(RNS) — In August of 2019, Azza Karam turned the primary girl and first Muslim to be appointed secretary-general of Religions for Peace, changing William Vendley, who had led the worldwide interfaith group and labored for peace throughout Africa and Asia for greater than half of the group’s 49-year historical past.

Her historic appointment wouldn’t be a subject of dialog for lengthy. Inside a number of months of her taking on, the world was within the grips of the coronavirus pandemic and the staggering loss of life toll and world recession it sparked. This yr, the U.S. pullout of Afghanistan introduced on political chaos in that nation, with ripples around the globe.

Karam spoke to Faith Information Service’s Eric J. Lyman throughout the first Religions for Peace convention held a minimum of partially in individual for the reason that 2019 version the place she was appointed.

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The previous senior adviser to the European Union and the United Nations talked about how her childhood in Egypt ready her for her position and the way spiritual leaders can confront hot-button matters like peace in Afghanistan and coronavirus vaccine hesitancy.

The interview has been edited for readability and size.

Have you ever had time to mirror on the importance of your being the primary girl and the primary Muslim to move Religions for Peace?

I’ve thought of it, even when that’s as a result of it might be inconceivable for me to not see many issues from a lady’s perspective, with a lady’s sensibilities. I additionally suppose there are issues I might do as a Muslim. In my acceptance speech I reached out to Muslim leaders to hitch the Religions for Peace and there was a direct constructive response and plenty of got here on board as members of the World Council, our governing board.

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I’m not serving as a lady or a Muslim, however there was a exceptional circulation of goodwill and a wiliness to work collectively, whether or not Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Buddhist, Jewish or Hindu.

The new Secretary-General of Religions for Peace, Dr. Azza Karam, on Aug. 23, 2019. Photo by Christian Thiel/Religions for Peace

The brand new secretary-general of Religions for Peace, Azza Karam, on Aug. 23, 2019. Photograph by Christian Thiel/Religions for Peace

What in your previous ready you for this position with Religions for Peace? Or does one simply hit the bottom operating and be taught as you go?

As an Egyptian Muslim girl rising up in a really conservative household, it might really feel like no matter I did, it was not ok. That meant I needed to work tougher, longer, extra. The social circumstances helped put me in a spot the place, sure, it’s important to hit the bottom operating. In the event you don’t, you’ll fall flat in your face.

I additionally really feel like my private historical past has made me a bit extra delicate to the struggles of those that can’t articulate their ideas or who aren’t allowed to talk freely — males or ladies, or individuals of various races, faiths, social lessons. I feel there’s an added layer of sensitivity, exactly as a result of issues didn’t come straightforward for me. It means I’m naturally looking out for individuals who could also be in the identical boat.

You need to have felt such as you had been being examined over the past two years, with the pandemic and all its impacts, then what occurred in Afghanistan?

As an individual who is consistently questioning and looking for, it helps to construct a sure sense — not a lot of fatalism, however of preparedness, of understanding that issues are going to be tough earlier than they get simpler. One of many issues I’ve discovered in my life, and I’m now in my mid-50s, is that there’s pleasure in service. This perception in service is a good supply of encouragement and power that I typically faucet into.

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Religions for Peace is predicated in New York, you might be from Egypt and your college job is within the Netherlands. The place do you think about dwelling?

That’s an excellent query. Proper now and for the previous a number of years I’d say my house is within the U.S., particularly New York.

Religions for Peace Secretary-General Azza Karam speaks during the opening ceremony of the Religions for Peace Conference of the World Council of Religious Leaders on Faith and Diplomacy, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, in Lindau, Germany. Photo courtesy of Religions for Peace

Religions for Peace Secretary-Basic Azza Karam speaks throughout the opening ceremony of the Religions for Peace Convention of the World Council of Non secular Leaders on Religion and Diplomacy, Oct. 4, 2021, in Lindau, Germany. Photograph courtesy of Religions for Peace

The most important information story this yr stands out as the takeover by the Taliban after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. What’s the position of spiritual leaders there?

We live in an age the place faith, spiritual leaders, spiritual ideologies, are enjoying an necessary political, social, cultural and even financial position. I’m not simply speaking concerning the religious area right here. I’m speaking very virtually, concerning the political and the monetary area. In Afghanistan, we now have to understand how sophisticated the scenario is. Now we have to do not forget that each spiritual chief in Afghanistan will not be a part of the Taliban. There are spiritual minority leaders and communities. Now we have to have a look at all of that wealthy tapestry of spiritual context in Afghanistan.

At a minimal, Afghanistan forces us to be discerning concerning the completely different spiritual roles, tasks and influences. We are able to not talk about “faith” within the singular. Now we have to be extra discerning about society, politics and concerning the completely different religions coexisting.

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Some evangelical church buildings within the U.S. are calling on their congregations to keep away from the coronavirus vaccines. What’s one of the simplest ways to confront that drawback?

There are numerous religions and plenty of, many spiritual individuals. The variety of these inside these teams who’re talking out towards the scientific proof is comparatively small. If we have a look at the broad group of spiritual establishments, whether or not Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and so forth, we understand a big majority is definitely calling for a scientific perspective concerning vaccines. There’s a substantial amount of thought that taking vaccines is definitely nearly a spiritual obligation. We simply must preserve advocating.

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