When I was first entered university, my first major was psychology. I had become interested in this field after events in my youth led me to realize the importance of counselling. I was encouraged by teachers and friends to pursue it and, though I was genuinely interested in the practice, I became disappointed after a few introductory classes. Though I realize now how premature my judgement was, I had felt that psychology did not seem to answer the big questions I had at the time; questions I only later realized were more theological than psychological. So, I changed my major to Religious Studies. The exploration of religious traditions, philosophy, and humanities answered personal questions I had about life and myself, provided me with other questions, and expanded my appreciation for the relationship that human beings of various faiths and cultures have always had with questions of existential concern. I was then, as I am still now, fascinated by the human expression of spirituality and its relationship with personal wellbeing.
After graduating with my BA (cum laude) in Humanities and Religious Studies, I decided to pursue a graduate degree. I had considered degrees in religious history or theology, but my interests were always underpinned by a desire for knowledge that could help me to grow personally and provide me with the competencies and skills to provide spiritually-integrative counselling and support for others. It was at this time that I first became aware of chaplaincy, a profession that combined religious studies with counselling. In 2009, I entered the first accredited Islamic chaplaincy program at the Hartford Seminary. The program appeared to combine everything I was interested in at the time. Not only were there courses that examined a rich history of human struggles to understand issues of existential concern, there were complementing courses that helped us to ground these struggles within an understanding of mental health, pluralism, and global ethics.
The Hartford Seminary’s Islamic Chaplaincy program has proved vital for my academic and professional development and has formed an important foundation for my understanding of community and wellbeing. The professors and fellow students (many of whom were from various countries and faith traditions) have helped me to better recognize the needs of marginalized religious communities, the importance of research and mental health advocacy, and how public institutions are being reshaped (or need to be) to better meet the religious, spiritual, and psychological needs of diverse individuals; particularly religious minorities. It was also at this time that I was introduced to clinical pastoral education (CPE). As part of the seminary’s program, I was required to complete four-hundred hours of supervised training and clinical practice in pastoral care. However, I enjoyed the clinical training and experience so much that while completing my Graduate Certificate and Master of Arts degree, I pursued an additional sixteen-hundred hours of CPE as a resident in the Spiritual Care Department at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. As a resident, I provided spiritually-integrative care and counselling to diverse medical and psychiatric patients, staff, and family members through one-on-one counselling and weekly spirituality groups with a mental health focus. Moreover, I was able to conduct research (later published; see Long, 2014) and graduated with distinction among my cohort, receiving the department’s award for the resident who best integrated clinical work, academics, and research.
After I completed my residency at St. Joseph’s, I looked for other opportunities to serve and grow both personally and professionally. I considered a few options in the US, but eventually accepted an offer to serve at a private Islamic school in Edmonton (Edmonton Islamic Academy) where I serve as a teacher and support students, staff, and parents with spiritually-integrated counselling and care. It has been a distinct privilege of mine to be able to contribute to the faith and wellness of Muslim youth. The experience has been a very enriching one for me personally, professionally, and spiritually. In my classes and school-related programs, I am passionate about emphasizing the interconnections of mind, body, and heart; drawing upon classical Islamic theology, psychology, and contemporary research and science in a curriculum I have developed over time.
Since moving to Edmonton in 2014, it has been a hope of mine to be able to serve Edmonton’s post-secondary Muslim student population. In this effort, I have volunteered for some time as an on-call chaplain for NAIT and the University of Alberta. However, it is unrealistic to try to maintain these services as a part-time volunteer; students need someone who can be on campus and available more often than a volunteer can offer.
Unfortunately, there are only a few organizations that focus on the wellbeing and mental health of Muslim youth and young adults. However, among these few organizations the Islamic Family and Social Services Association (IFSSA) is unique. IFSSA creatively engages in innovative ways to provide accessible and relevant programming to the Edmonton community. With that in mind, I am pleased to be joining them as their first Youth Wellness Lead & Chaplain. More about this will be shared, God-willing, in the weeks and months to come.
If you want to learn more about my activities, services, and reflections, feel free to follow this blog or connect with IFSSA or the Green Room on Facebook or Twitter. If you would like to read about my personal journey of faith, you can read that here. You may also contact me with questions, feedback, and good advice.
Professional Education & Credentials
- Masters of Social Work, Community-Informed Practice for Health and Well-being (in progress)
- Clinical Spiritual Care and Counseling Residency (4 units of CPE, 1 unit PCE), St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, 2012-14
- Master of Arts, Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, 2014
- Graduate Certificate, Islamic Chaplaincy, 2012
- Bachelor of Arts (Cum Laude), Humanities and Religious Studies, 2007
- Momentum Mental Health Researcher/Clinician Award (May 2018), Momentum Walk-in Counselling
- Distinguished Service Award (March 2016), Association of Muslim Chaplains
- Angel-Marie O’Connor Award (August 2013), Spiritual Care Department, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton