February 21, 2011

Islamic Chaplaincy May Come to Cornell

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An Islamic chaplaincy may soon arrive at Cornell for the first time due to the efforts of the Diwan Foundation, a new alumni-sponsored organization that aims to support Islamic activities on campus.

Many peer universities, such as Northwestern, Harvard, Princeton and Yale,  have Muslim chaplains who are hired by the universities, according to Jainal Bhuiyan ’04. However, since Cornell was founded as a nondenominational institution, its charter does not permit the allocation of funding to support specific religious personnel, Bhuiyan said.

“The position of a Muslim chaplain had always been a volunteer role, whether by a graduate student or a member of the faculty,” Bhuiyan said. Since there is no mosque in Ithaca, the volunteer chaplains had to balance their full-time commitment as graduate students or faculty members with supporting both the Ithaca and Cornell Muslim communities, Bhuiyan said.

“We are educating the University on the need for a space where Muslim students — regardless of their level of faith — can create a sense of community, and tackle the problems we face in the post 9/11 world,” Sara Rahman ’12, president of the Committee for the Advancement of Muslim Culture, stated in an e-mail.

A Muslim chaplain would help to solidify this sense of community and to counsel both Muslim and non-Muslim students about Islamic culture, according to the Diwan Foundation’s website.

“As students, we can only accomplish so much in addition to our school work and other activities, and having a permanent staff member to help us with programming and our needs would help Muslims have a stronger voice on campus,” Rahman said. “This is also a very important decision for future Muslim Cornellians, as parents — when they see that there is a chaplain at Cornell — would be more willing to have their kids go to Cornell.”

Fatima Iqbal ’05, the treasurer of the Diwan Foundation, said that the process of finding a chaplain would involve forming a hiring committee which would have student, staff and faculty representatives.

The Committee for the Advancement of Muslim Culture is a student-run organization that is working to create a Muslim Cultural Center on campus, similar to the Asian/Asian American Center that opened in 2009, Rahman said. Iqbal said that after establishing a chaplaincy, Diwan’s long term goals are to support programming on campus that address students’ needs, such as funding lecture series and professorships.

Bhuiyan said the creators of Diwan want to use organizations such as Hillel and some of the Christian associations on campus as rough models to base the foundation on, especially in regard to these organizations’ fundraising success and contributions toward campus life.

“Our goal is to build an institution that would stand the test of time and continue beyond us to give back to the Cornell community and to its students,” he said. “The Diwan foundation is meant to be a resource for not just Muslims, but for the entire community.”

Both Iqbal and Bhuiyan mentioned that the  administration and Cornell United Religious Work have been supportive and encouraging throughout the process of creating the foundation, which is a registered tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization. The public launch of the foundation will take place at 4:15 p.m. on Friday in the Founders Room of Anabel Taylor Hall, where Diwan will formally announce the initiative to establish an official Islamic chaplaincy.

“Students at Cornell are the young generation that will have a role to play in the conversations and reconciliations of the future,” Rahman stated. “It’s really important to stress dialogue among such diverse groups of students, and it’s our hope — CAMC and Diwan —to make all members of the University more informed about Muslims in America.”

Original Author: Nikhita Parandekar