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Khalil Abdur-Rashid was named Harvard’s first full-time Muslim chaplain last July, bringing with him a strong foundation in civil rights, social work, higher education, and Islamic law and philosophy. Since choosing Islam as a youth, and embarking on a spiritual journey whose genesis began around the time of 9/11, Abdur-Rashid has cultivated a strong, personal understanding of the African-American Muslim experience.
The holder of master’s of philosophy degrees in Islam and Middle Eastern studies, both from Columbia University, and an Islamic advanced doctorate (ijaaza ilmiyyah) in Islamic legal sciences and ethics from the ISAR Seminary in Istanbul, Abdur-Rashid is also nearing the completion of a doctorate in liberal studies, for which he is writing a history of the development of the African-American Muslim community, from the death of Malcolm X to the death of Muhammad Ali.
But while his understanding of Islam is deeply steeped in rigorous academic inquiry, it is the imperative to help young people connect religious tradition to lived experience that largely drives his work at Harvard.
Abdur-Rashid sat down with the Gazette to reflect on his first academic year, and to share his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the religious community on campus, and in particular for Muslim American students at Harvard.
GAZETTE: You’re closing in on completing your first academic year here. How has your time been spent, thus far?
ABDUR-RASHID: My first year was about doing everything I could to map out the landscape. It was about beginning to understand the culture of the University and the students’ needs, both in terms of, generally speaking, students at the College, and also, more specifically, the Muslim students at the College and graduate schools. I’ve also sought to understand what kinds of programs I can offer to best root the students in a sense of stability. This is so important in today’s overwhelmingly changing social climate.
GAZETTE: Talk more about the opportunity for a university to have a full-time Muslim chaplain. Why is this important to Harvard, and to the students themselves?
ABDUR-RASHID: First and foremost, as President Drew Faust articulated in her rationale for creating this position, there was a matter of equality that needed to be addressed on behalf of Harvard’s Muslim students. Historically, many have felt the sense of being marginalized, of being targeted, and of being left behind. There was a need for somebody to be able to speak to their concerns in a way that represented both the University and where those students were coming from. I’m able to do this in a way that helps them better discover what it means to be a student of an American Muslim background. I can empathize with their feelings of being targeted or of feeling ashamed of their identity. And I can do these things in my role as a University representative, seeking to help those students to understand that they can be proud of who they are.
Full Article: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/07/a-qa-with-harvards-m...
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