Transition, Growth, Development and Enhancement
The IOK Chaplaincy Program met a milestone with the start of the New Year as we launched the much-awaited IOK CHESS, Counseling Higher Education and Spiritual Support, a Public Service Collaborative for the region, combining our existing Seminary Program and Chaplaincy Initiative with Professional Mental Health and Religious Counseling Services.
This carefully thought-out strategy is meant to enrich the lives of Muslim students and foster their Muslim identity through meaningful guidance, education and spiritual support. Our scholars spend their mornings with students engaged in our full-time Seminary, and their afternoons serving the Muslim student community, individually and collectively, as Chaplains across 8 Southern California university campuses.
Our counseling services seamlessly integrate with our seminary program and chaplaincy initiative to ensure comprehensive wrap-around support is available to Muslim students dealing with anxiety, depression, addiction, abuse, harassment, suicidal ideation, conflicts in their interpersonal relationships and other mental health and wellness concerns.
With this development, we welcomed Shaykh Furhan Zubairi, Dean of IOK Seminary, as the Chaplain of UCI and Shaykh Jibreel Speight, Director of Muslim Life at Chapman University and IOK Seminary Instructor, as the Chaplain at USC, while Chaplain Yafa Aweinat added UCI to her responsibilities.
Shaykh Ahmad was assigned the responsibility of being the Chaplaincy Coordinator and added a new campus to the Universities he serves, to give him a total of three campuses. In light of that added responsibility, he decided to scale down on speaking engagements in the communities he used to serve weekly in the Inland Empire, namely Fontana, Claremont, Rancho, Perris, and Redlands. The reason for this was to focus on seminary and chaplaincy.
California Polytechnic Pomona University
The Winter Quarter got an early start during the Winter Break as Shaykh Ahmad was introduced to the CPP University by meeting the MSA president and getting a tour of the campus and the meeting place with the students for the upcoming semester. The first official introduction to the student community was on Thursday Jan 24th, wherein Shaykh Ahmad introduced himself and the Chaplaincy program and had an ice-breaker session followed by lunch. After consulting the students on topics they wished to discuss, it was decided that Emotional Intelligence was a much-needed subject.
Every Tuesday Chaplaincy would meet during the Study Circle at the quad under the trees in an open area or in the library if the weather wasn’t good. This meeting was from 12:00 to 1 pm and included the Emotional Quotient Self-Scoring Test. Over the course of the semester, several topics were covered, followed by discussion and a Q&A session. These topics included: ‘Are You Emotionally Intelligent?’ ‘Is Your Self Image Positive or Negative?’ ‘Are You An Introvert or Extrovert?’ ‘Are You Independent?’ ‘Who Is In Charge: The Child or the Adult?’
Other subjects covered were an article by Shaykh Furhan Zubairi on Medical Marijuana, Ramadan Q & A, Sectarian Differences, Fish Love-Love Languages and Thanks Giving. Every study circle would be followed by afternoon congregational worship, Salah.
Office hours were mostly for Q & A and dealing with personal issues, as Shaykh Ahmad got to learn more about the students, their needs, and the challenges they face.
The following topics were discussed during office hours, which would usually have multiple students at a time, except in the case of private consultations: transgender, saying the statement of faith at the time of death, parenting and teaching children, concealing knowledge, souls of animals, integral parts of the ritual devotion, lawful foods and dietary restrictions, past sins, self-image and self-esteem, Vitamin N for children, not being responsible for unbearable conditions, dealing with difficult parents, sects and community divisions, investments, changing of legal rulings, clothing and attire, Fitrah as the primordial condition and natural disposition, women’s testimony, Omar Series and other historical fictional dramas, co-education, social bubbles, porn addictions, marriage, Rami show, dysphonic disorder PMDD, rulings on dogs, converts and new Muslim support, info on Alumni Association, romantic relationships, Zakat, investments, stocks, and more.
A non-Muslim student who had been introduced to Islam sought information from the chaplain and a month later, on March 16,th had a long discussion and decided to declare his testimony of faith and embrace Islam. On March 17,th the students had their annual banquet and highlighted chaplaincy, appreciated the initiative and what it means to them. On March 20th, Shaykh Ahmad was invited by the MSA to participate in a picnic at the Via Verde Park. The students BBQ’d burgers and franks and broke bread together. There was a nice hike with a short reminder about the importance of keeping Allah on our minds and tongues regardless of where we are. It was a good opportunity for the students to meet the chaplain in a more casual setting and to pray in congregation in a big open park while enjoying fellowship and comradery. There was a short side presentation given on Bone Marrow Donation.
While short in quantity, the time spent at CPP was high in quality and solid relationships were built with the students on campus. Looking forward to a great next year, God willing.
University of California Riverside
At UCR, chaplaincy started on Thursdays in the winter quarter and moved to Mondays for spring quarter. The highlight of the year for Shaykh Ahmad was attending a program on January 19th by a student with blindness. Sister Aiman gave an amazing presentation, sharing what her and other people with disabilities experience in the community, on campus, and in the world. The presentation was very educational and the feedback was to encourage the sister to present it on additional campuses, while ensuring the content is compliant with Islamic teachings and not based on victim mentality and identity politics.
There were several new students who utilized the chaplaincy service as they were questioning their faith and wanted clear answers to troubling existential questions. Other topics discussed were the description of Salah and the difference between the scholarly juristic positions.
At the start of the quarter Shaykh Ahmad helped the UCR Muslim Alumni Association in connecting with a former MSU president, Dr Habib Hamidi, who is out of state, to be the keynote speaker for the Alumni dinner. On February 2nd the Alumni Benefit Dinner was held and Chaplaincy was highlighted as one of the resources for current and former students.
At the start of the Spring Quarter, Shaykh Ahmad attended and observed a student panel for Islam Awareness Week. This was followed by the chaplain’s feedback and constructive criticism to some of the panelists and the attendees who were interested in making a learning moment out of the experience. The Sharing Islam Committee was resumed on a weekly basis as a result of the feedback. Topics discussed were homosexuality and transgenderism, same-sex attraction, Divine Providence, and the Art of Communication.
During the Brothers’ Study Circle, a variety of topics were covered in an open environment of exchange of ideas, where Shaykh Ahmad heard the students and did much listening and observation. Toxic Feminism, forgiveness, being accepted, showing off of good deeds, repentance, and legal questions regarding acts of devotion were some of the topics addressed.
During office hours appointments, students brought up some challenging situations they were dealing with such as witnessing a major trauma and serious injury due to drug use, dealing with grief and loss, and rethinking engagements and family reactions.
On May 17th the annual MSA Banquet highlighted chaplaincy and the integral part it plays in the students’ lives and the university experience.
Unfortunately, Shaykh Ahmad’s health was a challenge throughout the second half of the year and the UCR campus suffered the most by several missed days, although the chaplain was available through phone, text and email, even when not able to be there in person. Apologies to the great students and much appreciation for their understanding and support.
California State University San Bernardino
At CSUSB, chaplaincy continued with a weekly open Q & A Session on Wednesdays to kick-start the day, followed by four hours of office-hours appointments. We started by talking about abbreviations and moved to discussing family secrets and personal challenges. A topic that came up was addictions and how to handle them. Different recommendations were shared with the students based on the situation. Updated resources were shared, as Shaykh Ahmad utilized the training he was receiving during the semester. On Feb 2nd the topic of the ‘N’ Word and Who Should say it, along with the history of Valentine’s Day was discussed. Two articles were read and fruitful discussion ensued. In both topics, the concept of origins and meanings were highlighted as a principle to be considered. Internalized oppression and bloody and pagan history of certain celebrations were take-away points. There was a community building exercise called the Privilege Walk to learn more about each other and to appreciate the blessings we have. The chaplain showed a video of the same exercise along with a video on homelessness and lead a discussion on these topics from an Islamic paradigm.
Some of the local college students who are not CSUSB students utilized office hours to ask questions and benefit from the service. One Wednesday, Feb 27,th Shaykh Ahmad was invited to a social with the students to a tea place and the topic of discussion was “How I Met My Wife.” The students got to connect with their chaplain regarding his personal life experience.
“How to invite non-Muslims to Islam as an MSA” was a topic of discussion leading up to the Islam Awareness Week. Upon request from the students and in being there to support their efforts, Shaykh Ahmad secured Dawah Material from the WhyIslam chapter to help the students in giving their guests reading material and also shared tips on what to include on their presentation boards.
Model United Nations was a topic of discussion as several of the students were members of the campus club and ready to travel to NY to partake in a weeklong conference. Tests and trials in life, forgiveness, parents, abuse, pictures and images in homes, dogs as pets, and transitioning as new Muslims were some of the topics discussed, as a new Muslim sister came to visit campus and participated in the open discussion and requested an appointment to discuss personal matters.
In this relatively small community of students, there were two new Muslim graduate studies students who attended chaplaincy and benefited from the resources provided. Shaykh Ahmad shared New Muslim Academy with them and made himself available for their questions and concerns regarding navigating community, family life and challenges.
On May 15th the MSA had a Ramadan Iftar (Breakfast Dinner) and invited staff, students, friends and family. During the dinner the students expressed how chaplaincy was a big part of MSA this year and showed their appreciation in public.
In Ramadan, Shaykh Ahmad visited the Islamic Community Center of Redlands on May 28th on behalf of IOK CHESS outreach and informed the community about the project and invited everyone to learn about the program, to inform their students about it and to support it. It should be noted that the CSUSB and UCR campuses have many students from this particular community and others in the Inland Empire.
The final day of chaplaincy for the year was on June 7th. The students were interested in learning more about IOK Seminary and Shaykh Ahmad took this opportunity to inform them of the offerings, to share some of the amazing accomplishments of the seminary students, and to invite them to attend the commencement ceremony and to audit our summer session programs.
As part of personal development and enrichment and to bring more value to the services provided, Shaykh Ahmad signed up for a six-month Counseling Training Certificate Program under the Southern California Counseling Center in West LA. The Community Counselor Certificate Course ran from January 11 Thru June 14th 2019 and the topics covered were: Being Relational in our Work, the Counseling Relationship, Listening/Dialogue, Non-Judgmental Questions, Family Secrets, Grief and Loss, Gender, Working with LGBTQI Clients, “The Other”, Bias, Assumptions, Judgments, Color of Fear Film, Guilt and Shame, Politics of the Expert Stance, Three Column Exercise, Childhood Abuse, Childhood Trauma, DV/Abusive Relationships, Rage Resolution/Working with Gang Cultures/Mandated Teens, Trauma/CRM, Mindfulness & Compassion, Addiction/Substance, and Somatic Resourcing.
As this school year comes to an end, let’s take this opportunity to continue praying for our students in university campuses and for their success in studies, careers, and lives, and more importantly in their faith and afterlife.
IOK Chaplaincy is committed to helping, not just by praying but by also being there for the students to help turn these prayers into reality. We will continue in developing and growing this program, and enhancing the services provided by seeking God’s Divine Assistance, Grace and Guidance.