UCR Chaplaincy got off to an early start in the 2016-2017 calendar year as Shaykh Ahmad met with MSA leadership in early August in order to discuss and plan for services during the upcoming school year. It was a productive meeting where a logistics plan was established to ensure the availability of meeting spaces for events and functions as well as a private space for weekly office hours. In addition to the logistics plan, the meeting also explored the scheduling of events along with recommended topics of discussion aimed at further engaging the Muslim students on campus. The MSA leadership set forth a series of goals at the conclusion of the meeting including the enhancement of interpersonal skills and personal interaction between MSA members as well as their overall engagement with the local and broader Muslim community.


It was also decided during the meeting to spread out chaplaincy efforts throughout the Week by using Tuesdays and Thursdays for the various planned activities on campus. Tuesdays were reserved for General Body Meetings (GBM) which are typically held between the hours of 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Thursdays on the other hand were dedicated for Chaplaincy office hours as well as conducting the Brothers’ and the Sisters’ Halaqas on campus between the hours of 1:30 PM and 9:30 PM.


The MSA’s education committee set a goal for this year’s focus to revolve around Prophet Muhammad’s Life during the GBM where a guest speaker would conduct a lecture on a particular theme from the Messenger’s life followed by a Q&A Session. Given the IOK Chaplaincy initiative’s commitment to the UCR Campus MSA, it was decided that Shaykh Ahmad would conduct the bulk of the GBM lectures.


The MSA also set goals for the Brothers’ and Sisters’ Halaqas. The focus of the Brothers’ Halaqa was to cover various lessons from the Opening Chapter of the Quran (Al Fatiha). The focus of the Sister’s Halaqa was to engage in open discussions with guest speakers on a variety of topics. Shaykh Ahmad utilized this time to analyze and tackle gender specific struggles and issues faced by the Muslim students on campus.


After assisting in finalizing the yearly plan for the MSA, Shaykh Ahmad took part in the Annual MSA UCR Brothers’ Summer Retreat. The event has grown over the years and now attracts both Alumni and Current Students from multiple SoCal MSA’s to partake in a two day retreat at Big Bear, CA. On a Friday night, Shaykh Ahmad carpooled with several of the brothers from the Perris area, including a former MSA West President. After arrival and dinner, there was a mindfulness contemplation session at a local lake in Big Bear where the brother’s were encouraged to unplug from their devices, star gaze and reflect over a few passages in the Quran discussing contemplation over the creation.


The next morning, there was a post Dawn/Fajr reminder about some of the lessons from the events that took place the night before and how a Muslim is supposed to react in the face of unpleasant surprises and ignorant behavior of others. This was followed by a long and extended Q&A Session which lasted until after sunrise as many of the brothers had questions related to ritual worship. During breakfast, there were several private breakout sessions where Shaykh Ahmad got to know some of the brothers from different campuses in order to connect with them on a more personal level.


In the afternoon, 30 brothers participated in the main event of the retreat which was to hike and climb up to the summit of Castle Rock. It was a beautiful experience with numerous instances of seasoned hikers helping the amateurs and being kind and merciful to them. There were several short breaks along the way where reminders and lessons were shared regarding supplications / prayers to be said while ascending and descending the mountainous trail. We also reflected on the life of our messenger Muhammad and his numerous documented experiences in similar terrain (i.e. Meditating prior to receiving revelation, hiding during the migration to Madinah, Etc.). After returning to the cabin and prior to bidding farewell to the brothers, Shaykh Ahmad took the opportunity to introduce / describe IOK Chaplaincy to those unfamiliar with the initiative and encouraged everyone to take advantage of the services IOK is offering to various campuses throughout SoCal.


Activities in the Fall Quarter began with Welcome Week in late September. The MSA held multiple programs throughout the week, focusing on welcoming new students to the campus. Shaykh Ahmad attended the GBM where he was formally introduced to the students as UCR’s Muslim Chaplain. The year’s plans were discussed and program details / timings were announced. Shaykh Ahmad shared a few words with the students and prayed for their success and the success of the IOK Chaplaincy Initiative. In the midst of Welcome Week, it was also announced that MSA UCR would be hosting this year’s MSA West conference during the MLK weekend in January 2017. The MSA’s Planning Committee was introduced and students were encouraged to volunteer in order to make the much anticipated program a success.


Chaplaincy programming continued with Shaykh Ahmad conducting the first day of office hours this Quarter. A student from another campus involved with MSA West discussed Shaykh Ahmad’s possible participation in the annual conference. Other sessions included Quran recitation and premarital counseling. The Sisters’ Halaqa kicked off the school year with an Introductory Ice Breaker session to get to know one another. The IOK Chaplaincy Initiative was introduced during this meeting and welcomed by everyone as a resource to the students on campus. The Brothers’ Halaqa also kicked off the school year with an Introductory Ice Breaker session to get to know one another. The Halaqa format was highlighted as both interactive and informative. The text we are covering, “An Explanation and Clarification on the Greatest Chapter of the Quran”,  was also introduced.


The following week’s GBM lecture began delving into the theme of discussing Prophet Muhammad’s Life. Our topic was “The Messenger’s Marriage to Khadija: Before and After Revelation”. Points of discussion revolved around why she married him? what defined their relationship? and what character traits we can learn from that relationship? Lessons were extracted regarding how to truly know someone according to Islam’s teachings. Our discussion continued on the next GBM lecture where the topic was “Makkah Part 1: Muhammad the Man”. The lecture included detailed discussions of Why Muhammad? The People, Place and Practices.


The Sisters’ gatherings built upon their initial meeting with an open discussion on Modesty in Islam and the struggles associated with it. The first session was led by a female PhD student in Islamic Studies. Shaykh Ahmad benefitted greatly from the discussion and the different personal experiences and perspectives shared. It was also requested that he share some insights on the subject which was received well by the crowd. For the Brothers’ gathering, the number of participants grew steadily once the start time was adjusted to better accommodate class schedules. Themes discussed were “How To Interpret the Quran?”, “Meaning of Surah and Ayah”, “Names of Fatiha”, “Virtues of Fatiha and It Being a Remedy”, “Prayer for Seeking Protection”, “Prayer for Beginnings” and “Complete Praise”.


The Brother’s Halaqa is being held at the Library within the Islamic Center of Riverside which has been very welcoming to the students. The Library provides a classroom setting with privacy away from the main prayer hall. The local Imam has also invited Shaykh Ahmad to share weekly reflections with the congregation either before or after the Halaqa. Shaykh Ahmad used one of those reflections to introduce the IOK Chaplaincy Initiative to the Riverside Muslim community seeing as they are the closest in proximity to UCR and many of their family members attend the campus as students. The Director of the Center also posted a Chaplaincy Flier in the Masjid to inform the community of the Initiative and advise everyone of the various ways and opportunities available to support the effort.


Since the beginning of the year, office hours have been booked solid with new students dropping in for consultations and great participation in programming. The topics discussed during office hours range from struggles of freshmen in a new campus to homesickness for out of town students. Other topics covered include student updates from last year’s sessions and improvements in their life and studies, tips on giving the Friday sermon on campus with resources and topics, Islamic legal questions related to ritual worship, spiritual growth and development, non Muslim questions about Islam, domestic problems as well as career and marriage planning for the more senior and upper level students as they prepare to move on to the next stages of their life.


On Saturday October 22nd Shaykh Ahmad was invited to attend the fourth annual benefit dinner for Sahaba Initiative themed “Lift With Love” celebrating eight years of service at the prestigious Mayor’s Patio located at Riverside City Hall. Many of Sahaba Initiative’s leaders and volunteers are associated with the City of Riverside and UCR. It was a great opportunity to see what these young men and women of our community have done to serve the underserved communities of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. It was a wonderful program with attendees from the local Muslim community, the local interfaith community as well as Riverside City political leadership. Also in attendance were IOK’s other University Chaplains, Sh Jamaal Diwan and Shaykha Muslema Purmul.


On October 28th, Shaykh Ahmad was invited by the MSA of Mt. San Antonio Community College in Walnut for a Public Lecture they titled “Islam 101”. The intent of the program was to breakdown the basics of Islam for those who are interested in understanding the faith. The crowd was a mix of Muslim and non Muslims students along with a member of the faculty on campus. Shaykh Ahmad covered the basics of Who Is God? What Is Islam? What is the Quran? and Who is Muhammad? in the lecture followed by a Q&A Session. The primary questions posed during the Q&A Session were What is Sharia Law? and What do Muslims believe about Jesus? The feedback from the MSA indicated that the program was a success and everyone was appreciative of the insights shared.


In November, the Sisters’ Halaqas included further discussion on the topic of modesty as a continuation of last month’s sessions. Also discussed was the media’s coverage of different Muslim women and the impact that has had on the psyche of the average woman in the Muslim community. The primary take away was that everyone has a unique narrative and personal struggle. As such, we should focus on our relationship with God and the means by which we can draw closer to Him. Another topic discussed was the post election experience. Several sisters shared that in the aftermath of the election, they have had a sense of urgency to improve upon their relationship with and dedication to God. It was wonderful to witness such courage and bravery in the face of overwhelming negativity and paranoia.


One of the active sisters in the MSA took this opportunity to highlight the unprecedented outpouring of support from major clubs on campus which has contributed to increased solidarity with the Muslim Community. Overall, the discussion was empowering to everyone in attendance; more importantly, it reaffirmed a sense of safety and comfort amongst the sisters on campus. We ended the meeting by making a resolution which encouraged sisters to join self defense classes and employ other protective methods / practices in their day to day lives. The Brothers’ Halaqa was also dedicated to current events and the impact of such events on the Muslim community. Everyone had an opportunity to share their reflections and concerns. The session was positive and encouraged everyone to view the world through a lens that affirms God’s decree and the fact that He is truly in charge of the Universe.


The GBM discussion continued with the theme of “Makkah Part 2” which included a continuation of the religious rituals of the Arabs, Events leading up to the Year of the Elephant, Preparation for the Mission and Precursors for Prophethood.


Shaykh Ahmad also participated in two great programs towards the end of November – A Qiyam / Night Devotion program was conducted on the 21st at the Islamic Center of Riverside as well as a community service project focused on feeding the homeless population in the City of Riverside. The Qiyam program, ‘A Cure for the Hearts’ delved into topics of discussion on the importance of creating and maintaining our connection with God, the Quran, and Meaningful Prayer. We also reviewed five distinct ways to accomplish these goal as well as the means by which to remain steadfast during times of confusion.


The MSA dedicated the GBM following the Qiyam to preparing Turkey meals for the homeless. Shaykh Ahmad shared a short reminder about the virtues and importance of feeding others in Islam. He also reminded the MSA of the importance of making such efforts ones of empathy to the needy and in dedication to God. Everyone was encouraged to make these efforts a regular occurrence in their lives and to volunteer with existing local charities who provide such services such as Sahaba Initiative. We concluded by reflecting over Chapter 76 Verses 8-9 of the Quran in order to remind everyone and ourselves that we do not do this for praise or compensation, rather we do it for the sake of God and His pleasure and love.


After the 100 meals were packaged, they were transported to three vehicles and driven by the MSA to the local homeless shelter as well as the bus station and a few other stops where the homeless population usually congregates. The experience was overwhelmingly positive and meaningful and everyone who partook felt humbled and honored to participate.


The Quarter concluded with Shaykh Ahmad being asked to join the MSA board and membership for a Town Hall Meeting aimed at discussing the Fall Quarter’s activities and ways to continuously improve MSA programming moving forward.


Final exams are on the way and we pray for the students’ success. As is clear from the update, the chaplaincy at UCR is in full swing. Shaykh Ahmad will be back on campus next quarter to continue where we left off.


We ask God for acceptance and success for the students, the initiative and all involved. We also ask that you pray for us and support this important project.


Yours in Service,

Ahmad Alkurdy