From The New York Times:
Rafat and Zoreen Ansari, medical doctors who were born in Pakistan, have spent the last four decades working and raising their three children in a suburb of South Bend, Ind., where they also have earned a reputation as civic leaders.
By their estimation, they have given at least $1 million and thousands of hours of their time to nonprofits focused on children with autism, which afflicts their youngest child, Sonya.
But a year and a half ago the couple and their children, all Muslim, began working on a larger gift in terms of money, impact and risk: Their goal was 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.
The family’s inclination to leave a legacy is not uncommon among people who have grown wealthy. But their focus could land them in the middle of one of the most charged issues of the day.
“We came as immigrants, and this country has given us so much,” Mrs. Ansari said in an interview ahead of the announcement. “We want to give something back to America, but also to humanity. We want to promote the idea of equality.”
On Friday, the Ansaris announced a $15 million gift to the University of Notre Dame, one of the top Catholic universities, to create the Rafat and Zoreen Ansari Institute for Global Engagement With Religion. The institute will aim to deepen knowledge of religion and look to explain how the traditions and practice of various religions influence world events.
“Whenever you get a gift of this size, it’s tremendous, but particularly to have this named for the Ansari family, who is Muslim, is tremendously meaningful to us,” said the Rev. John I. Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, in an interview. “We believe religion is very important in our world. It can have a negative impact, but it should be possible to study the ways religion can be a force for human development and peace.”