For Rackham student Mohammed Tayssir Safi — hired by the Michigan Muslim Alumni Association as the University’s first Muslim chaplain in January — listening is as much a religious duty as a line item in his job description.
“It’s an act of worship just to meet people: to talk to them, to hear them, to listen to what they have to say so that you can better serve them,” Safi said.
Safi’s appointment marked the first of a Muslim chaplain among public universities. Only about 30 universities nationwide have the position.
Two months into his appointment, Safi said his job entails listening more than anything else. He is still having first meetings with University officials, campus religious leaders and students. Earlier this month, he held office hours for students and he said more showed up than he could listen to.
“I didn’t know that this was going to happen, but people very quickly opened up,” he said. “… I had nine students in the span of two hours that I was there, and I couldn’t meet all of them.”
Safi’s other responsibilities include advocating on behalf of the Muslim Student Association, working with religious figures on campus to encourage cooperation and tolerance, and assisting MSA with miscellaneous tasks — be it finding a speaker or offering advice.
He said he is a conduit both to and from the University’s Muslim community, not only raising MSA’s ambitions and concerns to the University but returning to MSA with the University’s thoughts and responses.
“Sometimes the University’s actively concerned and hoping to help minority communities both in faith and ethnicity, but they don’t know who to contact,” he said. “And so I’m trying to connect with people so that they know if they can’t come to me, at least I can put them in contact with the people they need.”
And though he resisted credit for all the efforts he’s putting in, citing Islam’s teachings of modesty, he said his intermediation seems especially important given the high turnover rate among the Muslim campus leadership.
In April, when the president and both vice presidents of MSA graduate, the University and other religious organizations on campus will have to rebuild their relationships with the University’s Muslim community — except for Safi.
“Next year they’re going off to do what they’re going to do, and now you’ve got a whole new group of people that you have to interact with,” he said. “And so all those relationships that you built disappear. We hope that I’m a circuit.”