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Harvard Appoints First Muslim Chaplain

Harvard Appoints First Muslim Chaplain
Khalil Abdur-Rashid is pictured in Memorial Church at Harvard University. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

CAMBRIDGE, MA – The Ivy League Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has appointed Khalil Abdur-Rashid, an adjunct professor of Islamic studies at Southern Methodist University, as first Muslim chaplain to cater to the needs of its Muslim students, six months after starting the search for a candidate.

“Khalil brings a remarkable combination of skills to the Harvard community. He has a deep knowledge of Islamic sciences, combines academic strength with experience as an imam and as a social worker, and is strongly grounded in the culture of the United States and of the US Muslim community,” said Ousmane Kane, professor of Islamic studies, who chaired the search, Harvard Gazette reported.

“Beyond his skills and experience, he is a warm and welcoming person who exudes a sense of caring and of optimism. Khalil will provide much-needed support to Muslim students across the University and, like other chaplains, he will work not just with his own faith group but in many ways within our broad community.”

Khalil will become Harvard’s first Muslim chaplain on July 5. He received his bachelor’s degree in social work from Georgia State University and his master’s degrees in Middle East studies and Islamic law from from Columbia University. He studied Islamic law in Yemen and Istanbul, and is now studying American Muslim identity formation as a doctoral student.

“When Muslim students come to campus, they are all at different parts of their spiritual journeys, and for some it can be the first time they are exposed to certain things that may lead them to question or confront parts of their identity,” said Zarin Rahman ’18, president of the Harvard Islamic Society.

“Having a chaplain like Khalil, who is well-versed in both the tradition of Islam and the transformative nature of this particular time period, is crucial to helping students handle this change and answer any questions that they may have along the way.”

Needed Role

Halah Ahmad ’17, one of two undergraduates on the search committee and former president of the Harvard Islamic Society, said Abdur-Rashid’s background “gives him the compassion, wisdom, and knowledge that we really need.”

“We’re kind of reeling with issues of race, religion, class, and other injustices,” Ahmad told The Harvard Crimson.

“Khalil’s education as a son of a student of MLK, as someone who was internationally-educated, and as a black Muslim-American really makes him best suited to speak and provide pastoral care across these issues.”

The new Muslim chaplain will join fellow chaplains in promoting religious pluralism and a “spirit not of mere tolerance but of genuine inclusion,” University President Drew G. Faust wrote in January.

Ahmad said she views this appointment as “a huge equalizer on this campus, where there has been really an utter dearth of resources for all students—especially Muslim students—on Islam.”

Zarin I. Rahman ’18, president of the Harvard Islamic Society, echoed the need for stronger institutional support of Muslim students. “In this political climate, students on campus have struggled a lot in terms of spiritual guidance and mental health,” she said.

Abdul-Rashid is “deeply humbled and excited” to begin his new role, according to the press release.

“These are challenging times that require us to commit ourselves to public service and mutual support,” he said, in order “to cultivate a deeper understanding of who we are and where we are ultimately going, and to being the best of who we are while remembering the divine in each other, thereby taking us one step closer to turning hate into hope.”

“I have really huge hopes for how it will better inform Muslim students and non-Muslim students on how to be better people, more conscientious people in general,” Ahmad said.


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