NEW YORK – In his first semester at New York’s Cornell University, the first-ever Muslim chaplain Yasin Ahmed spent his first-semester counseling students, advocating for diversified on-campus halal food, and setting up community service opportunities for students.
“We can create something dynamic, robust and beautiful. This is an opportunity to be a model for how to build a thriving Muslim community or any holistic community on a college campus,” Ahmed told Cornell Sun on March 8.
Ahmed studied at Hartford Seminary to become a chaplain. He also served as a chaplain at multiple schools in Connecticut, including Trinity College, Choate Rosemary Hall, and Medina Academy.
“When I was in college … I had a lot of friends with mental health issues, and I started looking for answers to the questions that were inside my heart,” Ahmed expressed while talking about a college chaplain who provided him with spiritual guidance and inspired him to become a chaplain himself.
“I found the space to ask those questions with a chaplain, and I realized that we needed more chaplains on campus, especially within the Muslim community.”
Based on the religious tolerance of Islamic Shari`ah, Ahmed leveraged the Jewish community’s connection for obtaining kosher food to introduce halal dining options, started a freshman support group, and promoted student-led sermons during weekly services since August.
In parallel with professionalism required at his position, Ahmed is similarly aware that “the chaplain’s job isn’t just to answer everyone’s needs, but to facilitate their needs by taking advantage of Cornell’s resources.”
“The more people I meet, the more people can give specific advice. I feel like I’ve tapped into not even one percent of the institutional resources in terms of the people here and the incredible experiences they bring to the table,” he explained.
“The most rewarding part of my job is counseling students. The way we talk about life at Cornell is often about surviving rather than thriving,” he felt. “When someone can come in and say ‘I’m struggling’ and to be there for them is the most meaningful thing I experience here.”
In a feedback from others, Syed Samin ’19, president of the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association, said “Ahmed has grown MECA’s reach and allowed the organization to host great speakers in lectures. We’re really happy to finally be able to say we have a chaplain.”
“Yasin’s been a great resource for many students on campus, providing pastoral care and spiritual advice, and creating programs and initiatives to address the salient problems facing our community.”
For the future, Ahmed plans to “continue developing community service missions, such as a Habitat for Humanity project in collaboration with Protestant and Catholic groups.”
“I hope Cornell will be able to grow a diverse Muslim chaplain team to address a variety of issues. I’m still learning the landscape, but I’m even more hopeful about our future after our first semester,” he added.