The winter quarter at UCR was the busiest time for chaplaincy since we started two years ago. The major highlights of the winter quarter happened at the beginning and the end with MSA West Conference and Islam Awareness Week respectively.
Chaplaincy at UCR got off to an early start during winter break at the MLK Weekend as UCR MSA hosted the MSA Western Annual Conference with the theme ‘One Fight, Many Champions.’ Shaykh Ahmad was one of the presenters, and had the pleasure of speaking on Friday about Islam: A Complete Way of Life, and on Saturday, The Messenger Muhammad: A Walking Quran. In between lectures he had the opportunity to connect with other speakers from different communities and to meet students from other campuses. It was a great opportunity to connect with students from all over the West Coast and introduce IOK Chaplaincy by being present. IOK Chaplains Shaykh Jamaal Diwan and Shaykha Muslema Purmul were also present and had multiple lectures as well. The MSA UCR team proved to be top-notch hosts and volunteers, with the leadership of the MSA West Conference program coordinator, who is a UCR student.
With the start of the quarter in the second week of January, office hours and regular programing resumed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Initially, Tuesday was set for office hours and General Body Meetings, while Thursday was set for the Brother’s Study Circle and the newly-launched Emotional Intelligence Class. Quickly after the start of the quarter, and due to high demand, office hours expanded to both days. The MSA solidified its support to chaplaincy by providing a dedicated space and booking a classroom to hold office hours, a comfortable space especially considering the rainy season and weather conditions. In the past, office hours were mostly held outdoors in a common area called the Highlander Union Building. This quarter’s office hours were held mostly in classrooms, when available, and at a lounge balcony when not available.
For the weekly general body meeting, Shaykh Ahmad conducted one lecture in continuation of last quarter’s theme of the Life of the Messenger. The topic was “Year of Sorrow and Trip to Taif.” Lessons were extracted and morals were shared from this great story related to developing prophetic-like characteristics when grieving over the loss of loved ones, caring for those dying and sharing the message with people, regardless of their reception or attitude.
The Emotional Intelligence Class came about after conversations in the summer with the board and reflecting over the past two years of office-hour sessions with students. The board and Shaykh Ahmad were eager to have a topic which would address the problems faced by the MSA community in interactions and interpersonal skills. Many students have deep emotional wounds – some from childhood, and others developed in the new university environment, along with the added pressure to perform at a high level. Discussions were based on the text Emotional First Aid. We covered two of the most common suffering that all humans experience, ‘Rejection’ and ‘Loneliness.’ These two painful emotions are quite prevalent in the University setting, considering the new surroundings and social environment. We spoke about treatment plans for the psychological wounds that these hurts inflict. We also conducted self-scoring Emotional Intelligence tests on the following topics: “Are You Emotionally Literate?,” “Is Your Self Image Positive Or Negative?,” “Are You An Extrovert Or Introvert?,” “Are You Independent?,” “Who Is In Charge, The Child Or The Adult?,” “Are You A Follower Or A Leader?.” These tests made for great conversation and helped students learn more about themselves and ways of improving their Emotional Quotient (EQ).
During the Brother’s Study Circle, we continued discussing the lessons from the Opening Chapter of the Quran. The main subjects covered were “Praising God: Its Virtues and Occasions,” “Mercy and Grace of God,” “King of the Day of Recompense.” This weekly meeting was a great opportunity for open discussion and Q & A where a variety of subjects related to Islam and life were discussed.
The sister’s study circle convened on Fridays, before noon, as Shaykh Ahmad is usually traveling to different communities to conduct the Friday sermon. That did not prevent the sisters from utilizing chaplaincy, as they booked individual and group appointments during office hours and after events and meetings. There were several detailed discussions related to misconceptions they have been exposed to, which made for great learning opportunities and further research. Some of the biggest subjects were Marriages of the Prophet, Women’s Dress in the Quran, Evolution and Adam, Feminism, Slavery, Grief for Loss, and Racism. These conversations started in office hours and carried on via email correspondence. Also during office hours, many new students set up appointments and opened up about struggles in their lives.
The office-hours sessions are great learning experiences and a time to support and lend a shoulder to lean on in a safe space. It is so amazing how strong these students are with all the pressures that surround them at home and school.
Elections for next year’s board were held on February 14th, and Shaykh Ahmad was asked to attend the nomination speeches and to address everyone with words of encouragement and advice. The talk revolved around the themes of selfless-service, liability, responsibility, and no privilege to serve, rather accountability.
Islam Awareness Week took place from March 6-10. During this week, Shaykh Ahmad was asked to participate in the “Roses from the Prophet” event where the MSA passed out 200 roses with quotes of a prophetic statement attached to students around campus. Shaykh Ahmad recommended the text to be included with the roses and had the pleasure of seeing the students pass out the roses while he made himself available for students’ questions. The statement of the Messenger Muhammad which was chosen states, “One of you sees and notices a blemish in your brother’s eye and forgets the tree trunk in his own eye,” narrated by Ibn Hibban and Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad. This year’s quote was something which is familiar to those who know the Bible as it is a statement which is also attributed to Jesus Christ. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?” Mathew 7:3. Both quotes were included on the card attached to the roses.
Some unexpected events took place during the programs of Islam Awareness Week, which called for debriefing sessions requested by the students to handle and contain. It was a great opportunity to see the students mature and work hard to learn from mistakes and to own up to unfortunate events.
Close to the end of the quarter on March 14th, a town hall meeting was hosted by the MSA Board with the members present. Shaykh Ahmad was invited to participate. The highlight of the quarter for the MSA was being connected with IOK Chaplaincy as part of their consistent work of being connected to the outside community and having a Muslim Chaplain on campus readily available to serve the students’ needs.
During finals week Shaykh Ahmad had office hours on campus and off campus as students from CSUSB and Riverside Community College set up appointments.
Winter Quarter afforded Shaykh Ahmad the opportunity to serve foreign exchange students from France. French students attended MSA campus events and Chaplaincy appointments during the quarter. It was a great opportunity to exchange ideas and help students from Europe deal with some of their struggles while they were in the US and when they return home. A few local non-Muslim students were interested in what chaplaincy had to offer as they met with Shaykh Ahmad and asked questions.
There were a few out-of-state engagements for UCR Chaplain Shaykh Ahmad. In early February, he was invited to San Antonio, TX to participate and present in the second annual IOK/Qalam/MCECC conference “Staying the Course: Quranic Guidance in Difficult Times.” His topic was Five Means of Steadfastness in Times of Tribulation. He also addressed the MCECC community during the Friday sermon on the subject of History and Meaning. In late March, Shaykh Ahmad travelled to Chicago to attend the 14th Annual AMJA Imams Conference on the topic of Contemporary Fiqh Matters Facing New Muslims in the West. It was a great opportunity to hear and see scholars present their research and to network with several hundred Imams from all around the US and Canada and inform them about some of the work that IOK Chaplaincy is doing.
Overall the winter quarter was a busy time of plentiful growth for the chaplaincy at UCR. We pray that God continues to bless these efforts and affords us the opportunity to continue to serve and provide care, mentorship, and education for our dear students.