First Muslim Chaplain Appointed at Cornell University

The Diwan Foundation is pleased to announce the appointment of Yasin Ahmed as the first Muslim chaplain at Cornell University. This follows a comprehensive candidate review process inclusive of students, alumni, other Cornell and college chaplains, and Ithaca community members. He will begin in his role on August 18. The addition of a Muslim chaplain brings Cornell University on par with peer Ivy League institutions like Yale, Harvard, and Columbia, as well as countless colleges and universities across the country.  Unlike other institutions, Cornell’s charter does not provide funding for religious positions.  Through the efforts of The Diwan Foundation, the Muslim chaplaincy position at Cornell will instead be funded by the generosity of alumni as well as students, families and other supporters. Calls for a Muslim chaplain came from students, alumni, faculty, and campus chaplains.  Yasin Ahmed joins over thirty chaplains at Cornell United Religious Work (CURW) who have been tremendously supportive of the need for a Muslim chaplain.  Reverend Clarke West, the chaplain for the Episcopal Church of Cornell, recently wrote: “Our Muslim students are such an asset and gift to our community. We have so much to learn from them. As a chaplain, I know how much we miss having a Muslim voice at our weekly chaplains’ meetings.”  The appointment of a Muslim chaplain at Cornell could not come at a more pressing time.  One student expressed the need to the Diwan board poignantly after a fellow Muslim friend committed suicide.  The student felt a Muslim chaplain could have helped his friend and relieved fellow students from feeling the brunt of responsibility in helping him through such issues.  A chaplain was also sought to support students as they navigate issues such as Islamophobia, drug and alcohol abuse, relationships, and mental health issues, etc. In addition to providing pastoral care to Muslim and non-Muslim students, Diwan envisions that a Muslim chaplain would help establish a “big tent of Islam” under which all self-professing Muslims will feel welcome. A student wrote to Diwan speaking to this point: “We need a chaplain to help resolve issues, and we need a chaplain because as a Muslim American, my struggles are unique and shaped by my identity.”   Ahmed is completing a Masters at Hartford Seminary in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations with a Graduate Certificate in Islamic Chaplaincy. Dr. Feryal Salem, co-director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program at Hartford, says, “Yasin has a genuine sense of devotion to his faith and seems to portray a love of God in all he does. He has a gentle demeanor that enables him to connect with everyone he meets and the students he works with. He is in the top 5th percentile of all the Muslim chaplains we have trained over the years—he is from the cream of the crop. Anywhere he goes will be immensely fortunate. A wise and strategic investment for Cornell's long-term.” Ahmed also commonly speaks on Islamophobia, the American Muslim experience, and community development with Common Ground Services, where he is head of Strategic Development.  “He is very open to speaking to the entire spectrum of every religion,” offered Dr. Maureen Rovegno, the Association Director of Religion at the Chautauqua Institute, who employed Yasin for one of their very large interfaith summer programs. Ms. Faria Abedin, coordinator of the Princeton University Mizaan Camp, remembers him fondly, “He’s so authentic. He has a great, dry sense of humor, and a beautiful way with adults and teens. One of his greatest strengths is making people feel comfortable—he meets people where they are.” In the coming months, Ahmed will work closely with students, campus administration, CURW and the Diwan board to better understand the needs of the Muslim student community as he shapes the programs, activities and services of the chaplaincy. Ahmed has a record of empowering young people and building interfaith coalitions to establish strong mutually beneficial communities. Prior to joining Cornell, Ahmed served as Muslim Chaplain at Trinity College, Choate-Rosemary Hall, and Madina Academy in Connecticut. In addition to his current training at Hartford, he has received education in the traditional Islamic Sciences at the Nakhlah Institute in Massachusetts and continues his studies with the Lantern Initiative in the New Jersey & Pennsylvania area. He previously completed a B.A. in Communications with Honors at Rutgers University. “I am grateful and excited for the opportunity to be your chaplain and advocate,” he said. “I am committed to developing a community of wellness, led by a diverse set of students, whose objective is to please Allah. Imagine a community where you feel God, where you feel heard, understood, and accepted.  Imagine a prophetic community, which welcomes people as they are and inspires them to pursue something greater.”    About The Diwan Foundation In 2005, a few Muslim alumni self-organized to support coordinated Muslim life programming on campus, forming The Diwan Foundation. In 2007, Diwan officially announced the chaplaincy as its flagship initiative and began attempting to mobilize alumni in this cause. For more information about Diwan’s work as well as how you can support the Muslim chaplaincy and other initiatives, please visit www.thediwanfoundation.org.  

Finding Belonging in Spiritual Spaces

How these hidden nooks helped Sana Siddiqui '13 settle into life on two campuses. During my fours years at Cornell, one of my favorite and oft-visited places on campus was Anabel Taylor Hall which houses the Cornell United Religious Works. Anabel Taylor Hall is the site of nearly all the religious congregational spaces on campus and it was also the site of MECA’s prayer rooms. In the solace of room 218, I could quietly finish my afternoon prayer without the fear of having someone confusedly walk in on me or having to deal with the absence of prayer mats. I believed at that time that this was a special accommodation that I would not find at most other institutions. So imagine my surprise when, after wandering around SUNY Upstate University’s library halls, I finally entered a room called the ‘Meditation Room’ and found that it came fully equipped with prayer mats, scarves and even a little shoe rack. It was late afternoon after my classes and I was hunting for an empty space to pray in—something hard to find in a library that is often brimming with students.  I was struck with relief and excitedly texted my old Cornell friends to announce to them that I had found a space to pray, just like the one at Cornell. Finding the ‘Meditation Room’ that day made all the difference. It has helped me in my journey to feel at home in a new environment, comforted me with the knowledge that there is a community of like-minded people around me and helped me realize that the institution I am now a part is invested in accommodating both my academic and spiritual needs. It plays much the same role that Anabel Taylor did at Cornell and that has made me feel at home. Religious spaces such as the ‘Meditation Room’ or the MECA prayer room at Anabel Taylor Hall are fundamentally important to the experience of the students and employees. They acknowledge the diverse spiritual needs of the people working at these places and provide a safe space for their expression. They bring together people of similar communities, backgrounds and interests, forming important connections between members of the institution. The presence of these spaces greatly enhances the atmosphere at any building, public space or institution as they provide alternatives to the normally noisy or crowded world and a chance to find solitude, even if just for a few minutes. It has certainly made my transition from Cornell to Upstate that much easier. I would highly encourage readers to organize their own spiritual spaces wherever they are. It empowers and comforts me personally to know that there are Muslims at Cornell and at my new school who have brought about the creation of these spaces for the community. And so I urge everyone to find these spaces for themselves in their surroundings—finding one can be a source of empowerment and and the beginning of closer integration into that society. Sana Siddiqui '13 graduated with a Biology and Government degree from Cornell University in 2013. She is currently a first year medical student at SUNY Upstate, and in the little spare time that she has enjoys sleeping and discussions about spirituality.

7 Career Lessons – Reflections a decade after being accepted to Cornell

10 years ago (February 11, 2004 to be exact), I received an email informing me that I was accepted into Cornell University for graduate school. This was a life changing event - I just took a chance by applying - that has shaped my life for the good and the (seemingly) bad ever since. I can't say that I have reached my 'final' career destination that I set out for when I left home in August 2004. However, I have certainly learned a lot on the way: 1) Take that chance - I've seen too many people give up on opportunities that could have worked out, quite successfully so: schools not applied for, research projects not pursued, papers not published. Most were given up on - honestly - because of a fear of rejection. So what? In so many instances with such opportunities, one only stands to gain. 2) Merit only takes you so far - We live in a world of networks. Much of the advancement that others, as well as myself, have made has been due to our strongly connected network - in addition to hard work. Get out there: connect with people and spread benefit. 3) The joy of helping others - My PhD advisor emphasized assisting in the professional development of others. This has been one of my passions over the last ten years. I've always been happy to sit down with people and help them with their work. I admire supervisors that do so, and utterly dislike others that don't. 4) There is no final destination for a career - First it's undergrad, then grad school, then post-doc, then tenure-track, then continuously establishing productive, funded research programs. You never really do get *there*, with your career. It's a constant state of increase and advancement. All my life I have hastened to work hard to get to the point where my career was just stable - I just had to keep the fire going. I realize now, this may only happen the day I retire. Now I try, but still find it difficult, to just relax and be ok with where I am career wise. 5) A PhD is not enough, and it also can be too much - Earning a PhD is not enough for establishing a career. You need to have connections, communication skills, strategy with your career, etc. Yet, in places such as Canada, we have the issue of being "over qualified". I still grapple with the irony of "You're an Ivy League PhD graduate, so we cannot hire you." 6) Never give up - An encouraging email I received from a member of a faculty hiring committee sums it up, "If we had decided that we were targeting someone with a materials science research emphasis you definitely would have been the top candidate, in my opinion." Hence, I continuously work to improve myself, my skill set, and my knowledge. And with that, I keep trying to push forward with my career and apply where I can. Lastly, 7) Know when your thinking is naive - I look back at many of the decisions I made (and advice I took), and realize how naive they were. They had weak assumptions, superficial reasoning, lack of thinking outside the box, or just plain lack of research. I'm not saying that my decisions were wrong, just not thought out well such that better options could have emerged. Examples: One: Pursue what interests you for your PhD project; this lacks foresight of its ability to carry you onward in your career. Another: Return to Canada for a post-doc; leaving an Ivy league institution effectively put me "under the radar" with faculty applications. The 'shine' of having Harvard or MIT as your current institution is brighter than any radiance that merit at a lower ranked institution could produce. But I'm working on this . This is why it's so important to have a mentor or people you can trust to give you proper and well-informed advice along the way in your career. You see I had this, I just didn't know who was giving the *right* advice. And often times people don't realize when their own opinions and advice is naive. Sometimes one can only know retrospectively. by Ian Hosein '09 Ian earned his PhD in Material Science and Engineering at Cornell in 2009, and is currently a research scientist in photovoltaics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.