Muslim Campus Minister

Sameer Ali Headshot

In September 2017, Campus Ministry hired its first Muslim campus minister. Muslim students make up about one percent of the student body. It is important that Muslim students have a resource on campus for guidance in faith and to support full inclusion on campus.

Sameer Ali, the Muslim chaplain, is available to provide emotional and spiritual support to students. The chaplain's role is to provide spiritual care and guidance to the student body in navigating the challenges of college and university life. Chaplain Sameer Ali may be reached through Campus Ministry and is available by appointment.

Muslim Chaplain's Corner

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"On Gratitude" - November 2022

The days of thanksgiving are here and each year families gather around the table, find their way to the halal turkey laying at the center, maybe offer a dua, and begin their feast. The origins of Thanksgiving are American and wrapped up in tradition, colonization, native-European relations, and the emergence of a new cultural identity.

I want to parse out the concept of thanksgiving and explore here what the Qur’an has to tell us about being grateful to Our Creator, the One God.

What is the definition of a believer in Islam? We often equate repeating and believing in the Shahada as a hallmark of accepting Islam. The Shahada reads: There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the (final) Messenger of God. Certainly, ascribing to this belief enters a person or a group into the community of Muslims and makes certain things obligatory and other things forbidden for them. The Shahada is an external or exoteric indicator of Islam.

In addition to the Shahada, there is yet another way in which the Qur'an describes faith:

“Why should Allah punish you if you have thanked Him and have believed in Him. And Allah is Ever All-Appreciative (of good), All-Knowing.” (4:147)

Here, the Qur’an places gratitude at the level of belief. A person who is grateful to Allah truly believes in Him and is thus saved from the punishment reserved for the unbelievers. The Muslim who is thankful, grateful, and aware that all that appears is from God alone. This includes the bounties, trials, tests, blessings, graces, and rewards which a Muslim encounters in life.  That is the esoteric or internal journey toward God.

The Prophet Noah (Nabi Nuh) is known by his gratitude as the Qur’an describes him as “Surely he (Nuh) was a grateful servant”. Hadith tells us that his name was Abdul-Shakur, or "The Servant of the Grateful", and his title was Nuh, meaning "one who laments or cries." He cried while he witnessed that the people around him chose to be separate from God's blessings and chose to worship other-than-God while they enjoyed the blessings from Allah. He also lamented when he walked the earth and was away from the ultimate expression of Allah's pleasure, which is Jannah or Paradise. But he was thankful to God for the experience as a prophet and messenger from Allah and the most important element in the relationship between Nabi Nuh and his Lord was Nuh's gratefulness.

It may be that this year, when you are gathered around the Thanksgiving table, your palate and mind get mingled with what is in your plate and the relative that is sitting next to you. But let us remember to be grateful and thankful for our faith and for our food, and to reach out to those who are not as fortunate. Ameen.

"On Being Kind to Our Parents" - October 2022

A few months ago, I was invited to officiate a marriage and the happy couple were very excited to tell me their story before the ceremony was to be scheduled. I knew the bride (let’s call her MB) and her family, and I am good friends with her father and brothers. They were all Muslims and come from a conventional Muslim family and are practicing of the faith and observant of the sacred laws. The groom was a new face and name. I spent some time talking with him and wanted to know more about his journey.

This young man (who shall remain nameless but let us refer to him as FZ) had recently studied and accepted Islam. He told me that during his undergraduate years he became interested in history, philosophy, and religion and began exploring the different faith traditions in the world. He became curious about Islam and read more until, in his words, he wanted to practice Islam and follow its teachings. He had been raised nominally Christian but did not come from a family that attended church on a regular basis. FZ appeared to be physically strong, and we talked about the image of Alexander and his veneration and valorization amongst Muslim kings and princes in the past. FZ was proud of his physical strength and shared that he had won a few awards in physical competitions.

We began talking about his family and FZ became silent. His bride-to-be told me that he was estranged from his family and had not spoken to his father in many years. I found out that FZ had left his home a few years ago and had made his way in the world and found MB after becoming interested in Islam. He had a steady job and during all these changes, FZ had barely spoken with his parents.  Now that their marriage was to be scheduled and I was to officiate, I gently explored FZ’s relationship with his parents. Reluctantly, FZ said that his father had been harsh with him and he did not agree with his father’s “views on religion or politics,” but that there were no real disagreements. It unraveled that his father had not been physically abusive or financially neglectful of FZ, and that his father possibly wanted to attend the wedding.

I explored the duties of a child toward his parents in Islam and FZ realized that the Qur’an commands believers to be kind to their parents. Regardless of the faith of one’s parents, a Muslim believer must be respectful of them and serve them. Bonds made through blood and birth are not erased due to the acceptance of Islam but are rather reinforced. Over the course of a few months, FZ became aware of his religious duty was to be kind to his parents. He slowly worked with his father and decided to invite him to the wedding. It was a journey of discovery of his own faith for FZ, and his father began to see what accepting Islam had led his son toward: respect for his father.

At the recent wedding ceremony, I had the opportunity to meet FZ and his father. As the ceremony continued, I realized that his father was crying. Softly. Gently. But those were tears that welled up in his eyes. I spoke to him privately afterward and realized that he was proud of his son, and that he was happy for him and for his new bride MB.

The Qur’an invites us to be kind to our parents, regardless of their faith and regardless of their practice of the faith. Maintaining the blood relationships, showing gratitude to parents, and always moving toward meeting their needs is a religious requirement within Islam.

God tell us, “Worship Allah and join none with Him in worship, and do good to parents” (Quran, 4:36) and “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor.“ (Quran, 17:23).

“On resilience” - March 2021

During the course of life, challenges present themselves to us in many ways. At times, when we are the most vulnerable there might be something present in our lives which makes us feel afraid, sad, or in need of help. At other times, we may be feeling confident and comfortable but an opportunity may appear which requires us to work even harder and to step out of our comfort zone. Both situations are opportunities for growth, for seeking proximity to God, and for putting aside our weaknesses and finding new strength inside.

The Nabi Yusuf (Prophet Joseph in the Quran; Surah 12) faced many challenges. He was despised by his brothers and could not find a comfortable space at home with his father the Nabi Yacoub. Yusuf was consistent hated by his brothers due to his wisdom and his beauty. They sold him for some money and he found himself making a journey to Egypt. Once he reached Egypt, he was again challenged as Zulaykha and the envy of the Egyptians created problems for him and he was imprisoned for some time. Slowly, after many years, Nabi Yusuf made use of the opportunities he was granted by God and found inner strength. He became a powerful person in Egyptian society and was eventually able to find his parents and reunite with them, as his brothers repented for their mistake of throwing him into the well.

The journey of Nabi Yusuf is one of resilience. He found his home was made into an unsafe place due to the jealousy and the misunderstanding of his brothers, and his journey into the outer world was one full of difficulty. Throughout the trials he faced, Nabi Yusuf continued his worship of God, the expression of his belief in Tawhid, and he looked past the petty desires and short-sighted objectives of those who wanted to betray him. Nabi Yusuf was resilient, as resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ and to recover after facing trials and tribulations.

As we continue our experience of the challenges God has placed in our life, let us reflect on the life of Nabi Yusuf and pray for resilience. Let us pray for the ability to see good, to find inner strength, to find the capacity that God has given us to face the challenges He has placed in our path. Ameen.

“The Quran In Our Daily Lives” - November 2020

In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate

As a child, I remember that my aunt would recite the Qur’ān every day. Her preferred time was in the morning and after the Fajr prayer her voice would fill the room, reciting the verses and Surahs and her gentle fingers would move along the black ink on a white page. When I recite the Qur’ān at home I am often taken back to that memory and I credit her scattering the fragrance of the Qur’ān while I slept in the same room.

As an adult with a family and a busy schedule, something else comes to mind: how do I incorporate the Qur’ān into my daily life, with all the work and appointments I have throughout the week? My aunt had a tough life as a teacher and raised three boys as a widow. Those were difficult times for her, but as I think now I realize that she never abandoned the Qur’ān and continued her habit of reciting it throughout those difficulties. She taught it to her sons and her grandchildren and taught others in her family and community.

So I come back to the question: how do I do it?

For one, I realize that daily recitation is a must. I try to make time at night or in the early morning to recite at least fifty verses, if not more. Along with the original Arabic, I make some time to read the English translation on my phone so that the meaning becomes more tangible for me. As I go about my day, I may become engrossed in my work and in driving that I may not remember the verses. But the Qur’ān is always there with me, covering me with the Mercy (Rahma) and Guidance.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his progeny) said:

“Whoever recites the Qur’ān secures (knowledge of) prophethood within their ribs (bosom), though Divine Revelation has not been sent upon them. It does not befit one endowed with the Qur’ān that they should be indignant with those in anger, nor should they indulge in any act of ignorance with those who are ignorant, while the Speech of Allah Almighty is with them in their chest.” (Mustadrak al-Hakim).

This blessed hadith reminds me that the Qur’ān is a constant presence, a consistent companion, and something which leads me to change and to grow. It gives the believer the opportunity to come into close proximity with the knowledge of prophethood, as though they have grasped some of the Sacred Realities bestowed upon the prophets and messengers (anibya wa rusul). Emotional responses are controlled as the Qur’ān guides its reciter to improve the behavior and to follow the Sunnah. As the believer recites and carries the Speech of Allah swt within their chest, knowledge, forebearance, patience, and emotional strength and stamina become apparent.

The benefit of learning and teaching the Qur’ān are endless, and a great approach is to take small bite-size pieces of the Qur’ān and staying with them. Let it be a daily practice where we read some verses, read the translation we are most comfortable with, and share and discuss these verses with our friend and congregation. We must make an intentional space (even virtual) and a set time (once a week) where we reflect on the verses and grow through them. This happens gradually and through practice.

The Messenger of Allah (blessings of Allah be upon him and his family) has said: “Everything in existence prays for the forgiveness of the person who teaches the Qur’an - even the fish in the sea.” (Usul al-Kafi).