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06/05/95

CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (415) 723-2558

Muslim baccalaureate speaker to be first in campus history

STANFORD -- Azim Nanji, Islamicstudies chair in the Religious Studies Department of the University of Florida, Gainesville, will offer an address titled "A Convocation of Birds" at Stanford's multi-faith baccalaureate celebration on Saturday, June 17. The service, which will begin at 9:30 a.m. in the north portal of the Inner Quad, is believed to be the first in the university's history to feature a Muslim as its main speaker.

The title is taken from a poem by the 12th-century Persian mystic Farid ud-Din Attar, in which the world's birds gather in order to search out a king. The text, a celebrated Sufi classic, is one that is often read in Stanford's CIV courses; it touches on themes of identity, openness to the new, learning and self-discovery.

"I think Nanji, whom I know mostly from our shared academic connections, will do a good job for us," said Dean of the Chapel Robert Gregg. "I've been scheming for several years to bring someone here who could acknowledge and make proud the excellent Muslim community among students."

Gregg added that the graduating head of the Islamic Society at Stanford, Youssef Ismail, will be among the readers that day, offering a passage selected by Nanji in both Arabic and in English translation.

Nanji, who is originally from Kenya, received his doctorate from McGill University in Canada in 1972. His publications include books and essays on African religions, ritual and symbolism in Islam in African contexts, medical ethics and Islam, Islamic arts and architecture, and the incentives for compassion and benevolence in Islam and other religious traditions.

Stanford's annual baccalaureate service is a multi-faith celebration for all bachelor's, master's and doctoral graduates and their families and friends.

"Reflective of the richness of viewpoint among Stanford students," Gregg said, "the hour attends both to recollection and anticipation in the language and music of more than one religion and philosophy."

About 5,000 graduates and their guests are expected to attend the ceremony, which will feature music and spiritual readings by Gregg, students and ministers of major religious groups on campus.

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