The end of last year and the beginning of this year have been quite eventful. Towards the end last month and moving into January we were able to take some of the students on a trip to Toronto in order to attend the Reviving Islamic Spirit Conference and Knowledge Retreat. The conference is attended by many of the major figures of Islam in North America. The retreat afterwards is a smaller gathering with intensive classes over the course of the week after the conference.
This year those classes were taught by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Zaid Shakir, Dr. Umar Faruq Abdallah, Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui, Dr. Sayyed Hossein Nasr, and Shaykh Muhammad al-Ninowy. We felt that this was especially important as it gave a chance to some of the students to actually meet and study in person with some of the scholars that they have been reading from in the weekly halaqas on the campuses. We also felt it was important because we remember what it was like to be young college students and have the community support us in efforts that we wanted to take to develop in our deen and wanted to try and do that for some of the students as well. All and all it was a beautiful experience and beneficial for all who attended.
The two other big things this month were the spreading of the chaplaincy program to UCI and the MSA West Conference. In the last year as we worked to establish ourselves at UCLA and USC we always had UCI in the back of our minds. This was because of the need for support there as well as the interest expressed by some of the student leadership in different conversations. With the turn of the year and the evaluating of our current offerings and capacity we decided that it was time to try and make UCI happen. Fortunately the student leadership at UCI were also at a point where they wanted to see it happen as well and we were able to start there this month. We are working at a similar capacity as the other campuses with office hours and a weekly halaqa and look forward to building relationships with the students and school over time. We are grateful to the MSU for facilitating the engagement so far and really going above and beyond to welcome us to campus.
The 18th Annual MSA West Conference also took place this month on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The conference took place this year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and was a beautiful gathering. The conference is completely hosted and organized by MSA West, which is an organization dedicated to supporting the Muslim students and MSAs across the West coast. The attendance this year was in the usual range of around 1,000 students from all over the state. We were honored to be among the speakers and delighted to be able to spend some quality time with the organizers.
Another general chaplaincy update for this month was that Shaykh Jamaal had the opportunity to meet with Chaplain Adeel Zeb, who serves the Muslim students and community at Duke University in North Carolina. He was in the area for another program and they had the chance to get lunch and spend some time with one another. This is very important as it helps us to network our program with others that exist at different universities and learn from the experiences of other chaplains around the country.
At UCLA and USC this month marks the beginning of a new quarter and semester respectively. At UCLA the month started off with meeting with Antonio Sandoval and his team at the Community Programs Office. The CPO works closely with the MSA on campus and some of the MSA projects, such as MAPS (Mentors for Academic and Peer Support). It was a pleasant meeting just getting to know one another so that we can better support each other in serving and supporting the students. We also used halaqa time at UCLA this month to host two separate guests. One was Khala Noha Alshugairi for a discussion on Mental Health and Islam and how to navigate that world as college students.
It was part of a project that some students have begun there called the Beautiful Mind Project which is meant to bring awareness and support to the students on mental health related issues. We also hosted Margari Hill, Co-Founder and Programming Director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, to speak on the topic of #BlackInTheMSA. It was a discussion around solidarity, inclusiveness, racism, and Muslim campus life. The attendance for both events was great and it was a true pleasure to host these events.
Outside of that in our weekly halaqa we completed a study of the history of the Quran and how it was compiled from Dr. al-Azami’s “The History of the Qur’anic Text” and agreed to start next month with some readings from Imam Zaid Shakir’s commentary on “Treatise for the Seekers of Guidance.” Lastly, at UCLA, earlier in the month we had the blessing of hosting most of the MSA board at our home for advice on planning and organizing for the rest of the year.
At USC the new semester is off to a start and everyone is getting settled in again. The halaqa is continuing there and the students are really enjoying what they’ve covered so far this year which has been Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s “Who are the Disbelievers.” It is an important paper which analyzes historical classifications of belief and disbelief and looks at the question of salvation and how we think about others in our context. A truly seminal piece.
Shaykh Jamaal also hosted a masjid visit by students from Mount St. Mary’s University at Masjid Omar ibn al-Khattab next to USC. These students were all involved in campus ministry and their visit to the masjid was enjoyable and their questions and conversation afterwards was very beneficial. The chaplains were also invited to a special tea invitation with the President of USC, C. L. Max Nikias. This was a small gathering with President Nikias and about a dozen Muslim students as well as the chaplains. The conversation revolved around USC campus life and what is working and what can be improved upon. President Nikias was very down to earth and welcoming to the attendees.
He reminded the students that they are equal on campus to any other students and encouraged them to report any concerns or negative experiences they have immediately.
All and all it was a busy month, but a good month. We are looking forward to another year of serving the students on the different campuses.
Muslema Purmul and Jamaal Diwan