The Diwan Foundation for Cornell Muslim Life has announced the appointment of Yasin Ahmed as Cornell’s first Muslim chaplain earlier this month — an appointment that the Diwan Foundation has had in its goals for many years. But, this historical achievement did not come without its difficulties.
The biggest obstacle to the appointment was funding. Unlike other Ivy League institutions, Cornell’s charter does not provide funding for religious positions. Instead, this position will be funded by the donations of alumni and other supporters.
Past members of the Cornell Muslim community said the chaplaincy was long overdue for the Muslim community.
“We’ve been trying for a very long time, for the chaplaincy,” said Fariha Ahsan ’13, a member of the Diwan Foundation — the group that ultimately appointed Ahmed. “We’re finally at the stage where we could get funding for a sustainable position.”
Ahmed — who has his Masters in Christian and Muslim relations from Hartford Seminary — said that his discovery of faith pushed him toward a role where he could help others.
“When I found Islam, it was something that really helped me realize my potential for my humanity,” he said. “When I realized that, with the help of both Christians and Muslims, I decided to use that newfound humanity to help others find it as well.”
Ahmed hopes to use his newfound position to build a stronger community on Cornell’s campus.
“We’re working on relationships that establishes a community that looks out for each other and for those who are not within the community itself,” he said. “[We want] to value each individual and inculcate that ethic and that ethos into individuals so that they carry it into whoever else they meet.”
Ahsan describes a rigorous application process to find the candidate most suitable for the role.
“There was a first stage of interviewing, which consisted of the board of directors and the Diwan Foundation. We then had the top three candidates interview with students, CURW administration and our board of advisors. We also paid for them to visit the Cornell campus and hold sessions with students,” she said. “After that process, we selected [Ahmed].”
While the chaplain will have many duties, Ahsan, who used to serve as president of the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association, is particularly excited about the increased representation Ahmed will provide for Muslim students.
“Part of my role as president of MECA was to attend the Cornell United Religious Works meetings, which was mainly for chaplains and leadership. I was the only student there,” she said. “The chaplain will be our representative at the CURW meetings and he will be providing that voice for Muslim students.”
Along with this new representation, Ahmed said he plans to work with other faith-based groups at the CURW meetings.
Syed Samin ’19, current MECA president, is also optimistic about potential for unification among students in the community.
“There are so many Muslims on campus, but there’s a large divide,” he said. “Ahmed’s job as chaplain will be to help Muslims come together, as much as possible, and get to know each other and help build a community.”
As an additional component of his position, Ahmed will be delivering Friday sermons, as well as leading small group discussions. Ahmed emphasized that within his role, he hopes to become a confidante for any student.
“We’re really excited to build a community at Cornell that is encompassing of everybody’s humanity and to focus on that for the sake of God,” Ahmed said.