Vulnerable Moments

There is so much I wish I could share about my experiences working in a hospital. I have held the hand of a dying man, had existential discussions with a terminally-ill agnostic, have witnessed smudging ceremonies, heard family members share the incredible and humorous memories of loved ones they’ve lost, have had warm conversations about the value of faith with Christian patients so surprised but happy to see a Muslim visiting them at their bedside, and so many other moving experiences that remain very close to my heart.

When the subject of my working as a hospital chaplain comes up in conversation with others, it is commonly met with a look of surprise and my being asked how I could do something “so difficult.” It is not always easy for me to explain. I don’t see myself as “stronger than others.” Rather, I find strength in the sacredness and vulnerability of the moment.

Being with someone while they (or you) are emotionally vulnerable appears to have become increasingly rare in our lives; leading to fewer people experiencing them (or, at least, experiencing them less frequently). Instead, vulnerable moments have been replaced by online rants to everybody but nobody at all. Social media has been preventing us from social-izing and helping us to hide our true faces behind our latest selfie. It is as if our hearts are becoming pixelated in our increasingly virtual world.   

For sure it is not easy to cope with our own mortality, grief, loss, or a sudden and unexpected illness. These thoughts and experiences challenge a very core but unfounded belief that many of us share and base our day-to-day lives on: the belief that we will be given enough time in life to do all that we hope to.

However, our time in this world (including our youth, health, and time with loved ones) is all limited. In fact, having to face the reality of our own mortality may very well be the most significant and unifying quality that we all share; but too often we refuse to talk about it.

While working as a hospital chaplain I have been privy to many vulnerable moments; each one of which is truly a rare treasure. I have come to see that it takes great strength to be vulnerable with others. In contrast, the online profiles we often create merely mask a more dynamic human being with faults, pain, humour and love.

Facebook posts and comments are but fool’s gold, it is in the sacredness of a moment where I seek that which truly enriches my life.

So, I remind myself to be vulnerable with those who I love and to all of those who have allowed me to be a part of your moments in 2016 and prior: thank you for the honour.

Retreat for Muslim Chaplains & Social Workers

Inspired by the Beloved  

A Professional and Spiritual Retreat for Muslim Chaplains and Social Workers

Emmanuel College
75 Queen’s Park Crescent, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 1K7
Room 119 (first floor, lecture hall across from the main offices)

Saturday, November 16, 9-5pm

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Why a Muslim Chaplain at Cornell University?

The Muslim students and alumni at Cornell University have been diligently working on establishing the first Muslim chaplaincy position on their campus. Together they have organized an official association, the Diwan Foundation, aimed at providing programming and services to support the well-being of Muslims on campus. As part of this wonderful and ambitious initiative, they have also recently begun publishing a newsletter addressing issues of relevance to Muslims on campus. It was my honor to have been asked in their latest issue to provide them with a brief introduction to Islamic chaplaincy: Why a Muslim Chaplain?

Diwan

Reflections on Islamic Chaplaincy

Choate Muslim Students’ Association 2009/10

For most imams, their primary concern is to care for the congregants of an Islamic center, who, for the most part, share a common vision of Islam.  However, the chaplain must be able to work with a diverse array of believers in a secular environment.  This means a chaplain must be able to assist those whom they might otherwise disagree with in other matters, such as Islamic law, and theology.  For example, it is not uncommon for Sunni chaplains to assist Shi’i Muslims within their institution; a chaplain must see beyond differences of faith and opinion and try their best to care for all members of their faith community.  The institution within which a chaplain works may also require certain professional and procedural guidelines to be followed.  These guidelines, which differ from institution to institution, may include: the obligation to help whoever asks (no matter what their faith is); keeping a record of all professional visits with patients, inmates, students, and personnel; having scheduled meetings with a supervisor who oversees your work; and, working with other chaplains of different faiths to better the institutions interfaith relations.

While a chaplain is officially tied to an institution, be it a hospital, military unit, prison, or university, his or her training and education can make them a unique resource for their institution’s surrounding community.  University chaplains such as Yahya Hendi (Georgetown) and Abdullah Antepli (Duke) are often more visible than other chaplains, but a chaplain in any institution should be seen as an asset to the wider community.  Although a Muslim chaplain may be trained in Islamic law, the purpose of their position is not to act simply as a jurist, nor does their pastoral training mean they are solely counselors.  Rather, Muslim chaplains are religious leaders whose experience and training uniquely equips them to provide both religious and pastoral services.  Chaplains should generally be open and available to address the social and mental health concerns of members outside of their faith as well, which is sometimes required by institutions, especially in the realm of hospital chaplaincy.

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Encountering Tabataba’i

Encouraged by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, and my own interests in wanting to better understand the broader Islamic tradition, I decided to read and review a book on tafsir (Qur’anic commentary) composed by one of the Shi’a tradition’s most erudite scholars: ‘Allamah Sayyid M. H. Tabataba’i. Here is my, a Sunni Muslim’s, summary and reflection…

The Qur’an in Islam: It’s Impact & Influence on the Life of  Muslims, by ‘Allamah Sayyid M. H. Tabataba’i, trans. by Assadullah ad-Dhaakir Yate (Texas: Zahra Publications, 1987), 118 pages.

Written in Persian with the intension of being translated for an English-speaking audience, The Qur’an in Islam attempts to “make Shi’ism better known in the Western world” (p. 9). It was written by, as Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr relates in the book’s Forward, “one of the great masters of the traditional sciences in Iran” (p. 10). The author, ‘Allamah Sayyid M. H. Tatataba’i, was born in 1903 (or 1892) into a “distinguished family of scholars” (p. 10) and spent most of his life as a student, and teacher, of Islamic sciences. Tabataba’i was a prolific author and despite the hindrance of eye-problems that plagued him until his death in 1981, he continued to write books and articles on the Islamic sciences; especially on the subject of Islamic Philosophy. Through his later life and parallel to his other works he continued to write what would later become a “monumental commentary” on the Noble Qur’an, his Tafsir al-Mizan; a massive twenty-seven volume work (in Arabic, but also translated to Persian) which he “completed in his mid-seventies” (p. 11). The Qur’an in Islam, is considered to be a “synopsis of [that] major commentary” (p. 11).

Only being 118 pages (including the Forward and Index), Tabataba’i does not attempt to convey every point from his voluminous commentary, rather he distills it down to five key elements (separated into chapters): 1) The Value of the Qur’an in the Eyes of the Muslims, 2) The Teachings of the Qur’an, 3) The Revelation of the Qur’an, 4) The Relationship of the Qur’an to the Sciences, and 5) The Order of the Qur’an’s Revelation and the Growth of the Qur’anic Sciences. Though much of the text does deal with the role of the Qur’an in the life of a Muslim, much more of it is focused upon hermeneutics; that is, the methodology through which a text is interpreted. Tabataba’i makes clear in the introduction that the “purpose of this work is to define the position of the Qur’an in such a way that the Holy Book explains itself, rather than giving our own opinions concerning it” (p. 15). This is of course a difficult, if not impossible, position to manifest for any person and, while well-intentioned, one which I do not believe he presents. However, The Qur’an in Islam is still an excellent introduction into the Shi’i approach to the Qur’an, providing for its reader a rational, albeit brief, analysis of some very intricate hermeneutical debates between Sunni and Shi’i Muslims.

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Seminary Trains Muslim & Jewish Chaplains

Graduate Certificate in Islamic Chaplaincy

The Graduate Certificate in Islamic Chaplaincy is designed to provide Muslim religious leaders and chaplains with basic skills in pastoral care, arts of ministry, theology and ethics, dialogue and interfaith relations needed to serve as chaplains in a variety of settings. The areas of knowledge and skill acquisition provided by the 24-credit graduate certificate are:

  • the responsibilities of Muslim chaplains/religious leaders surrounding life events such as birth, death, marriage, and loss
  • the rituals surroundings these same life events
  • examination of Islamic law, which undergirds all Islamic rituals and includes ethics and morality
  • the application of Islamic law to daily life
  • exposure to and understanding of chaplaincy skills in multi-faith settings
  • understanding of faith traditions other than one’s own

To Learn More Visit Islamic Chaplaincy Program

Choate’s Muslims Get Their Own Chaplain

By Samaia Hernandez, Record-Journal staff

WALLINGFORD — Wearing a black kufi cap, smiling freely, enjoying supper and casual conversation with six students, J. Ibrahim Long easily blends into the scene in the historic Hill House dining hall at Choate Rosemary Hall.

To the untrained eye, he might look like a student or adviser to the primarily international students. But the 28year-old master’s candidate at Hartford Seminary is the school’s first Muslim chaplain. For years, leaders from faiths including Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism have tended to the spiritual needs of students, but this marks the first year that Choate’s Muslim population— representing the Sunni and Shiite sects — has been larger than just a few students.

Framed descriptions of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam hang from the walls inside a common room that bears trustee Bill Spears’ name and is used for moral and spiritual purposes, as Spears desired. After weekly informal dinner meetings, the newly formed Muslim Student Association, with a membership of 13, heads to the multi-purpose space to pray, discuss the Qur’an and what it means to be a Muslim in America, and plan interfaith events.

“It’s not my job to actually force anyone to go either way, but to actually respond,” said Long, a California native and convert to Islam, on promoting religious views.

Choate Muslim Students' Association 2009/10

The new association and chaplain are part of the school’s response to a changing international population. Several religious officials have called the move proactive and forward thinking, in line with universities such as Yale, Princeton and Duke, which have all recently hired Muslim chaplains, graduates of Hartford Seminary’s program.“We have more and more international students who do not come from Asia,” said Stephen Farrell, Choate’s dean of faculty. “Twenty-five to 30 years ago, almost all of them were Asian students. But we’ve really moved into the Middle East and Africa.” International students make up 14 percent of Choate’s 850 students. 

Students from as far away as Saudi Arabia, Kenya and Malaysia reached out to the Rev. Marc Trister, the school’s Protestant chaplain and head of campus ministries, early in the school year. Trister led the group to Hartford, where it met with Mumina Kowalski, assistant director of the Islamic chaplaincy program.

After several interviews, Long, a first-year master’s degree candidate in Islamic studies and Muslim-Christian relations seemed to be the perfect fit. His youth and way of coming to the religion likely play a role in his ease with the diverse group. “Everybody agreed that this was an important step for the school to make,” Trister said.

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