The Chaplaincy program at IOK is a unique initiative of its kind within the greater Muslim Community in America. It has a hope and vision to place a male and female Chaplain, Islamically qualified and trained, at universities across Southern California. Piloted this year with Shaykh Jamaal Diwan and myself serving as Chaplains at both UCLA and USC, the experience has been rewarding and beneficial to both of us and the campuses we serve.
Perhaps the most significant contribution outside of weekly Halaqas, is having office hours where students sign up if they have any questions or concerns they’d like to discuss. Some students come just to read Quran and have their tajweed corrected. Others come to ask for books about Islam that help them grow in their understanding and in their areas of interest. Many seek academic advice while others seek a spiritual approach to trials and tribulations they are facing in life. From marriage, to abuse, to trying to avoid problematic relationships, to dealing with disappointment with family and friends, to death in the family, to dealing with room-mates of another faith and even sexual orientation, to coping with the Chapel Hill Shooting and Police Brutality toward African Americans, to their personal obstacles in their journey toward Allah, these students are seeking counsel asking one thing: “How do I face my challenges with faith?” This is a question that begs our collective attention as a community. What are we doing to help young Muslims in college develop spiritually grounded resilience and continued growth in understanding and practicing their deen, particularly for campuses far away from major Islamic Centers?
As Chaplains, we get to follow the stories of these young people and see how they thrive when given the support they need to make good choices for themselves. The social pressures that young Muslims and especially young Muslim women are under today in America are unprecedented. Having spiritual support through good times, special occasions, and achievements as well as more trying times creates an environment of familial stability where this usual stage of impermanence may lead young people down various roads of regret experienced in isolation.
Causes such as the IOK Chaplaincy program are no doubt important and deserve to be supported. We have to ask ourselves an honest and painful question. From a theological perspective, what is the worst catastrophe for a human being to face, worse than even death itself? It is for a person to leave their faith– to leave this life associating others with their Creator, or rejecting Him altogether.
The phase of University life is arguably the most formative period in an American Muslim’s life. It is the gateway to adulthood, and those who are unable to reconcile the challenges of their context with their faith and values during this stage, find it even more difficult later on in life. It’s a make it or break it time. Major decisions from how one thinks about marriage and family to how a person chooses a career are made. As chaplains and as American Muslim college graduates we cannot emphasize enough how important it is to provide religious guidance and support during this crucial time so that the foundation for the future is solid. The philosophical push to follow one’s subjective feelings instead of surrendering one’s will to God’s pleasure underlines the moral crisis of the day. From what is taught in the classroom to college peer pressure to Islamophobia, the believing student finds their entire psychological framework under scrutiny, even bullied. If we don’t support institutions that seek to preserve and nurture faith where we are, in two generations how many Muslims will be left? How many Muslim families will still be praying? We need to show our young people we care about them in a way that is deeper than simply a matter of control. We want them to prosper in life, with hearts that have learned to draw their inner strength from faith in a way that continues to be meaningful, while they face the modern world in a way that is relevant, practical and nuanced.
Even though modern American Muslim history is very young, we also know from luminous examples of our recent past that Muslims who do well in their faith and their studies while in college have pioneered some of the most incredible institutions and projects that better the world around us. With the right support, this legacy of meaningful American Muslim contribution can grow from just a trickle, to a stream, and Insha Allah in due time, a strong flowing river.
We have the buildings, the structures and the walls. Now we need to invest into the people, the souls that will connect to others and allow for the mentoring and exchange that replenishes the spirit when it has been cracked under the pressures of college life, and the souls that can give timely words of encouragement to students with hidden talents afraid of their abilities. If you think this even slightly dramatic, try having an honest heart to heart conversation with a Muslim college student for more than 15 minutes. It’s hard, and they gladly welcome all the support they can get.
The Chaplaincy program at IOK needs your support. Our Muslim college students need your support. Let us build a spiritual sanctuary on all Southern California campuses for Muslim students by making the IOK vision of Muslim Chaplaincy a reality.
Jazākumullahukhair and Wassalāmualaikum
Sincerely on behalf of my co-Chaplain Shaykh Jamaal Diwan and the IOK Board of Directors Shaykh Nomaan Baig, Taher Dadabhoy and Imtiaz Mohammady,
Shaykha Muslema Purmul