His biggest dream was to be an NBA star, and Shakoor bounced from basketball scholarship to scholarship before completing undergrad at the University of Maine
MIDDLETOWN, Connecticut – On October 8, Wesleyan University in Connecticut, announced Malik Shakoor as its new Muslim chaplain after a single-year candidacy despite the track normally takes roughly three to six years, Wesleyan Argus reported on October 15.
“I had to hit the ground running, trying to get a feel for it. Seeing where the school is psychologically and emotionally,” the Muslim convert said.
“One of my biggest strengths is engaging with students, engaging with faculty, and trying to see what is needed from both the Muslim Student Association and the students in totality. I am a chaplain to all. Not just spiritually, but emotionally,” he added.
Shakoor began his role as a chaplain by meeting with Director of the Office of Spiritual Life Rabbi David Leipziger Teva and the leader of the Muslim Student Association Eunes Harun, discussing the needs of the student body.
The basketballer who knew Islam at the age of 23 believes the best approach to faith is a practical one.
“Don’t just tell me about your religion. Show me, don’t make it so intellectual,” Shakoor said.
The chaplain bounced from basketball to chaplaincy before completing undergrad at the University of Maine. He retroactively credits the epiphany to a pastor he had met as a child.
“The pastor was going around prophesying what everyone was going to grow up to be. I already knew I wanted to be an NBA player, but he turned to me and said, ‘No, you’re going to be a man of God.’ It followed me growing up. Every time I was around my mom’s friends they would go, ‘There goes that preacher man,’” explained Shakoor.
As the son of a Presbyterian Christian and an African Methodist who attended both services growing up, his conversion was met with some shock and backlash in his Alabama hometown.
“I did a lot of soul-searching. My cousin who also converted to Islam talked me into reading the Qur’an. I appreciated Islam’s approach to action over words,” Shakoor recalled.
Shakoor enrolled in the US Army shortly after converting, where he became inspired to embark on the chaplain track.
“The first time I got on base in Ft. Hood, my mentor, who was also Muslim, would constantly talk to me about becoming a chaplain,” he said.
“All of the basic trainees and instructors are there at Ft. Lackland in San Antonio, and it has the largest Muslim congregation in the Department of Defense, roughly 500-600 in the congregation. Across all services, there are only 14 Muslim chaplains in the US military,” the chaplain informed.
“I was denied at first and had to reapply. The Army took so long with my paperwork that I got closer to exiting the military. I didn’t want to have a gap, so I ended up applying to the Navy and the Air Force, and the Air Force got through the paperwork a lot quicker.”
Shakoor also expressed that: “Being a Muslim in the military…. it wasn’t easy. I did have some supportive leadership, but at one point they wanted to kick me out the military. I was in Hartford Seminary at the time, I was Assistant Imam at Fort Hood, and they wanted to kick me out based on Article 15.”