Offering a much-needed help to Muslim students, many Muslim chaplains and clergymen of all faiths are complaining about increasing sentiments and hatred which now make their vocation a bit more uninspiring.
James Jones, a religion professor at Manhattanville College, is one of the Muslim faith leaders who are often magnified by the awareness that their communities face prejudice and suspicion.
“We’re framed in this idea that somehow we’re a fifth column trying to take the country down,” Jones, vice-chair of the board of the Islamic Seminary of America, told The Gardner News.
“We’re asked to prove ourselves — that we are patriotic — in ways that other people aren’t.”
Jones believes that interfaith events can help in clearing the air and bridging differences.
“We in our community have to share that more inclusive approach,” he said. “Not insular, harsh rhetoric.”
Just like Jones, Adeel Zeb encountered anti-Muslim sentiment head-on while serving as an Islamic chaplain at Duke University in 2015.
It started after the school invited Muslim students to make adhan or call to prayer from the bell tower of the campus chapel.
Later on, they withdrew the invitation, citing safety concerns amid a backlash that included death threats and outraged criticism from prominent Christian figures such as evangelist Franklin Graham.
“Students’ and staff’s lives were being threatened,” he said. “You don’t want to live with that on your conscience — one of your students getting shot and killed.”
Zeb, now the chaplain at the five-college Claremont Colleges network in California, ministers to about 300 Muslim students on multiple campuses, striving to keep up with their political and cultural interests.
“We chaplains are having to be far more socially conscious than before — you have to be very cautious, and hyperaware,” he said.
In a difficult time for Muslims, he thinks about how his students grew up in the post-9/11 era that kindled anti-Muslim sentiment.
“Many of the students here haven’t seen much of the blessing or sweetness of being a Muslim in the U.S.,” he said. “They usually see the curse of it.”
“If they see oppression happening, they will all start feeling the pain and start causing a ruckus, and that causes stress for me,” said Zeb, who meditates and works out to cut the tension. “I have to make sure there’s a very strong dose of self-care, so I can be resilient.”
Muslim Chaplain in 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.