Atiya Aftab and Sheryl Olitzky, co-founders of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, received the prestigious Pacem in Terris award this month. Gail Karp and Lisa Killinger, who co-founded a local chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, received the One Among Us Justice Award; the event took place at St. Ambrose University and highlighted the bond between different religious communities working towards peace and understanding, emphasizing the importance of dialogue and engagement to overcome division and hatred.
During their acceptance speeches, both recipients extolled the values of the Sisterhood and the work they have done for our organization. Sheryl shared, “White nationalism is a disease that is spreading fear and hatred. However, the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is proof that this infection can be stopped. Instead of recoiling in fear and running away from what separates us, we embrace our differences and celebrate the beauty that makes us unique from one another.” In her speech, Atiya remarked, “It is therefore imperative for us to not to fear the other – not to demonize the other but simply to get to know one another. This is the foundation of the Sisterhood — to create brave spaces to ask each other frank questions – difficult questions – questions that stem from curiosity not contempt and engage in heart-to-heart dialogue.”
We asked Atiya and Sheryl to share their experiences and reflections on the event. Here is what they said:
It was overwhelming to accept the Pacem in Terris Award for the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom and its achievements in peace and justice in America and around the world with my partner Sheryl. I appreciate that this Award gave a platform and spotlight to the Sisterhood. The Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula, who bestowed the Award and his team were so warm and friendly and welcoming from the moment we arrived in the Quad Cities. The night before the Award ceremony we were able to screen the Stranger/Sister documentary at Augustana College with Pastor Melinda Pupillo and Prof. Jason Mahn and had a wonderful talkback session with the audience which is always my favorite part of the program. The next morning, we were invited to meet with and speak to faculty and students at Ambrose University. Ambrose University President Amy Novak introduced us and after our remarks, we had an opportunity to speak with a few students who were inspired by the mission of the Sisterhood. It is these conversations that motivate me to continue the work of the Sisterhood. The Award ceremony in the evening was amazing! I was so happy that our Quad City Sisterhood co-founders Dr. Lisa Killinger and Cantor Gail Katz were also recognized by an award from the Diocese of Davenport. I was thrilled to meet sisters from the Quad City chapter and I am certainly invigorated to continue to make the Sisterhood thrive and continue to build bridges of peace and dialogue!
I recently had the honor of spending several days in the Quad Cities, Iowa to receive the Pacem in Terris Award with my sister and cofounder, Atiya Aftab. As the ceremony began, the full listing was read of all those who had previously received the award. It was very overwhelming to realize that we were standing on the shoulders of so many peacemakers, including, but not limited to JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., the Dali Lama and Mother Teresa. In addition to the award ceremony, Atiya and I spent time at two different colleges teaching students and their teachers about the power of interfaith dialogue. We also met with a large number of students individually, helping them brainstorm about what they can do to engage with students of other faiths and build new relationships with them. It was so exciting to spend time with the Quad City SOSS coleaders and cofounders, Lisa Killinger and Gail Karp, and the sisters in the chapter. Atiya and I celebrated Lisa and Gal receiving the One Among Us award!
I was sad to leave our new friends in Iowa, but I am confident that the relationships that we developed during our visit will continue to blossom. I also know that we had a positive impact on so many in the community regarding perceptions of Muslims, Jews and the power of building peaceful relationships.
Congratulations Atiya and Sheryl!