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Ali & Huda TV.

Edmonton Muslim Students Welcome New Youth Chaplain

Alberta’s neuroscience student Doha Anwar did not know where to seek help when she struggled with school work and questions about faith and the future.

“It would have been nice to have a Muslim chaplain there … someone I can talk to about things,” Anwar, now a fourth-year student at the University of Alberta told CBC.

“I don’t think anyone else would have been able to understand that better than someone who would understand the religion itself.”

To provide the much-needed help, Anwar, now president of the Muslim Student Association, has helped to create and fund a new chaplain position dedicated to the mental wellness of youth.

Taking up his new role in February, Muslim chaplain Ibrahim Long will support students at the U of A, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and MacEwan University.

“(Young people) want to live their faith but they’re struggling with the natural issues that come up in life and they want to find a safe place or a safe person with whom they could confide these struggles and can provide them with some guidance,” Long said in a recent interview with CBC News.

As many youths find it difficult to turn to mosques to seek help, a youth Muslim chaplain was urged to help bridge the generation gap.

“They do want to bring it up,” said Long, who studied counseling and Islamic theology at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. “So a chaplain helps to bridge that gap.”

Doha Anwar says someone who understands Islam can better understand the challenges she faces. (Trevor Wilson/CBC News)
Doha Anwar says someone who understands Islam can better understand the challenges she faces. (Trevor Wilson/CBC News)

Inspiration

Along with lending youth an ear, the new youth chaplain will help instill a sense of belonging.

“We’re following in the really proud tradition we see of (Indigenous) elders in residence in many Canadian institutions,” Executive director Omar Yaqub said. “This is the stuff that works. This is the stuff that connects with youth in a really meaningful way.”

Ingrid Mattson, chair of Islamic studies at the University of Western, founded the chaplaincy program at Hartford where Long studied.

According to Mattson, the position helps youth exercise their right to religious accommodation in a society that primarily accommodates Christians.

“So religious minorities need to be able to negotiate their own time off or accommodations for their gatherings and for their practices, and young people need to learn how to do that for themselves,” Mattson said. “So with the assistance of the chaplain they can learn to articulate their needs.”

Mattson said Edmonton is fortunate to have Long in this position.

“He is a very gentle and wise person who I think will really bring a lot of benefit to the community,” she said.

📚 Read Also: Are Our Mosques Youth-Friendly?

Muslim Chaplains in the US

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

In recent years, chaplains have acted as intra-institutional leaders who work towards greater interfaith understanding and community engagement.

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.