At its April 7 board meeting, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) passed a motion to donate $100,000 to the Muslim Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto.
The chaplaincy offers “an inclusive space and sense of community” to “foster a meaningful Muslim identity,” and supports students through counselling services offered by its imam. The donation will go toward salaries for a chaplain and managing director. A small portion will also be put aside for fundraising brunches and gala events.
The donation is funded by the UTSU’s unrestricted reserve, which has upward of $3 million, according to 2019–2020 UTSU President Joshua Bowman, and has largely been used to support the Student Commons project.
Bowman explained that the process of organizing this donation began when a student approached him to say that the chaplaincy had been there to support her when she was struggling with her mental health.
In the context of U of T’s mental health crisis, Bowman believes that the chaplaincy is “doing the work to help students” — and that the UTSU should support it.
Chair of the Board of the Muslim Chaplaincy at U of T, Dr. Bano Murtuja, acknowledged that while the group is definitely a faith-based organization, its services are available to students of every faith.
In addition, Murtuja emphasized that this funding is important to safeguarding the organization against chaplain burnout. “It’s really, really important that we ensure that those people who are driven… by a passion to assist… are given the support that is due to them,” said Murtuja.
Richard Chambers, the director of the Multi-Faith Centre, also spoke in favour of the motion. Chambers noted that it is common for secular governmental groups to donate to faith-based organizations, providing the example of the Canadian government’s recent donation to the Salvation Army as part of its COVID-19 response.
Chambers also pointed out that at U of T, “Christian privilege is alive and well,” and that the chaplaincy is filling a gap in services for students who do not feel comfortable attending one of the Christian chapels on campus.
Danial Akif, 2019–2020 Vice-President Internal of the Muslim Students’ Association, and Muntaka Ahmed, 2020–21 UTSU President, went into detail about how the chaplaincy has helped them throughout their university careers.
Akif explained that the perspective of U of T’s Health & Wellness counsellors is not always enough. After the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand last year, where 51 worshipers were killed, he was afraid for his own safety as he put his head down to pray. The chaplaincy helped him “make sense of what’s going on.”
Ahmed remarked that the chaplaincy was there to support her when she made the decision to wear the hijab. She noted that the chaplains were always available and “provided me with the tools that I need to just live my life on my own terms as a Muslim woman.”