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INTERVIEW WITH AL-HAJJAH KHALILAH KARIM-RUSHDAN Chaplain to the Muslim Community - Smith College
Saima Malik (staff at the ICP): Would you please share some background information about yourself and the work that you are involved in?
I have worked in community service in some form or another for many years, from being a criminal investigator in Mississippi to my current position as a Psychotherapist and Chaplain at Smith College, Northampton, MA. I’m blessed to be able to do the two things I love most, dawah and psychotherapy. I began my work as the Muslim Chaplain in 2000 as adjunct faculty to the Office of Chaplains. After the events of September 2001 my role as Muslim Chaplain was expanded.
My educational background includes a B.A. in Social Welfare/ Sociology from the University of New Haven in West Haven. CT. I earned my Master of Social Work degree from Smith College Social for Social Work.
S.M: Did this educational background prepare you for your chosen profession?
While this formal education is important it did not train me to be a Muslim Chaplain. However, I learned how to understand and work with people from all walks of life. I have always had some form of leadership position in the Muslim community. Presently I am the New England Chapter President of The International League Of Muslim Women, Inc. I sit on The Mosque Cares Office of Education, Special team. This is the ministry of Imam Dr. W.D. Mohammed where I am the Director of Clinical Services and College Guidance. I have been blessed yet again to take some courses at Hartford Seminary and I am a student of Imam Dr. W.D. Mohammed’s.
S.M: What are your primary responsibilities as Muslim Chaplain?
I, along with the Office of the Chaplains, help to provide the Smith College community with a moral and ethical voice. I participate in all major college events such as convocation; graduations and any other program the college feels would benefit from the presence of a Chaplain. Currently we are involved with modeling for the community respectful Civil Discourse. I also provide programs that bring to campus prominent leaders in the Islamic world. In 2002 Imam Dr. W.D. Mohammed came for the beginning of Ramadan, last year Dr. Mattson spoke. I conduct Friday congregational prayers and am on the planning committee for our new dining room that is scheduled to open in 2005 Kosher/ Halal with Zabiha meat served at least two meals. I provide pastoral counseling to Muslim and non-Muslim students who seek them. We do a lot of interfaith work as well as community work. I am on the Executive Board of the National Association of College and University Chaplains, The American Friends Service Committee, Northampton Interfaith Council, and the Northampton Ministerial Alliance. I am one of only two female Chaplains at a college or university.
I believe the work that I do is vital to the entire community. I do a lot of work in the outside community as well as Smith. Speaking to others about Islam helps others understand that Islam is not what they know from Media. Now Islam has a face, a name, and is a real person. Our humanity is one and I always try to connect with others on this level.
S.M: Which areas would you say are the most challenging and which are the most rewarding aspects of your work?
What has at times been challenging is the ethnic make up of our community. The majority of the Muslims on campus are international students some born in Muslim countries, some born Muslim in the U.S. and other reverts. While we know the Qur’an and the Prophets (PBUH) last sermon, advise us against nationalism and racism it does exist. I try to make a clear distinction between what is culture and what is Islam. It is important to honor everyone’s culture as it makes us better human beings. At the same time I must be able to exemplify best practice in all I do. Usually when a student wants something to be different I ask them to bring me the evidence in Qur’an and Sunnah. This way we all can benefit if the request is validated by the Qur’an and Sunnah. Students are very busy being students and at times it is difficult to get them to attend interfaith events.
The rewards are so great I am not sure I can count them. The biggest reward is having the opportunity to affect someone’s life in a positive way and to change a misconception they may have about Islam.
S.M: What advice would you offer to a person considering Chaplaincy as a profession?
If someone is interested in Chaplaincy, I believe they first have to be able to work in a secular, multicultural and multifaith environment at the same time they must stand firmly as a Muslim. Instituting a full-time Kosher and Halal with Zabiha meat is a blessing, which grew, in part out of other faith communities support and collaboration. Personally I must work hard in my own growth and development as a Muslimah in order to be a role model for other young Muslimahs.
Last year I experienced the fruits of my labor so to speak. Smith College allowed me the time off with pay to make my Hajj. During my absence many prayers were made for my safety and safe return. My colleagues, students and members of the community at large welcomed me back with wonderful Hajj Mabruk. I would like to encourage other Muslimahs to consider applying for Chaplain positions at colleges and universities. Sometimes the way to begin is by being a volunteer or advisor to a Muslim Student Association. With Allah’s help and mercy Muslim Chaplains on college or university campuses will begin to have a greater influence on the college climate and culture.
S.M: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us.
What is a Chaplain
A chaplain is a professional who offers spiritual advice and care in a specific institutional context, such as a military unit or a college campus, hospital or prison. Although chaplains often provide religious services for members of their own faith communities, the main role of a chaplain is to facilitate or accommodate the religious needs of all individuals in the institution in which he or she is working.
Chaplains often serve as experts on ethics to their colleagues and employers, providing insight to such diverse issues as organ transplantation, just-warfare, and public policy. Professional chaplains do not displace local religious leaders, but fill the special requirements involved in intense institutional environments.
Thus, a Muslim chaplain is not necessarily an "Imam," although an Imam may work as a chaplain. There is a need for both male and female Muslim chaplains. For example, female Muslim students on college campuses or hospitalized Muslim women may feel more comfortable with a Muslim woman chaplain.
How do I become a chaplain
See our FAQ section for more about our process.