First Muslim with GC Bible and religion degree to graduate Sunday

Goshen College's commencement is Sunday.

Posted on April 26, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — Some people are surprised to find out that a Muslim from Iran would want to major in Bible and religion at a Mennonite college, but Mohammad Rasoulipour is up-front about it.

The young man from Tehran wants to be a part of interfaith dialogue and create a connection between his homeland and the U.S.

“If I wanted to take Islamic courses, I would have stayed at home,” he said.

Rasoulipour will be one of 244 Goshen College graduates honored at the college’s 115th annual commencement ceremony this Sunday, April 28.

He had already studied a year at the University of Tehran in industrial design before coming to Goshen College.

Rasoulipour’s father, Rasoul Rasoulipour, had been Iran’s director of religious dialogue and made connections in 2007 to some U.S. Mennonites and Quakers who were a part of the first U.S. peace delegation to Iran, the Goshen College senior said. Soon, the elder Rasoulipour was traveling to the U.S. to speak, including at College Mennonite Church, where he learned about Goshen College.

Mohammad’s parents, Rasoul Rasoulipour and Maryam Shams, saw having their son attend Goshen College as an opportunity to continue to promote the interfaith dialogue that they had made a major part of their lives.

It just so happened that Mohammad Rasoulipour would be able to start a year at Goshen College at the same time his family would be moving to South Bend, where the elder Rasoulipour would be a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame for a year.

The younger Rasoulipour had spent some months in England in the past and arrived on Goshen College’s campus expecting people to act similarly to what he had experienced there. The people here were warmer than he had anticipated.

“People were friendly, they were all smiley — it was so welcoming,” he said.

Rasoulipour had forgotten a lot of the English he had learned in classes as a younger boy. Those skills developed, though, as did close relationships with other students.

After his first year in Goshen, Rasoulipour had to decide to stay or return to Iran with his family. He chose to stay and finish his degree in art as a step towards his goal of a career in industrial design. He also decided to pursue a second bachelor’s degree at the same time, adding Bible and religion classes to his course-load. He’s at least the third Iranian student to attend Goshen College, but the first Muslim student to ever major in Bible and religion, according to Goshen College records. (Editor's note - The original version of this story said he was the third Muslim student, but the college has had more than that.)

“I felt like a pioneer,” Rasoulipour said, “but very well supported.”

By the end of his second year, Rasoulipour said Goshen College “really felt like home.”

“It was a beautiful experience I had here,” he said.

This week, Rasoulipour has been busy working on a sculpture that will be on display for the Sunday morning baccalaureate service. In May, he’ll be a teacher’s assistant for two May Term courses and this summer, he’ll be doing some design work for Mennonite.net.

After that, he plans to return home to Tehran. He plans to go on to graduate school for industrial design, but isn’t sure where. He would be excited about studying in some third country other than the U.S. or Iran, though, he said.

While focusing on industrial design career-wise, he said interfaith dialogue, helping create connections between different religious groups, will continue to be a part of his life.

“The background I come from provides that for me,” he said.

“When you live among people, it moves from dialogue of faith to dialogue of life, I guess,” he said.

While Goshen has become a comfortable place for him, Rasoulipour said he wants to return to Iran and spend at least “a good while” there again.

“Speak my native tongue, my own language, be with my family, be with my grandparents ... yeah, there’s a strong sense of wanting to be at home,” he said.

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