One of the world’s leading Universities has this month appointed its first full-time Muslim Chaplain. Harvard University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts (U.S.A.), is regularly found to be among the world’s top 3 universities, with the Times Higher Education rankings rating it as the best university in the world for 2017.
Despite being a space for the world’s most gifted and brightest minds, it seems that the university is not immune to the cancer of Islamophobia. Harvard’s daily newspaper, The Crimson, reported in May of this year on some of the university’s own students who faced increasing levels of Islamophobia, a trend that was being experienced nationwide. This follows a bleak year in 2016 in terms of Islamophobic incidents, with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reporting that such incidents had increased by 57% in that year.
The election of Donald Trump in November of 2016, and the anti-Islamic rhetoric that he brought with him from the early days of his campaigning through to the Oval Office, served as a catalyst for the push to have Harvard’s first full-time Muslim chaplain. Harvard announced that it was searching for the new Chaplain shortly after Trump issued his executive order that barred citizens of 7 Muslim-majority countries from travelling to the U.S.
In January 2017, Dr Drew Faust, Harvard’s first female president, sent an email to affiliates outlining that the hiring of a new Muslim Chaplain was a response to “the special concerns of the Muslims among us at this moment in our national life…(providing) more tangible ways to support (Muslims’) distinctive needs”. In this move is a recognition that Muslims will be facing particularly challenging times in these coming years, the beginning of which is already here. The search was carried out by a committee comprised of students, faculty and staff.
Six months on from the initiation of the search, Harvard announced that the new Chaplain post would be filled by an Atlantan Sheikh, Khalil Abdur-Rashid. Abdur-Rashid has a background in Imamship and has also spent time as a social worker, earning his Bachelor’s in Social Work from Georgia State University. He has two Masters Degrees in Islamic Law, as well as a third Masters in Middle East Studies. He also holds multiple Ijaazas in various aspects of Islamic Theology, qualifying him as a Sheikh, and has taught on Islam and Islamic law at universities such as NYU, Columbia, Georgia State, Harvard and Princeton. He is currently completing a Doctoral Degree in identity formation amongst American Muslims, and has also served as an advisor to the NYPD Police Commissioner. His father, the late Charles Khalil Burris, was the first African American Mayor of Stone Mountain (Atlanta), and was a student of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Harvard’s Muslim students have wholeheartedly welcomed the appointment, and look forward to availing of their new full-time Chaplain. Speaking to The Crimson on his appointment, Abdur-Rashid said, “These are challenging times that require us to commit ourselves to public service and mutual support…to cultivate a deeper understanding of who we are and where we are ultimately going, and to being the best of who we are while remembering the divine in each other, thereby taking us one step closer to turning hate into hope.”