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California Appoints First Muslim Chaplain to State Legislature

Offering spiritual support and guidance, Muslim chaplains in the West act as intra-institutional leaders who work towards greater interfaith understanding and community engagement.

With more chaplains taking leading roles in universities and hospitals, Imam Mohammad Yasir Khan made history this month after becoming the first Muslim chaplain appointed to the California Legislature.

Anthony Rendon, speaker of the California State Assembly, appointed the imam on December 7 as the assembly chaplain for the 2021-22 session, according to a news release.

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“Imam Yasir Khan represents California’s growing diversity in all the best ways,” Rendon said in a statement.

“I’ve seen the growth of the Islamic community in my own district and have become close to both religious and civic leaders. Like them, Khan shows a strong desire to contribute to the spiritual and civic vitality of California. He has already done so in many ways.”

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Imam Khan welcomed the appointment, hoping it is a step forward for other American Muslim leaders.

“God allowed me to be here and I am humbled and grateful to have been chosen for this role,” Khan told CNN.

“I hope this is a step for other imams and other Islamic leaders in the country to take on positions so we are able to connect with our local communities on the county, city, state and federal level.”

Building Bridges

The main role of a State Assembly chaplain is to say a prayer at the beginning of each session, but Khan hopes to use this opportunity to bring the community closer together.

“One of the objectives of my life is to develop an understanding that members of the American Muslim community are Americans, we are contributors to society, we care about hunger, we care about poverty,” Khan said.

“I sincerely want to do whatever I can do to show our fellow Americans that we want to celebrate diversity and make this world a better place for everybody. We’re not an exclusive group of people living in America, we are active contributors to society and we care about our communities.”

Though chaplaincy has roots in the Christian tradition, Muslims in North America have embraced the model as a means of providing faith-based guidance in institutional contexts.

In different universities and campuses, Muslim chaplains often serve both Muslims and non-Muslims, offering spiritual support and guidance.

Today, Muslim chaplaincy in the West has moved away from da’wah towards a focus on support and pastoral care, according to the Association of Muslim Chaplains, a professional organization begun in 2011.