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AARP Connecticut Connects Across Faiths with Online Discussion Series

Aida Mansoor, of Berlin, talks to fellow lecturers before the lecture about clothes, cuisine and calendar as part of AARP CT's online "Faith in the Neighborhood" series.
Yehyun Kim

Aida Mansoor remembers running into the supermarket for milk in 2001, right after 9/11 and feeling all eyes on her and her headscarf. Mansoor, who is Muslim, quickly grabbed her milk and was heading toward the register when a woman approached. At the time, Muslims around the country were being met with suspicion and even violence.

“I just closed my eyes. I thought, This is it,” recalls the 55-year-old Berlin resident. “And then she comes in and gives me this intense hug.”

The woman told Mansoor that she was shopping for her Muslim neighbor, also fearful of backlash from the attacks. It was a pivotal moment. “That was when I realized the importance of connection,” Mansoor says.

She went on to become a chaplain in her community and an educator at the Hartford International University for Religion and Peace, where she helps others understand and connect with people of different faiths.

Now she’s one of several scholars leading online religious diversity sessions as part of AARP Connecticut’s Virtual U Faith in the Neighborhood series. The five-part program, which runs through November, is part of a collaboration between AARP and the university.

The free one-hour sessions delve into topics including prayer and devotional acts, sacred buildings, food and dating customs.

Inclusion and Understanding

A person’s faith is an important element of their identity, says Katy O’Leary, the university’s director of executive and professional education. But too often, religion is considered a taboo conversational topic. The series aims to change that by helping people appreciate and support religious differences.

“We believe that there’s a strong connection between religion and peace, and until there’s understanding, we’re not going to have peace in the world,” O’Leary says.

Mansoor’s May workshop, Clothing, Cuisine, Clocks & Calendars, examined different religious holiday observances and food customs, such as kosher and halal diets, and fasting, which is a practice of all major faiths.

In the session she tried to demystify religious clothing like head coverings, which Mansoor chooses to wear as a reminder of her religious identity.

Her mother, on the other hand, decided to stop wearing them after she got married. “The way we practice our faith is very different from person to person,” she says.

Helping people connect with one another in multifaith neighborhoods fits with AARP’s mission to promote diverse, livable communities, says Erica Michalowski, AARP Connecticut’s community outreach director.

Upcoming sessions include Dating and Weddings in the Multifaith Neighborhood, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m., and What Goes On in There? America’s Religious Diversity in Ten Buildings, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m. AARP expects to reprise the series next year.

Offered via Zoom, the lectures are open to anyone, but registration is required. Social workers and those in related fields may receive continuing education credit through AARP’s collaboration with the National Association of Social Workers-Connecticut Chapter.

Register for the workshops and other virtual lectures at

Natalie Missakian is a writer living in Cheshire, CT.

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