USA TODAY US Edition

Universiti­es look to add full-time Muslim chaplains

More colleges are reaching out to those in the Islamic faith by developing posts

- By Matthew Daneman USA TODAY Daneman also reports for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

Cornell alumni raising money to establish position at school; nation’s growing Muslim population, increased awareness after 9/11 pushing trend.

ITHACA, N.Y. — When Jainal Bhuiyan attended Cornell University, he and his fellow Muslim students were mentored and led in religious prayers by a collection of Muslim professors, graduate students and staff.

“That was our network that filled the void,” says Bhuiyan, 28, and now senior vice president at the New York investment bank Rodman & Renshaw.

Cornell soon could join the growing ranks of universiti­es with full-time Muslim chaplains working alongside the Christian and Jewish chaplains already common on college campuses.

Bhuiyan and other Muslim alumni have created the Diwan Foundation, which launched last month to raise money to establish such a position at Cornell.

“We’re not thinking of this as trying to address a major deficiency, but rather a natural evolution,” says Nadeem Shafi, a Cornell alumnus who is an assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine. “The idea of having a Muslimchap­lain provide supportive services is not a new one. There are several (universiti­es) that have them. It’s time and appropriat­e for such a support system to be here (at Cornell).”

Pushing the trend are both the nation’s Muslim population growth and increased interest after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for better engagement with the Islamic world, says Omer Bajwa, who became Yale University’s first Muslim chaplain in 2008.

Bajwa:

The Pew Research Center estimates that there are 2.6 million Muslims in the United States — a number it says will grow to 6.2 million by 2030 because of immigratio­n and high birth rates.

“The last two to four years is when you really saw it taking off,” Bajwa says, pointing to Yale, Princeton and Duke all hiring chaplains in 2008 and Northweste­rn’s hire last year. “You find it picking up momentum.”

Bard College in New York’s Hudson Valley was the first U.S. university with a Muslim chaplain in the mid-1990s, says Timur Yuskaev, assistant professor of contempora­ry Islam and director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program at Connecticu­t’s Hartford Seminary.

The seminary started its Muslim chaplaincy program more than a decade ago to meet demand for military, hospital and prison chaplains, then expanded it to university chaplainci­es, Yuskaev says. Today, 40 students are enrolled in the program.

“The job prospects are pretty good,” he says. “The university chaplaincy is one of the growing fields in our program.”

No one keeps official numbers, but more than 30 Muslim chaplains work on college campuses or at private high schools around the nation, most of them part time, says Tahera Ahmad, who started at Northweste­rn University in Evanston, Ill., in fall 2010 as associate chaplain and the university’s first Muslim chaplain.

“I don’t necessaril­y only cater to the Muslim students,” she says. “I’ve had more non-Muslim students go through my office than Muslim stu- dents. I serve the larger campus community.”

Prior to Ahmad taking the position, “it was just students taking initiative on their own, planning things like Friday prayers,” says Noreen Nasir, 22 of Grayslake, Ill., and a broadcast journalism major at Northweste­rn.

“It would have been nice to have a religious scholar or religious figure on campuswe could go to, we could turn to and offer us advice and steer us in the right direction,” says Nasir, who is copresiden­t of the campus’ Muslim Cultural Students Associatio­n.

Now, because of Ahmad, the Muslim student group is more involved on campuswith interfaith activities and programs, she says.

Although Cornell has had Muslim faculty or staff serve as de facto chaplains for years, “it’s simply not an efficient way to meet full-time needs,” says Kenneth Clarke, director of Cornell United Religious Work, which offers various religious services and programs on campus. “There needs to be a person dedicated to that specific role,” he says.

Christian and Jewish chaplains at many institutio­ns are often paid for by campus ministry organizati­ons such as Hillel and Newman House.

“Right now, Muslim students do not have such a structure,” Bard College’s Yuskaev says. “That’s the next step.”

Bajwasays that so far, there has been little negative feedback to the idea.

“I don’t doubt there’s been reluctance and criticism” at campuses for such positions, but “generally, I’ve heard favorable responses,” he says.

 ?? Photos by Stan Godlewski for USA TODAY ?? Trend on campuses: Imam Omer Bajwa addresses group at Dwight Hall Chapel at Yale University. He sees more colleges hiring Muslim chaplains.
Photos by Stan Godlewski for USA TODAY Trend on campuses: Imam Omer Bajwa addresses group at Dwight Hall Chapel at Yale University. He sees more colleges hiring Muslim chaplains.
 ??  ?? Welcome change: Group gathers for Muslim prayer at Dwight Hall Chapel at Yale in NewHaven, Conn. Omer Bajwa says the practice of schools having Muslim chaplains is “picking up momentum.”
Welcome change: Group gathers for Muslim prayer at Dwight Hall Chapel at Yale in NewHaven, Conn. Omer Bajwa says the practice of schools having Muslim chaplains is “picking up momentum.”
 ??  ?? Became Yale’s first imamin 2008.
Became Yale’s first imamin 2008.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States