TORONTO Following months of campaigning, Muslim students at the University of Toronto have got their first full time chaplain, hoping he would open new dialogue with students and combat stereotypes surrounding their faith.
I think it's important for students to realize they can still be Muslim and still be uniquely themselves, Amjad Tarsin, the first chaplain in Toronto University, told Canadian Press on Friday, September 28.
Affected by gripping, complex and real life problems, a full time chaplain was an urgent need for Muslim students, amounting to about 5000 in the campus.
Trasin, a 28-year-old of Libyan descent who hails from Ann Arbour, Mich., was appointed after Muslim students at the University of Toronto launched a campaign asking for appointing Canada's first full-time paid chaplain last June.
The campaign managed to raise $70,000 to fund a year-long contract for the first-ever full-time Muslim chaplain on a Canadian campus who will take office starting from Monday, October 1.
Tarsin's goal is to have an open dialogue with students and create a strong Canadian Muslim identity on the campus.
Aisha Raja, president of the association, said having a full-time chaplain will cater to a real need among students.
The university campus is huge and we wanted someone to be there on a 24 hour basis because the need (for guidance) is so pressing. Raja said.
Part-time didn't cut it.
In Canada, Muslim chaplains have been utilized primarily in military and prison settings to help with issues of religious accommodation.
Universities have been most often served by volunteer chaplains, often imams from the community struggling to juggle numerous commitments.
But over the past five year, dozens of universities in the United States have hired Muslim chaplains to offer Muslim students support in the tension-filled aftermath of 9/11.
Muslims make around 2.8 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the North-American country.
Presenting a Canadian Muslim identity, Toronto new chaplain reflected a refreshing change from the perceived chaplains.
People have a preconceived notion of what a chaplain is and while that's helpful, we would like to break the barriers and be creative about what a chaplain can be, Ruqayyah Ahbad, managing director of the Muslim Chaplaincy at the university, said.
When we're developing a Canadian Muslim identity, it's not prescriptive. There's no checklist of what you have to fulfill to be a model Muslim.
Richard Chambers, the director of the university's Multi-Faith Centre, agreed, saying it was about time the university had a full-time Muslim chaplain.
It's simply a reflection of Canadian history and immigration ... We didn't have a big Muslim population until the early 70s, Chambers said.
A chaplain can be a helpful sound board to guide students through their development and time in university.
Collecting funding from around the world, with contributions pouring in from as far away as Denmark, Toronto Muslims will keep donations to sustain Trasin's position.
The first question our organization is constantly trying to find an answer to is how to shift away from crowd sourcing, said Ahbad.
We have hope that we'll be able to continue a year from now.