Muslim chaplains forge a brand new mind-set about Islam in secular locations


(RNS) — Years earlier than he turned Yale’s first full-time Muslim chaplain, Imam Omer Bajwa was a graduate pupil and aspiring journalist who had little thought of what a chaplain does.

Then got here September 2001.

“Our telephones began ringing off the hook,” mentioned Bajwa, who was concerned with Cornell’s Muslim Scholar Affiliation on the time. “We’re in Ithaca. There’s no mosque, no native Muslim management. All these excessive colleges and public libraries and radio stations and school campuses are calling for panels on Islam and understanding 9/11… that was a pivotal second.”

Energized by the instructing alternatives and interfaith engagement, he deserted journalism to enroll in an Islamic research doctoral program. However the academy quickly started to really feel too isolating. Just a few twists and turns later, he stumbled upon an ideal match: Islamic chaplaincy.

At this time, Bajwa is the director of Muslim life at Yale College, the place he has been since 2008. With Muhammad A. Ali, Sondos Kholaki and Jaye Starr, Bajwa can also be editor of the brand new ebook “Mantle of Mercy: Islamic Chaplaincy in North America,” a group of 30 first-person accounts by a variety of Muslim chaplains. The ebook captures a vital second in a specialty that’s steadily gaining momentum: Since 2010, a minimum of 4 new graduate applications in Islamic chaplaincy have popped up throughout the U.S., and through the pandemic the decade-old Affiliation of Muslim Chaplains doubled its membership to 234.

“Mantle of Mercy: Islamic Chaplaincy in North America” Courtesy picture

“Mantle of Mercy” addresses matters as diversified as tensions between Sunni and Shia jail inmates, and micro-aggressions in army settings. “Our dream and prayers have been for it to be a field-defining ebook, to arrange the sector and open up an area for studying the historical past of Muslim chaplains in North America,” Bajwa advised Faith Information Service.

Chaplains differ from imams in that they emphasize pastoral care, not congregational management, and are often employed in a secular setting and due to this fact are anticipated to serve individuals of any non secular background. Chaplaincy, in contrast to some Islamic management positions, isn’t restricted to males.

Although they’ve been round for many years, many Muslims are nonetheless unfamiliar with the operate of chaplains. “Chaplaincy just isn’t an Islamic time period,” Bajwa defined. “There’s no Arabic phrase for chaplain.”

However Bajwa’s co-editor, Starr, mentioned that whereas Muslims solely adopted the time period within the late twentieth century, Islam has an extended historical past of pastoral care. She pointed to the Hadith, a group of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings and actions.

“There are lovely tales about the way in which that he paid consideration to each individual that got here to him,” mentioned Starr. “He turned his physique. He confronted them totally and he listened. And it doesn’t matter who they have been, in the event that they have been any individual who was rich and highly effective or in the event that they have been any individual who was poor.”

Chaplaincy first entered the North American Muslim scene within the Seventies, when Black Muslims took on ministerial work in U.S. prisons. Within the Nineteen Nineties, Muslim chaplains arrived at universities, often as part-timers or volunteers and in hospitals, based on Starr. It wasn’t till the 2000s, although, that the sector actually started to choose up steam.

“For a very long time, the entire materials obtainable was by the Christian lens,” mentioned Starr. “Generally you’d get a Jewish piece, and also you’d must translate or type of put in your Islam glasses and determine, what does this imply for me in my context?”

At this time, most Muslim chaplains maintain a divinity faculty diploma in Islamic chaplaincy or an equal. However although the sector is professionalizing by way of associations, graduate applications and now its personal literature, the panorama of Muslim chaplaincy is as various because the people who belong to it.

“As you may see from the essays, we share most of the similar rules, however it’s lovely to see how that manifests in our personal ministries and caregiving,” Kholaki advised RNS. “Every one among us will method chaplaincy barely in another way due to what informs us from the prophetic custom or from Scripture.”

Sondos Kholaki during work. Courtesy photo

Sondos Kholaki throughout work. Courtesy picture

Kholaki, a employees hospital chaplain in Southern California, describes within the ebook how the 5 pillars of Islam — together with fasting, a self-discipline many Muslims are working towards now, throughout Ramadan — encourage her method to care.

“Fasting isn’t just a bodily emptying, the place we are actually not consuming something; there’s a very metaphysical facet to it,” Kholaki mentioned. Throughout Ramadan, she believes, God sends her a few of her most difficult instances as a result of she’s most prepared for them.

“I are available fully emptied, and capable of actually sit and pay attention,” she mentioned. “I can supply a lot extra when I’m 100% within the second, when I’m slowed down or pulled again to my lowest pace of functioning. I’m not in a rush to get wherever or do something. And the non-public connection and consciousness I really feel with the divine, having that on the forefront, will influence what I say and the ideas I’ve.”

Starr, who’s coaching to change into a hospital chaplain, mentioned the Prophet Muhammad’s compassionate presence is one thing she seeks to emulate, even when a affected person refuses to see her as a result of she is Muslim.  

“I don’t maintain hostility towards them for that. I proceed to examine in with the staff to verify they’re okay, and see if any individual else can examine in,” mentioned Starr. Oftentimes, nonetheless, if she continues to answer the affected person with heat, she mentioned, they start to open up.


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Captain Barbara Lois Helms, center, a unit chaplain with the Canadian Armed Forces, in 2006. Photo by Bdr Maxime Cote

Captain Barbara Lois Helms, heart, a unit chaplain with the Canadian Armed Forces, in 2006. Picture by Bdr Maxime Cote

At Friday providers at Yale, Bajwa tries to replicate the inclusiveness that the prophet projected at his personal mosque. “In our area, ladies have full accessibility, graduate college students include households, there are children in strollers,” mentioned Bajwa. “Why? As a result of the prophet’s mosque was what we’d now name welcoming and inclusive. It was multi-generational and multiracial.”

The welcoming area reverses the irritating racial and ethnic divisions Muslim college students typically discover in native Muslim communities. Chaplaincy, Bajwa mentioned, may also help college students navigating each heightened Islamophobia and a suspicion of genuine faith extra usually.

“They wish to stay in a pluralistic cosmopolitan society the place they settle for others but in addition need others to simply accept them and their non secular id, moral decisions and ethical commitments,” he mentioned.

As Gen Z Muslims wrestle with questions of non secular id, the editors of “Mantle of Mercy” hope their ebook may persuade some college students to affix their ranks. The necessity for Muslim chaplains will solely develop — a Pew examine from 2018 projected that by 2050, the U.S. Muslim inhabitants would almost double to achieve 8.1 million, or 2.1% of the full inhabitants.

“My greatest hope can be that everyone will stroll away extra snug with Muslim chaplains,” mentioned Starr. “And if that may be a Christian supervisor who would have by no means considered hiring Muslim chaplains … I hope that they are going to notice {that a} Muslim chaplain is an asset to the staff and might look after the entire sufferers simply in addition to a Christian chaplain.”


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