This month saw the wrapping up of the school year at the various campuses. The major concluding event at USC is the Interfaith Baccalaureate Ceremony. This is a special graduation ceremony that is hosted by the Office of Religious Life at USC. In the event the graduating students and their families are invited to attend an interfaith celebration of their accomplishment that features a student speaker and a guest speaker. All of the Religious Directors and Chaplains are invited to attend and wear the robes of their various alma maters while sitting on the main stage behind the speakers. A notable twist on this was that the traditional Azhari robe that Shaykh Jamaal wears counts as an academic robe. So while all the other figures were wearing academic robes he was able to wear his Azhari robe. Alhamdulillah.
Another major event that we had this month was a special visit and gathering with Imam Zaid Shakir, Co-Founder of Zaytuna College. He was in town for a fundraising banquet with Uplift Charity and we were able to bring him for a special meeting with some of the students. Throughout the year we have discussed different works of Imam Zaid and we wanted to take the opportunity to open a conversation between him and the students. The gathering was attended by students from UCLA and USC, representing different projects on those campuses, such as: Incarcerated Youth Tutorial Project, Mentors for Academic and Peer Support, Mahabba (A convert care project at UCLA), Murasala (a project at UCLA to open correspondence between Muslim inmates and college students), Ansar Service Partnership (USC), and others. The students and Imam met at Islah LA in South Los Angeles. The program opened with the students volunteering with Islah LA’s food pantry and then transitioned into the conversation with Imam Zaid on “Social Justice through Social Mercy.”
This month at UCLA Shaykha Muslema joined a panel on “Spirituality, Social Justice, and Social Work.” The conversation was between her, a professor, a rabbi, and a minister. It was a gathering to discuss the intersections between the fields of spiritual care and social work and how that affects and relates to issues of Social Justice. Also this month at UCLA she joined the annual University Religious Conference dinner. The URC is the body that represents the religious voices and communities that support the students on campus and hosts the Chaplains Council at UCLA. The dinner was discussing the future of interfaith work at UCLA where there is a major transition taking place. The URC is in the process of selling its building next to campus and working with the university to stabilize a spiritual and ethical voice on campus so there are many conversations between the university and representative of the religious community serving the campus.
This month also saw the end of the year banquets for both UCLA and UCI. Shaykh Jamaal addressed the audiences at both of them, thanking them for their support and expressing gratitude for the opportunity to serve them. In the week after the UCLA banquet a shooting happened on campus at UCLA. Many of the students were in shock and had concerns for their safety in the aftermath of the event. For those that are not familiar with it, a former graduate student came on campus and shot and killed his former advisor, a Professor in the Engineering School. In the moment of the shooting there were many rumors flying around campus and the whole campus was locked down. As soon as the lockdown was lifted both Shaykh Jamaal and Shaykha Muslema made their way to campus in order to be with the students and support them. We had a small gathering where we read some adkhar and Surah Yasin together and then went over to one of the food courts to share in a meal. Some of the students mentioned that they were grateful for the gesture because they wanted nothing more than to be with their families on that day, but many of them could not. The campus has been afflicted by this great tragedy, but the community is pulling together and supporting one another in the midst of it.
Lastly, with the end of the school year our efforts with the students and program are shifting for summer break. The work of chaplaincy is very diverse and many issues arise on a daily basis. Some of them are related to big questions of our day and place and the students are on the forefront of these discussions. During the school year most of our time is spent in one-on-one meetings with the students and the day to day of serving them. During the summer we have an opportunity to transition into spending some time in research. Some of the issues that we are hoping to look into in more detail this summer are the following: Science, Religion, and Darwinism; Issues of Gender, Sexuality, and Identity; Critical Theory and its Relationship with Traditional Religion; and Understanding and Presenting the Importance of Chaplaincy in Light of the Life of the Blessed Prophet (pbuh). We are also hoping to work with local mental health professionals to improve on our counseling skills so that we can better serve the students.
The end of this school year marks roughly a year and a half since the launching of the IOK Regional Chaplaincy Initiative and our first full school year serving UCLA and USC. It has been a wonderful journey so far and we are looking forward to the years to come.
Yours in service,
Jamaal Diwan and Muslema Purmul
IOK University Chaplains serving UCLA, USC and UCI