speakers at Pitt’s “Stronger Than Hate” vigil on the Cathedral Lawn in November — speak about his engagement with the community at the Community Cafe, an event hosted by the Honors College.

Wasi Mohamed, a former Pitt Student, has been in the news frequently for working closely with and providing aid to the Tree of Life Synagogue in the wake of the shooting last year, raising more than $200,000 according to CNN and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“It’s important to have relationships and keep them to be involved with the community. Community service allows an effort to build involvement with the community,” Mohamed said.

When Mohamed was a student at Pitt, he was one of the founders of PittServes, a club that works to volunteer throughout the community. He studied neuroscience, philosophy and philosophy of science with a minor in religious studies. A member of the Honors College, Mohamed did the ACT Fellowship — a fellowship that partners students with community leaders in a community research program — with a thesis on the relationship between social service and faith.

As the former director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, Mohamed works closely with other interfaith community organizations to show a union between different faith groups and welcome people of other faiths to visit these centers.

Holly Hickling, the academic community engagement adviser for the Honors College, organized the Community Cafe, which took place last Thursday at 3 p.m. Hickling said she wanted Mohamed to speak since he participated in the fellowship and went on to be employed there after his research project.

“He is a former student of the University and the goal is to have people speak who engage with the community and have different backgrounds or perspectives,” Hickling said. “He’s been showing the good in a community after a tragedy, and is currently living his research project through the Islamic Center.”

Mohamed spoke about community positivity in breaking Muslim stereotypes. According to Mohamed, many stereotypical beliefs about Islam come from misinformed sources.

“These people do not have these ideas of Muslims deep-rooted, making it easy to break them,” Mohamed said. “There are specific anti-Muslim hate groups that publish articles about me, saying I’m a liar [for showing people] that Muslims are good people, so sometimes people have that idea of me without knowing me.”

Throughout his talk, he discussed how he became involved in his community through interfaith events and how he deals with stereotypes associated with the Muslim community.

Mohamed said the Islamic Center works closely with Jewish Center of Pittsburgh since both groups work to break away from racism and stereotypes that the groups have experienced.

“We try to bring people together and target issues of racism and bigotry. We work close together and have potluck dinners just to get to know everyone better,” Mohamed said. “We both work toward providing justice for our faith groups.”

He encouraged students in attendance to go out to the Islamic Center for a tour or to get involved with the Islamic Center. The Islamic Center works to engage with the community by hosting numerous open public events where people listen to seminars on politics, faith or hot-topic issues.

“It’s difficult to maintain these relationships with the community due to their size and lack of diversity of Muslims inside Pittsburgh,” Mohamed said. “They’re always welcoming people to come in and take a tour of the center.”

Amal Saeed, a senior molecular biology student and former president of Muslim Student Association, attended Mohamed’s event. She said last year Mohamed spoke to their group about professionalism, civic engagement groups and bringing people together through community and political engagement.

“Since I know Wasi through MSA, I wanted to hear what he had to say,” Saeed said. “As a Muslim myself, I’m really eager to see what he says about applying the faith to everyday life.”

A previous version of the article misidentified the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh as the Islamic Center.