Building connections across difference in Dubuque

Dr. Adib Kassas’ main priority in life is to teach more people about his religion and about how to build relationships across differences. Dr. Kassas is a Muslim and originally from Damascus, Syria. He has been working as a psychiatrist and raising his family of five children with his wife in Dubuque, Iowa for more than 18 years. Several years ago he met Dr. John Eby, Associate Professor of History at Loras College and found a way to put this priority into action.Dr. Kassas has led a Qur’an Study at Loras College for the past seven years.  This has provided many students, faculty, staff, and Dubuque community members with an in-depth exposure to Islamic thought and faith.  For the past three and a half years, he has also been a key participant in an Interfaith Bible Study that has engaged study of the Bible from a wide range of perspectives. He also helped found the Children of Abraham organization, which creates an atmosphere of civic life that builds inter-religious solidarity, cooperation, and friendship through regular monthly topical conversations, service, activities, education outreach, and expressions of cross-cultural hospitality in sacred spaces.

“Adib Kassas has been astonishingly generous with his time, a font of wisdom that has had a transformative effect on many, and has remained sympathetic to the challenges and excitement that interfaith engagement brings to young people in particular,” said Professor Eby. “He has had a deep and meaningful impact on the Loras College campus that extends well beyond his specific activities, because the exposure to Islam and Middle Eastern perspective that he shares with some is magnified by their changed perspectives and the awareness of the college community of such interfaith opportunities and especially by awareness of his outstanding personal character.”

Dr. Kassas and his wife, Yaman Salim, at this year’s Engaged Campus Awards event.
In January, Dr. Kassas traveled with a Loras College class to India to introduce them to Islamic belief and architectural expression.  He was excited to be able to learn from this trip and to see the transformation in students.“I could see in their personalities that they were more welcoming to me and I really appreciate that,” he said. “They were asking questions and considering me part of them. This is more powerful than just lecture; it’s about having relationships.”

A major reason Dr. Kassas and his family have chosen to remain in Dubuque has been this warm and welcoming environment. When asked whether recent events in the United States have made him feel less welcome, he said he has felt the opposite.

“I feel more empowered and grateful to be in Dubuque,” he said. “The route we have taken is important. Instead of confronting, we are getting to know each other. Other people’s experiences empower yours; they don’t make it less.”

Dr. Kassas said he was thrilled to recent the community partnership award because of the example it allows his work with Loras College to set with others.

“I really think it is important for people to talk to each other instead of being scared,” he said. “There is no way besides talking to solve the problems. Between Muslims and Christians, we are half the population of the world and we can set a great example and change the world working together and approaching each other in a different way.”