The Short Answer
Deciding to pursue (another) graduate degree has been a difficult decision. There is, of course, the financial cost as well as the burden upon my time and attention. I know, for example, that I could not do this without the support of my wife (may God bless her). Moreover, some of the volunteer activities that I have enjoyed participating in will also be impacted due to the limitations of my time.
I did give thought to other programs. For instance, I was greatly encouraged by some colleagues to pursue a DMin or PhD. I even gave some serious thought to a degree in education. However, after much consideration I have decided that a Masters in Social Work (MSW) would be the best direction for me personally and professionally. It honestly feels like the next step in a natural progression. I believe (and pray) that my previous education and experiences will be enhanced by a degree in social work and, with God’s blessing and support, enable me to better serve our community.
The Long Answer
An Excerpt from My MSW Application (slightly modified)
I have decided to enter the MSW Program at the University of Calgary because I want to grow in my ability to nurture and develop inclusive communities with services and systems that better meet and support the wellbeing of Canada’s religious minorities; especially Muslim youth and families.
Muslims constitute the largest non-Christian faith in Canada and the second largest in the United States and the population is growing. Statistics Canada projects Muslims—together with other non-Christian religious groups—will nearly double in size by 2036. Similar estimations have also been made about Muslims in the United States with projections that Islam will “[surpass] Judaism as the second most common faith in the U.S.” by 2050. However, care for this population is complicated due to several factors, including a rise in Islamophobia, stigma about mental health amongst Muslims, as well as the sheer diversity of the Muslim population. In fact, Muslims make up one of the most diverse cultural and religious groups in North America.
In Canada, Muslims are comprised of individuals from eighty-five nations as well as dozens of ethno-racial and linguistic communities. This includes a majority of Muslims who regard themselves as visible minorities “with the majority self-identifying as South Asians (36%) (e.g., Pakistanis, Indians), one-quarter self-identifying as Arab, and smaller percentages as West [Asian] (Iranian, Afghan), Black, and East [Asian] (Chinese, Japanese, Korean)”. Thus, there is a genuine need for greater outreach, mental health advocacy, and counseling services within the Muslim community and I believe that my combined educational background, work experience, and the fruits of the University of Calgary’s MSW program will better enable me to contribute to the support that is needed.
As a clinical chaplain, I have provided spiritually-integrative care and counseling to individuals confronted by some of life’s greatest difficulties. Often, this is the death of a loved one, though it may also be a patient’s struggle with his or her own mortality, or the changes to one’s life due to a sudden illness or accident. It has been an honour to be able to serve such individuals and families as a chaplain. However, I have come to increasingly recognize the limits of my abilities and scope of practice. Though I remain a strong advocate for chaplaincy services, I have found the profession to be limited in its ability to address and critically engage the systems of care upon which individuals and groups rely and how current policies and practices may disadvantage, negatively impact, or outright exclude religious minorities.
Having now been a teacher at a private Islamic school (2007-2009; 2014 – Present) and a chaplain for nearly ten years (in educational, clinical, and correctional settings), I have come to particularly recognize the need for more social and mental health services tailored for the needs of Muslim youth and families. I have seen first-hand Canadian Muslims struggle with mental health concerns and not know where to turn, or struggle with the fear that secular care providers may harbor prejudices against them for their Islamic faith and culture. To help address this within our community, I presently offer professional development workshops on the care of Muslim clientele to local hospitals, post-secondary campuses, and through REACH. Moreover, I have sought to enrich my classes (at Edmonton Islamic Academy) and community services with mental health education and spiritually-integrated care. For this and related reasons, I was awarded the first ever Momentum Mental Health Award (May 2018) for my mental health advocacy and support for Edmonton’s diverse Muslim population.
There is a genuine need for greater outreach and specialized social services within the Canadian Muslim community. However, greater outreach alone will not fully address this matter. My experience and consultation with other care providers has taught me that many Muslims are hesitant to utilize social and mental health services due their fear of discrimination. Many believe that they would receive sub-standard care due to a caregiver’s prejudice about Islam and Muslims, or that their Islamic faith, values, or identity will not be a welcomed part of the care they receive. Despite Canada’s welcoming atmosphere (especially in comparison to other Western nations), fears of discrimination remain one of the most significant causes of anxiety for Canadian Muslims. In some cases, such anxiety will even result in a Muslim patient refraining from providing potentially vital information about his or her faith or religious community.
Providing cultural and religious diversity training for care professionals and other service providers is necessary to support Muslims and other minorities. However, institutions need to also hire more Muslim service providers as well as generate and nurture working relationships with local Muslim professionals and organizations. Additionally, more institutions need to be established that holistically integrate Islamic faith and culture into their professional services; like the Khalil Centre in Toronto and the Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration (MRCSSI) in London, Ontario.
Many Canadian Muslims in need seek the support of an imam or a Muslim service provider who they believe would integrate Islamic faith and resources into the care and counsel that they provide. However, few imams have substantial training in counseling, social work, or mental health.
By cultivating professional relationships between mental health, social services, and Islamic organizations, Canadian Muslims can more readily receive the care they need.
For nearly a decade, I have offered counseling, published articles, served as a chaplain, and supported Muslim and non-Muslim care providers in strategies and resources that help support Muslim patients, students, and clients. However, there is much more that I would like to do and I believe that social work would be the best direction for me to serve. Upon successful completion of the University of Calgary’s MSW program, I would like to specialize in offering social work, counseling, and consultancy that aims to better support the needs of religious minorities. I believe that my blended competencies in religious studies, chaplaincy and social work will help me to be an asset to our diverse community, and especially help to improve the wellbeing of Muslim youth and families looking for support in our community.