Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement

A Partnership between the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion,
Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation, & USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture

People:  Executive Committee

Dafer M. Dakhil
dakhil.jpg Dafer M. Dakhil is the Director of the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation and President of the affiliated Omar Center for the Study of Civilization. Mr. Dakhil is active on issues affecting education reform and through his work, builds bridges of understanding and cooperation amongst the diverse communities of Los Angeles. Furthermore, he is responsible for initiating various programs to help the American Muslim community transition into active engagement in all aspects of American civic life. Mr. Dakhil believes that the Muslim community should contribute to and benefit from all that a pluralistic democracy has to offer its citizens. He is responsible for directing young adults into civic programs and occupations which allows them to transition and participate in all levels of mainstream community and civic life. Mr. Dakhil serves on the USC Community Advisory Council and is a Member of the Los Angeles Interfaith Environmental Council, the Figueroa Corridor Partnership, and the Christian Muslim Consultation Group. He is the chairperson of the Task Force on Islamic Cultural and Educational Concerns, the Director of “Islam in the Curriculum,” the Chairperson of the “Parent Collaborative," an LAUSD umbrella for all parent-related organizations, and has served on the California School Board’s Parent Involvement Task Force. He has also served on the Board of Education City, County and Communities Relations Committee, Board of Education Citizens Committee on Superintendent Selection Process, Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education Task Force for the Creation of the District’s Human Relations Commission, LAUSD Superintendent’s Task Force on Accountability, and The Los Angeles Unified School District Multi Cultural Curriculum Committee. He is a member of the FBI Multi Cultural Advisory Committee, the Department of Homeland Security Roundtable (Los Angeles), the State Terrorism Threat Assessment Advisory Group, and a Board Member of the Muslim-American Homeland Security Congress. In addition, Mr. Dakhil is a member of the Board of Education's Human Relations Education Council and the California Science Center’s Ethics Advisory Committee.

Reuven Firestone
firestone.jpg Reuven Firestone is Professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles and senior fellow at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. An ordained rabbi (HUC 1982), he received the Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic studies from New York University in 1988. From 1987 to 1992, he taught Hebrew literature and directed the Hebrew and Arabic language programs at Boston University, and has taught at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles since 1993. Firestone is the author of Journeys in Holy Lands: The Evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis (SUNY Press, 1990), Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam (Oxford University Press, 1999), Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims (Ktav, 2000), Jews, Christians, Muslims in Dialogue: A Practical Handbook, with Leonard Swidler and Khalid Duran (Twenty-Third Publications, 2007), and Introduction to Islam for Jews (Jewish Publication Society, 2008). He is currently completing a book tracing the revival of holy war in modern Judaism, and a study of the religious notion of chosenness ("election") in monotheistic religions. He has been awarded major grants from the Yad Hanadiv Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Fulbright Foundation. His articles appear in numerous journals, including The Journal of Semitic Studies, The Journal of Near Eastern Studies, The Journal of Religious Ethics, The Journal of the American Academy of Religion, The Journal of Jewish Studies, Jewish Quarterly Review, Judaism, Studia Islamica, The Muslim World, The Journal of Ecumenical Studies, The Encyclopedia of Islam, The Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, and the Encyclopedia of Religion. In addition to traveling extensively in the Middle East, Firestone served on the international "Voice of Peace" radio project and has been involved in a variety of committees and commissions exploring Jewish-Muslim and Jewish-Arab relations.

Donald Miller
donheadshotthumb150x1506182.jpg Donald E. Miller is Firestone Professor of Religion at the University of Southern California, executive director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, and director of the School of Religion. He received the Ph.D. degree in Religion (Social Ethics) from USC in 1975. He is the author, co-author or editor of nine books, including Finding Faith: The Spiritual Quest of the Post-Boomer Generation, with Richard Flory, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (September 2007), Armenia: Portraits of Survival and Hope (University of California Press, 2003), GenX Religion (Routledge, 2000), Reinventing American Protestantism (University of California Press, 1997), Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide (University of California Press, 1993), Homeless Families: The Struggle for Dignity (University of Illinois Press, 1993), Writing and Research in Religious Studies (Prentice Hall, 1992), and The Case for Liberal Christianity (Harper & Row, 1981). He is completing a co-authored book on immigrant religion in Southern California.

The emerging focus of his research is on international faith-based NGOs, and involves work in Rwanda, Tanzania, and Armenia. His work with the Association of Orphan Heads of Households contributed to the organization's receipt of The World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child given by HRM Queen Silvia of Sweden. He has received major grants from the John Templeton Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Lilly Endowment, Inc., The James Irvine Foundation, the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation, the California Endowment, California Council for the Humanities, the Tides Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and Fieldstead & Company.

Varun Soni
Varun Soni is the Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California. Dean Soni received his B.A. degree in Religion from Tufts University, where he also earned an Asian Studies minor and completed the Program in Peace and Justice Studies. He subsequently received his M.T.S. degree from Harvard Divinity School and his M.A. degree through the Department of Religious Studies at UCSB. He went on to receive his J.D. degree from UCLA School of Law, where he also completed the Critical Race Studies Program and served as the Chief Articles Editor for UCLA's Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law. He earned his Ph.D. through the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town, where his doctoral research focused on religion and popular culture. As an undergraduate student, Dean Soni spent a semester living in a Buddhist monastery in Bodh Gaya, India through Antioch University's Buddhist Studies Program. As a graduate student, he spent months doing field research in South Asia through UCSB's Center for Sikh and Punjab Studies.

Dean Soni is currently a University Fellow at USC Annenberg's Center on Public Diplomacy and is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. He is a member of the State Bar of California, the American Academy of Religion, and the Association for College and University Religious Affairs. He is on the advisory board for the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, the Music Preservation Project, CrossCurrents, and the Journal for Interreligious Dialogue. Prior to joining USC, Dean Soni spent four years teaching in the Law and Society Program at UCSB. While teaching at UCSB, he launched two successful business ventures; the first will release its first graphic novel next year while the second provided legal support to immigration law firms and their client corporations. He also produced and hosted his own radio show on Pacifica / KPFK showcasing music from South Asia and its Diaspora. Born in India and raised in Southern California, he has family on five continents and they collectively represent every major religious tradition in the world.

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