CAIRO – Facing real life problems, students at the University of Toronto have launched a new fundraising campaign to fund a year-long contract for the first-ever full-time Muslim chaplain on a Canadian campus.
“Many Muslim youth don’t have a place to turn to, and they feel challenged on issues of faith and identity,” Ruqayyah Ahdab, chair of the board for the chaplaincy program, who was instrumental in creating the student-led initiative, told Toronto Star.
“Adults can turn to the mosque for support, but youth often can’t because of cultural issues or the age gap,” said Ahdab.
“So the chaplain will be there to provide this safe space for youth to turn to.”
Facing daily problems, the role of chaplains in the life of Muslim students was urged.
In Canada, Muslim chaplains have been utilized primarily in military and prison settings to help with issues of religious accommodation.
Universities have been most often served by volunteer chaplains, often imams from the community struggling to juggle numerous commitments.
But over the past five year, dozens of universities in the United States have hired Muslim chaplains to offer Muslim students support in the tension-filled aftermath of 9/11.
Affected by gripping, complex and real life problems, Muslim students at the University of Toronto launched a campaign asking for appointing Canada’s first full-time paid chaplain.
In a slick video on the campaign website various young people make the case for donations.
“I had to sit in class and listen to my professor tell me Islam degrades women,” says one young woman.
“In my field, relationships are built at the bar. What am I supposed to do about that?,” says a young man. “There’s something about mosques that makes me uncomfortable,” says another man.
The campaign aims at raising $70,000 by September to fund a year-long contract for the first-ever full-time Muslim chaplain on a Canadian campus.
Muslims make around 2.8 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the North-American country.
A Muslim chaplain for Toronto students was urged to serve and support Muslim youth, to help them work through their challenges, and help them develop a healthy and meaningful Muslim identity.
“Many universities found students were under an enormous amount of stress because of the negative media coverage around Muslims,” said Ingrid Mattson, professor of Islamic studies and founder of the first Islamic Chaplaincy Program at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.
“The Muslim chaplains took a lot of pressure off the students and gave them crucial support they needed, and from that, the program really gained support across campuses.”
Serving a crucial role in diffusing tensions between campus religious groups, the chaplain job requirements differ significantly from the role of a traditional leader or imam.
“It’s not about shoving religion down people’s throat or telling them who to be,” said Ahdab, chair of the board for the chaplaincy program.
“It’s about helping them form an identity that is meaningful to them and healthy for them.”
The new campaign was praised by Richard Chambers, director of the Multi-Faith Centre, as creating an “imbalance” when it comes to having a voice.
“This will help ensure that voices of Muslim students are heard as well,” he said.
But for the program to be successful, it must still pass a crucial hurdle: monetary support from the community.
“Our hope is that this can be the start of a Muslim chaplaincy movement in Canada,” said Ahdab, who is optimistic they will meet their goal.
“And a similar program can spread to other campuses over time.”
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