Harvard Islamic Society Launches Muslim Life Fund Campaign

The Harvard Islamic Society launched its Muslim Life Fund campaign last Friday and hopes to raise $30,000 in 2014. According to HIS Director of Development Hassaan Shahawy ’16, the Muslim Life Fund is meant to bolster what students call a lack of resources for a growing Muslim student community, particularly by securing a part-time campus chaplain for 2015.

Members of HIS began to work on the funding initiative last fall after examining the results of a survey regarding Muslim student life on campus. The survey indicated that about half of student respondents felt dissatisfied with Muslim life at Harvard and 83 percent wanted an official chaplain on campus.

Nuri Friedlander, a teaching fellow in the study of religion, currently serves as a volunteer chaplain for the community. Given his multiple commitments, however, he said that his availability for students is limited.

“There are limitations on what I’m able to do and what I end up doing will often fluctuate from one year to the next depending on my schedule,” Friedlander said. “Conceptually, knowing that there is someone who is there, dedicated to meeting your needs, will create a big difference psychologically in the lives of Muslim students on campus.”

The Harvard University Muslim Alumni organization is collaborating with HIS by providing both organizational and financial support for the fundraising campaign. HUMA President Khalid M. Yasin ’07, who was HIS president in 2005, said he sympathized with the current concerns of Muslim students given his own past experiences.

During his undergraduate years, Yasin said that students relied on each other for support and dialogue.

“For myself and a lot of my friends, there were lots of discussions about, ‘What did we grow up with?’ versus ‘What are actually our own thoughts?’” he said, adding that he felt a chaplain might have facilitated these conversations.

HIS President Yacine Fares ’15 said that guidance and mentorship is particularly important as undergraduates grapple with these questions.

“In the formative years of college, and within academic life in general, people want someone who understands their background and their belief system,” Fares said. He added that a chaplain familiar “with the context people are coming from” would be better-equipped to handle student questions related not just to religious beliefs but also academics and career choices.

HIS members said that a chaplain would also help foster increased connections between graduates and undergraduates in the Muslim community while serving as an advocate within the school administration.

“[A dedicated chaplain] would take the burden off of undergraduates for trying to coordinate the programming that addresses the religious necessities of community members,” Shahawy said.

HIS’ existing resources are no longer sufficient to support growing interest in its events, Shahawy said. He referenced as an example the weekly jumu’ah prayers, held on Fridays in Lowell Lecture Hall, which have recently attracted more than 200 community members.

—Staff writer Yasmin Moreno can be reached at ymoreno@college.harvard.edu.

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