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OU community celebrates unity in annual Holiday Lights ceremony representing religious diversity

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The OU Singing Sooners perform during the university's annual Holiday Lights Celebration.

Several members of the OU community from various backgrounds gathered to light the Christmas tree, the Crescent Moon and the Menorah in celebration of the university’s annual Holiday Lights ceremony Tuesday evening at David Burr Park.

Departing OU Student Government Association President Tavanah Farzaneh introduced OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. as the first speaker for the event. Each speaker focused on the universal meaning of light as it relates to truth, justice and freedom and found similarities among religions across the world.

“It's my pleasure for the third year to do this,” Harroz said. “There are so many intense events that surround us, and there are so many things that are built to divide us occurring, (but) this event is all about unity.”

Allen Hertzke, an OU political science professor and faculty fellow in religious freedom, said former OU President David Boren started the ceremony as a tradition central to the Christmas season, which he believes is challenging at this time.

“This can be a uniquely stressful time, as we are in our second year of a global pandemic. (It is) a time of isolation, of illness, of loneliness, of depression, of financial stress, but everyone here can bring light to that darkness,” Hertzke said. “Set all our lights like candles, and let them commingle and grow. Let your light shine, Sooner family.”

For Chairman of Islamic studies and Chaplain at Oklahoma City University Imam Imad Enchassi, the ceremony meant celebrating a “light of our commonalities,” as Islam, Christianity and Judaism were represented.

“This light illuminates our common practices, such as prayers, charity, fasting and pilgrimage and, most importantly, standing for those who cannot stand and giving voice for the voiceless,” Enchassi said. “The light that illuminates our common love for humanity. Although our holidays might not coincide on the same day, their purpose is the same: how to be a light to the world.”

OU Muslim Student Association President Fizza Sattar and OU Shia Student Association President Zille Huma lit the Crescent Moon symbol while The Singing Sooners and the OU Wind Symphony Brass played “Allahu,” a traditional chant in Arabic.

OU Director of Jewish Student Life Zach Kampf spoke about the meaning of Hanukkah in the Jewish tradition. He thanked OU professor of Hebrew and Jewish Literature Ori Kritz for gifting him a Menorah when he was an OU student and was not able to spend Hanukkah with his family.

“I wish everybody can be the light in someone else's life, either today or throughout the holiday season,” Kampf said.

As The Singing Sooners and the OU Wind Symphony Brass played “Ma’oz Tzur,” a Jewish liturgical poem sung during Hanukkah, OU Hillel president and Shabbat intern Nathanael Reese and media intern Joanne Levy lit the Menorah.

OU Director of Student Life Quy Nguyen said in an interview with The Daily he recognizes the support of student organizations and the OU Special Events Committee to organize an inclusive ceremony, especially since it is the second year of official representation for OU’s Muslim community.

“We (let all) groups work together to figure out what it is that their community needs to be seen and recognized to be a part of this event,” Nguyen said. “Our office came in handy (to facilitate) those conversations between the student leaders, and then, the administrators who actually hosted the event and making sure that they were truly represented in a way that honored them.”

Sattar said she was on the OU Muslim Student Association board when they were pushing for the physical representation of Islam during the holiday lights ceremony last year.

“It was amazing just being able to see this here today,” Sattar said. “Before, we had a (representative) speaking about our religion, but (we were) not being able to light something along with the other religions.”

As the Crescent Moon was lit, Sattar said the OU Muslim Association has worked with the Student Life office to increase awareness surrounding the lack of representation of Islam during the ceremony.

“We have so many Muslim students on campus,” Sattar said. “Seeing we are being accepted at a higher level, and not only as an organization, makes us feel we are at home here.”

After Farzaneh introduced Santa Claus as the last guest, the crowd joined The Singing Sooners and the OU Wind Symphony Brass in singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” to finish the ceremony.

“There is so much that we can do in recognizing our diversity to divide each other but, at the end of the day, it's a choice, and I love that here we choose to recognize our differences as strengths,” Harroz said.

Assistant News Editor

Marien López-Medina is an international student majoring in journalism and nonprofit organizational studies. She works as The Daily's assistant news editor and has served as a news managing editor and news reporter.

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