The Muslim Chaplaincy Organization at the University of Toronto is the first of its kind in a public university in Canada, and was established by the Muslim Students’ Association at U of T in the spring of May 2011. For nearly a year, community leaders, academics, university administrators, and students were engaged to complete the research and development phase of the project. The project then launched its #70in70 campaign in June 2012, aimed at raising $70,000 in 70 days to launch the Muslim Chaplaincy in September 2012. The objective of the Muslim Chaplaincy is to engage Muslim youth, and provide an inclusive space for them to foster a meaningful Muslim identity, which will be supported by quality education and counselling services.
The MSA realized that there was a need for a chaplain in their university community after encountering students who were questioning their faith, their identity, and how North American culture integrates into their faith. These students needed to speak about relationships, family, identity, faith, and career with someone who could understand them and could provide positive guidance to assist them in their personal and spiritual journey.
The University of Toronto is a centre of intellectual and cultural exchange in one of the most diverse cities in the world. It attracts great minds and talent, and produces exceptional individuals. Yet within this array of great intellect and success, there is also confusion and depression. A chaplaincy is important because it fosters and nurtures healthy individuals by providing positive mentorship and spiritual care. The goal is to nurture individuals who can graduate from university having developed a strong sense of who they are, individuals who are aware of themselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and who are healthy civic citizens ready to give back to the society around them.
The Muslim Chaplaincy follows the model already established by other faith communities at the University of Toronto. There are also many Muslim chaplaincies that exist in universities in the United States, such as NYU, Yale, Princeton and Hartford. The chaplain would be a self-identified Muslim who is committed, well educated, balanced, and a positive role model, who is also well acquainted with youth issues and culture. The full-time Muslim chaplain, whether male or female, will be accessible to students on a daily basis, and will provide an open and inclusive environment for all individuals, regardless of faith or creed, to cultivate positive relationships. The chaplain will also be involved in engaging with the larger university community, in inter-faith work, and community service initiatives.
An important aspect of this project is that it is entirely financed by the community through donations. The university will provide institutional support, but does not provide faith community financial support. We’ve managed to raise over 50 per cent of the $70,000 needed and are confident we can get this service up and running by the start of the school year.
This is the beginning of a new era of Islamic leadership and it will begin at the University of Toronto!
Aisha Raja is president of the Muslim Student’s Association