Patrick Shanahan / University Photography

Cornell's first Muslim chaplain, Yasin Ahmed, spoke to The Sun about counseling students and pushing for Halal food options on campus.

March 8, 2018

Cornell’s First Muslim Chaplain Builds Community During First Half-Year of Tenure

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After being appointed Cornell’s first Muslim chaplain in August, Yasin Ahmed spent his first semester at Cornell counseling students, advocating for more Halal food on-campus and setting up community service opportunities for students.

While Ahmed lamented that Muslim students for decades had little religious guidance on-campus, he also expressed enthusiasm for being the first chaplain of his faith, a position which endowed him the unique opportunity to “build a new community from the ground up.”

“We can create something dynamic, robust and beautiful,” Ahmed added. “This is an opportunity to be a model for how to build a thriving Muslim community, or any holistic community on a college campus.”

Ahmed who studied at Hartford Seminary to become a chaplain, previously served as chaplain at multiple schools in Connecticut, including Trinity College, Choate Rosemary Hall and Medina Academy.

A chaplain who provided Ahmed with spiritual guidance in college while he felt lost inspired him to become a chaplain himself, Ahmed said.

“When I was in college … I had a lot of friends with mental health issues, and I started looking for answers to the questions that were inside my heart,” he said. “I found the space to ask those questions with a chaplain, and I realized that we needed more chaplains on campus, especially within the Muslim community.”

Ahmed leveraged the Jewish community’s connection for obtaining kosher food to introduce Halal dining options, started a freshman support group and promoted student-led sermons during weekly services since August.

But despite consistently advocating for the interests of Muslims on campus, Ahmed said that the chaplain’s job is not just to “answer everyone’s needs, but to facilitate their needs” by taking advantage of Cornell’s resources.

“The more people I meet, the more people can give specific advice. I feel like I’ve tapped into not even one percent of the institutional resources in terms of the people here and the incredible experiences they bring to the table,” he said.

Ahmed said that the most rewarding part of his job has been counseling students.

“The way we talk about life at Cornell is often about surviving rather than thriving,” he said. “When someone can come in and say ‘I’m struggling’ and to be there for them is the most meaningful thing I experience here.”

Syed Samin ’19, president of the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association, said Ahmed has grown MECA’s reach and allowed the organization to host “great speakers” in lectures.

“We’re really happy to finally be able to say we have a chaplain,” Samin said. “Yasin’s been a great resource for many students on campus, providing pastoral care and spiritual advice, and creating programs and initiatives to address the salient problems facing our community.”

Looking to the future, Ahmed plans to continue developing community service missions, such as a Habitat for Humanity project in collaboration with Protestant and Catholic groups. He hopes that Cornell will be able to grow a diverse Muslim chaplain team to address a variety of issues.

“I’m still learning the landscape, but I’m even more hopeful about our future after our first semester,” Ahmed said. “There’s so much possibility here.”