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Muslim UST MAFC Grad Bridges Faith Communities

By Anna Roark, University of St. Thomas
April 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In what may seem paradoxical to some, a Muslim community leader-an imam-will receive a graduate degree in faith and culture from Houston's Catholic university. At the University of St. Thomas Commencement Ceremony on May 18 honoring 350 undergraduates and 793 graduate students, Turkish-born-and-raised Ali Civelek will be awarded a master's in Faith and Culture.

His intention is to use what he has learned to build strong bridges between diverse communities. 

Civelek came to America with his family in 2002 and now works for Houston's Turkish-American community, which has its own cultural center and a small mosque. Father to five children, ages 2 to 17, Civelek had a personal interest in the University's graduate program.

"I'm raising my children here, and I had a great urge to learn about all the aspects of this culture," Civelek said. "After taking the courses, I have a desire to share beyond my children."

The former industrial engineer turned businessman turned imam says the University's Faith and Culture Program changed his life, and he plans to use what he has learned to increase understanding and communication between cultures and faiths.

"Always in my heart, I have been driven to read and learn and understand what's going on around me," Civelek said. "Through this program, I learned about the different shades of American culture, how individualism came to be so valued here, and I ended up learning Catholicism-Christianity-more deeply. It changed me so much."

According to Civelek, the more he learned about American faith and culture, the more he had in common with it.

"Our core values are almost the same-forgiveness, charity, justice, poverty and respect for God," Civelek said. "We can come together and work on common issues like poverty and justice."

The UST Center for Faith and Culture provides a Master of Arts in Faith and Culture and a Certificate of Faith and Culture as core programs. This work is supported through the core mission to seek to understand and affect the relationship between the Gospel and the American way of life.

As part of the MAFC program, Ali completed a service learning and leadership practicum at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The practicum allows students to work in various settings to communicate with and teach others how to integrate faith development with civic and social responsibility.

At Catholic Charities, Civelek learned about a remarkably efficient social ministry. He is helping to create a map of all outreach organizations in the downtown area.

Dr. Adam Martinez, program director, said Ali has been an outstanding student.

"As a leader and a living witness to the integration of faith and culture, he has been learning as much as he could about the Catholic faith and way of life so he can be a stronger bridge with his own faith community," Martinez said.

"Our communities can share and learn from one another," Civelek said. "The University's Faith and Culture program called to me and made me believe this is possible."

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