The IOK Chaplaincy initiative has extended its outreach services to another location in our ongoing effort to provide spiritual care, guidance, and education, based on traditional sources of understanding and living Islam, to Muslim students on university campuses. The latest addition to the campuses we serve is the University of California at Riverside (UCR), the biggest University campus in the Inland Empire (IE).
The IE is a vast geographical region in Southern California with a large Muslim population which has been historically underserved. Muslim students at UCR typically find themselves lacking in spiritual care and service, whether they are from out of town or are commuters who live in the IE. Having access to a chaplain who can provide spiritual advice and pastoral care on campus is of utmost importance.
While the chaplaincy initiatives were being launched at UCLA and USC in 2015, UCR was still in the development phase and the needs assessment period. Tasked with this responsibility was Shaykh Ahmad AlKurdy who is a local Imam in the IE and an instructor at the IOK seminary as well as the New Muslim Academy. He began visiting the MSA at UCR during the last academic year (2014-2015) in order to assess the needs of the Muslim students on campus and establish a personal relationship with the serving board members of the MSA.
The chaplaincy initiative was pitched to the MSA students in their weekly study circle over the course of the spring quarter in 2015. Throughout the spring quarter, Shaykh Ahmad conducted the weekly study circle and established ties with the students at UCR. The idea of chaplaincy quickly gained traction with the student body due to the dire need for such a service on campus.
Once UCI was introduced to IOK Chaplaincy earlier in the spring quarter of 2016, the push to bring IOK chaplaincy to UCR materialized. UCR’s MSA board met with Shaykh Ahmad to get a clearer idea about the vision and mission of the initiative and the website, chaplaincy.instituteofknowledge.com was established as the go-to guide for the development of this new service location. The MSA board met with UCR administration officials who welcomed the idea of having a Muslim chaplain on campus, stating that such an initiative was overdue, especially with recent events in the IE and the ever increasing pressures that Muslim students have endured as a result.
During the winter quarter, Shaykh Ahmad conducted two lectures for the MSA at the weekly General Body meeting covering the Story of Joseph in the Quran as well as the Etiquettes of Supplication. Shaykh Ahmad also conducted one of the main lectures during the College Day event, one of MSA’s biggest projects on campus that attracts a couple hundred prospective local Muslim high school students and their families and gives them an orientation to College life and a hint of the MSA and its many services.
The official launch for the chaplaincy initiative at UCR took place midway through the spring quarter on April 13, 2016. Weekly office hours have been taking place on campus ever since. Shaykh Ahmad has made himself available on Wednesdays for (8) 30 minute sessions with the students. Students typically schedule and book appointments via the IOK Chaplaincy website. This has given the chaplain the opportunity to visit with students individually to better understand and serve their needs as well as the needs of the larger Muslim student community on campus.
Office hour discussions with the students covered a broad range of topics including MSA elections, local community updates, Islam and spiritual growth / development. Other topics discussed reviewed the establishment of an alumni association for the MSA as well as dealing with family issues and the challenges they pose to university students who are already struggling to strike a balance in their busy life.
Shaykh Ahmad also participated in the Fast-a-thon event where he broke bread with the attendees (breakfast) and gave a short talk on fasting in Islam during the MSA’s Islamic Awareness Week on campus. The MSA has since requested that Shaykh Ahmad conduct the weekly brothers’ study circle on Thursdays as was done during the last academic year.
Although we only have three more weeks to go in this quarter, the MSA students are excited to see how this initiative will grow and how to take on the challenge of marketing it to serve as many students as possible. Ultimately, our goal is to provide spiritual care and guidance, religious education, networking, mentorship and advice to all of the Muslim students on campus. In addition, we hope to assist the students and provide them with the necessary tools to balance the responsibilities of daily life as it relates to university studies, community work, career goals and family life. We pray that we will be able to serve in this capacity.