First chaplain to serve ‘U’ Muslim community

By Jessica Gelfarb, For the Daily
Published January 10, 2012

Rackham student Mohammed Tayssir Safi’s daily responsibilities now extend far beyond those of some of his classmates.

After months of searching, the Michigan Muslim Alumni Association recently hired Safi as the University community’s first Muslim chaplain. Safi, who is also the first ever paid chaplain at a public university, will serve as a resource for Muslim students seeking for spiritual guidance and act as a liaison between the Muslim community on campus and the University.

Safi received a bachelor’s degree from the University in 2006 and is currently a graduate student instructor studying in the University’s teaching arabic as a foreign language program. He said his interest in becoming a chaplain on campus stems from the desire to serve the Ann Arbor community, especially in a way that incorporates his faith.

“One of the things that make up communities is religious outlets,” he said. “All of the other faith communities in large part have had organizations and people who are committed to addressing those things and the Muslims just now are being able to slowly address some of those same concerns within their own community.”

Safi added that his job as chaplain is not to head or direct Muslim organizations on campus, but rather to advocate for the Muslim community and provide support for Muslim students.

MMAA, in collaboration with the Muslim Student Association, began the hiring process in September, but had been contemplating appointing someone for the position for a number of years. Members of both MMAA and MSA said they wanted to find a chaplain who had previously experienced what it is like to live as a Muslim student on a college campus.

MSA president Eman Abdelhadi said both organizations strove to find a chaplain who students feel comfortable turning to for guidance about their spiritual needs and who can to serve the interests of the Muslim student body.

Abdelhadi added that student feedback was an important component of the hiring process. Students in MSA were given the opportunity ask Safi questions about his plans as chaplain while he was still going through the interview process, and Abdelhadi said students have been communicating with Safi since he took the position last week.

“We can already see the difference it is making on students lives,” she said. “People are already reaching out to him and trying to make connections with him. They are seeing the value that this person can bring to campus.”

Annie Sajid, vice president of external relations for MSA, said she has observed Safi at various MSA events and noticed his commitment to interacting with students and facilitating dialogue.

Sajid added that because Safi is the first person to take on the position, there is some uncertainty about how exactly he can best serve Muslim students on campus. However, she said Safi’s ability to be flexible in how he approaches his new role is easing the transition.

“I appreciate that he is so open minded and willing to learn and be engaged with community members,” Sajid said.

In addition to offering spiritual guidance to Muslim students, Safi will also communicate with the University about the needs of the Muslim population.

“We have always had to rely on individual students’ relationships with the administration and often times those bonds can break when people graduate,” Abdelhadi said. “With the chaplain here we have someone who can come to know the University very well and become that face for the Muslim community.”

Safi said the implementation of the chaplain position is a natural and necessary development for the Muslim community on campus, adding he is eager to continue to work with students and other individuals — both within the Muslim faith and beyond — who are committed to improving society.

“We want to work with people,” he said. “We don’t want to tell people what to do or impose anything on people. We want to work with them to address concerns they already have. That is the goal of what a chaplain is supposed to do.”

Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of MSA president Eman Abdelhadi.