UNR Interfaith Prayer Room

Meeting the spiritual needs of students

UNR Interfaith Prayer Room

Video footage shows Imam Bundakji, a self described Jew-hating “monster”, embracing  a Jewish Rabbi,  both of whom were then embraced by a Christian Priest from Nazareth in front of  the third holiest site in Islam, Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, at the height of the 2nd Intifada in 2003, inspiring two UNR alumni who were there to later help begin the UNR Interfaith Prayer Room Initiative in 2011 1

Historians have made a case that as noble as the Founding Ideals of our Forefathers were in America,  the realization of those ideals, such as religious pluralism, has been a long process.2  This is true as well for our founding ideals of religious liberty 3

In the matter of religion, these same historians have also cited such watershed events as the martyrdom of 4 chaplains as making substantial impact in re-defining more inclusively broader and broader definitions of  what is the religious “mainstream.” 4.

Also, other kinds of events, such as marches for peace and justice through the Palestinian and Israeli quarters of Jerusalem in 2003, at the height of the 2nd Intifada, also had impact on interfaith relations in the United States. This site chronicles such a series of events.

Historically there has always been a tug of war between the exclusivity of individual faith communities and the pull of religious pluralism for the greater common good.

Global and national developments in interfaith relations have had local community impacts which in turn have both impacted, and been impacted by, the local state university, University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). This also means that individual students on the UNR campus are not only impacted by global and national events, but can also create national and global impacts through their actions or inactions, such as in the case of three student club presidents, Sarah Canak, president of the UNR student club “Women’s Federation for World Peace,  Sumayya Beekun, president of the UNR student club “Muslim Students Association” and Daniel Sanchez, president of the UNR student club “Interfaith Students Club”.

These UNR student leaders were supported by two UNR alumni, Don Watts and Stephen Child, who  witnessed  Imam Bundakji (whom they later got to know), embrace in tears of reconciliation a Jewish rabbi and a Christian priest from Nazareth in front of Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site of Islam, at the height of the 2nd Intifada in 2003. This experience motivated these two UNR alumni to encourage and support and work for the same kind of interfaith embracing and cross-religious knowledge for the sake of peace that they  directly witnessed in Jerusalem during the second intifada.

Don Watts Jerusalem PMarch

“Imam Haitham Bundakji: We are the chapter of Abraham, no more war!” YouTube. YouTube, 4 March 2011. Web 16 April 2016

Imam Bundakji, then President of the Islamic Society of Orange County, largest mosque in the western United States, himself had been born during a blackout from a Jewish air attack on his internment camp in Jordon. Bundakji’s family had been dispossessed of all their home and belongings in Palestine. As Bundakji grew up, first one of his older brothers, then his other, were killed by Jewish toughs. A self described Jew hating “monster” 5, he was personally responsible for countless assaults on Jews in the Middle East and in Los Angeles.

After witnessing the interfaith reconciliation in Jerusalem, the two UNR alumni, Don Watts and Stephen Child in turn attended an interfaith prayer breakfast at a local Denny’s restaurant which they arranged in order to hear the story of the University of Nevada student club president Sarah Canak in December 19, 2011 concerning an interfaith initiative to help meet the spiritual needs of students on campus.

This UNR interfaith initiative had began on a “Tacos with the President”  earlier in 2011 when Women’s Federation for World Peace UNR chapter president Sarah Canak asked UNR President Marc Johnson “what are you doing to take care of the spiritual needs of students on campus.”

This interfaith initiative  quickly attracted the support of both student, administration and community interreligious faith leaders and ultimately led to the promise  in principle of an interfaith prayer room on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno by President Marc Johnson, ultimately leading to the realization of Meditation and Reflection Rooms to meet the different spiritual needs of the University’s diverse student population.


This website is the story of how all this came to take place – how religions, working together, turned people toward a good outcome and made a positive contribution to world peace.


  1. “Imam Haitham Bundakji: We are the chapter of Abraham, no more war!”  YouTube. YouTube, 4 March 2011. Web 16 April 2016
  2. William R. Hutchison,  2003. Religious pluralism in America the contentious history of a founding ideal.
  3.  David Sehat, 2011. The myth of American religious freedom
  4. Hutchinson, 2003
  5. The Defining Moment Television Talk Show, Interview with Imam Bundakji