July 18, 2018 | ° F

Muslim chaplains continue CILRU growth

Photo by Kristine Rosette Enerio |

School of Arts and Sciences senior Sirfaraz Piracha, left, and School of Arts and Sciences junior Ibraheem Catovic co-founded the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University when they noticed a lack of Muslim religious leaders on campus.

Members of the University's Muslim community took a step forward in their efforts to develop the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University (CILRU) with the hiring of two Muslim chaplains on campus.

Since the start of this semester, Brother Faraz Khan and Imam Moutaz Charaf have been serving part-time as campus chaplains, giving guidance, advice and council to all University students.

"You could be a super-conservative Muslim. You could be a completely liberal Muslim who's maybe just Muslim by name," said Ibraheem Catovic, co-founder of CILRU. "You could be Jewish, Christian — it's not an issue. You're free to use the services of the chaplain."

As a University alumnus and a former chaplain on campus in 2007 — before the previous chaplaincy became defunct — Khan said he returned to give back to a community he is a part of and make sure Muslim voices are represented.

"If there's someone there for these youth … then it makes things easier for them just to transition in life," he said.

Charaf earned a master's degree in Islamic studies as well as Muslim-Christian relations at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut and has often worked with local Muslim communities in the tri-state area as well as various college campuses like Drew University.

"I had a great opportunities to work with different people and do a lot of counseling. So I love to do that. I feel if I can be of any help to anyone, why not?" he said.

Other than working as a chaplain, Charaf also holds a computer-related job, and Khan works as a full-time senior geologist for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

"They're basically volunteering their time. They like our idea for our project a lot, and they see a lot of potential there," said Catovic, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. "So right now they feel they don't want to financially stress the organization by demanding money."

As part of their duties, the chaplains will hold classes related to Islam for University students and will hold office hours where students can meet with them, he said. Office hours take place on Mondays and Wednesdays in the Busch Campus Center.

"Hopefully, through [these classes], students will be more confident and comfortable in approaching the chaplain in a one-on-one type of situation and working at resolving their own issues," Catovic said.

CILRU hopes to hire a full-time paid chaplain within the next two years, he said.

Although finding chaplains marks an important accomplishment for CILRU, it is just one of a few short-term plans to develop it as an independent non-profit organization that serves a similar purpose for Muslims as Rutgers Hillel does for the Jewish community and the Catholic Center at Rutgers for Catholics.

Co-founder of CILRU Sirfaraz Piracha said he and Catovic first realized the need for an Islamic center and a Muslim chaplaincy on campus when they attended a February 2009 "Trilogue," a Muslim, Christian and Jewish interfaith gathering.

"It was kind of interesting because their groups had chaplains. Some had even multiple," said Piracha, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "But then you have the Muslims … [who] were kind of like figuring their way through without a chaplain."

They began brainstorming and crafting ideas, working even through summers to sort out name and mission changes as well legal and other issues, he said.

"We literally revamped this idea, kept running it, refining it every couple months," Piracha said. "I think now we've sort of finally sat down and understood what we want, how to do it and then going forward from there."

At the moment CILRU has a five-person board of trustees that consists of the Piracha, Catovic, a graduate student and two alumni, Catovic said. They also have a voluntary student support group of about 20 people.

"We kind of wanted to mix it up a little bit and really have all different diverse backgrounds contributing to ideas," Piracha said.

With a chaplaincy established, Piracha and Catovic have been working to raise funds, spread awareness about their effort among the community and meet with other religious chaplains and organizations on campus.

They also hope to acquire a physical location for CILRU in coming years to serve as a central point for the Muslim community, Piracha said. A building would enable them to house chaplaincy activities and host programs.

"I think a physical presence helps, especially now when you see Islam on the news all the time," he said. "You're in college … You're inquisitive, everyone's inquisitive. We want to know, ‘Really, who are these people?'"

But like the chaplaincy, Catovic said the facility would not be exclusive to Muslim students — the entire University community would be welcome.

Both Piracha and Catovic said working on CILRU has had its frustrating moments, especially when it came to revamping and revising ideas.

Keeping up momentum and motivation was also a necessary struggle in order to keep the project alive, Catovic said.

"This is something you're kind of starting from scratch. There's not a lot of people who are there to back you and support you. You really have to keep the project moving," he said.

But Catovic said the project would not have progressed as far as it had if all those involved took a break.

Meanwhile, Piracha said the experience allowed him to grow as an individual in both intellect and maturity.

"I just look back at myself thinking of some of the original ideas that we had and where we've come now," he said. "Just constantly going through the wire and putting it through the filter and thinking, ‘This is what we do need. Let's be practical here.'"

Despite the struggles, Catovic felt starting CILRU was a good undertaking.

"We really get to experience different types of people," he said. "We got to really learn how the University works."

Kristine Rosette Enerio

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