The Influence of Wealth on Religion

Rafat and Zoreen Ansari at home in Granger, Ind. CreditLyndon French for The New York Times

It is a common belief, and probably rightfully so, that the power of change in this country lays in the hands of the wealthy. They have the means and resources for change. Rafat and Zoreen Ansari are two Palestinian immigrants, working as doctors with three grown children, who are determined to have their family legacy be something great.

To fund something that would foster better understanding of religion, including Islam, Judaism and Christianity, with the belief that all religions should be treated with equal respect.

To accomplish this goal, the Ansari’s, a Muslim family, donated $15 million to the University of Notre Dame, a top Catholic university located in Indiana, in which their daughter attended law school. Per the family’s request, this endowment is being put towards creating an institute, which will be named in their honor, within the university dedicated to deepening the understanding of religion and its impact on world events.

In the last couple of years, the majority of problems have been created by the misunderstandings among the religions.

The Ansari’s are using the wealth, success and status that they have fostered in this county to provide a broadened view of religion into the education system. At a time where assumptions based on race, appearance, and religion seem to be at peak, with no intentions to fall anytime soon, this family it making a political, religious and overall humanitarian issue their own personal problem to help resolve. The timing could not be more in tuned with the continued stereotyping, disagreements, and hatred arising all over this country, in particular in classroom settings.

“After 9/11 we went to our faith group, which was a group of different faiths,” Mrs. Ansari said. “We drew strength from everybody’s traditions. We shared all of our faiths and talked about our differences and also our commonalities. I used to come home and think, I wish we had an institution or some sort of venue where we could use the power of religion and prayer to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Providing a space of knowledge, free of assumption and accusations for all religions and cultures sounds impactful in theory, however it comes with a great deal of distrust and contempt. Public high schools have been blamed for converting students to Islam, the Department of Education has been asked to ban all lesson plans made based on Islamic faith, and even before Trump’s presidency began back in 2014, parents pulled their children out of school once they found out a lesson on Islam was being taught. Although, a private university is not the same as a public high school, the backlash could end up being similar.

As unfortunate as it is, I would not be surprised if outcries of disbelief and anger were made public. This gift was given out of hope for a future differing from the hatred of the present, but if it ends up stemming more fear, would it be considered worth it?


  1. How do you think the Ansari’s gift will be perceived to those currently attending the university as well as those who have considered applying/attending in the future? Do you think their wealth and social standing have a major impact on how this is perceived?
  2. Do you think there will be any benefits to come from this gift in regards to a greater understanding of the Islamic religion? If not, what do you think the effect will look like?
  3. Do you think this is the start of introducing and ‘normalizing’ the teaching of all religions within universities? Is there a possibility that public universities, high schools, and primary schools could one day incorporate this as well?
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