Following the departure of Kaiser Aslam, the University has hired Sami Abdul Aziz as the new University Muslim Chaplain. Also known as Imam Sami, he began working at the University in August and hopes to focus and create events dealing with issues of Islamophobia and interfaith relations between different religions.
As chaplain, his role is to facilitate religious services on campus, as well as provide pastoral counseling to all students, regardless of religious beliefs.
“If somebody on campus is of another faith, doesn’t matter which, I’m also there to listen to them,” Aziz said.
Aziz emphasizes that although he focuses on Muslim events, everyone is invited to all events, including weekly Friday prayers and support groups. The support groups are created for Muslim students to have a safe space and to interact with one another.
Speaking to the political climate in the country with respect to Islam, Aziz highlighted the importance of openness in the campus community.
“Being a Muslim in America can be difficult right now, [as] we are minorities not only in religious group, but also a minority group in the color of our skin,” Aziz said. “There is a lot of fear in the Muslim community regarding the political situation, [such as] what is going to happen. Is Islamophobia going to increase, and are people going to judge us based on our religion? There is some of that fear here among students on campus, and I want to help them be comfortable and let them know that this campus is open to you.”
As Aziz works only part time at the University, he discussed his efforts throughout Connecticut in spreading awareness of Islam as a whole. He is the founder and CEO of the Common Grounds Services Institute. Through the institute, he travels to churches, libraries, and schools, educating members of these institutions on a variety of topics, including ISIS, Islamophobia, and women in Islam. He has also hosted joint services in churches, giving talks on the relationship between Islam and Jesus Christ.
Aziz hopes to host an event at the University on the difference between ISIS and Islam.
Interfaith relations are also something on which Aziz focuses, as he works with the on-campus Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders in hosting interfaith events and exploring ways that they can work together. Aziz is also a member of the Bloomfield Interfaith Council.
“I would like to see more interfaith collaboration events, maybe we talk about our faiths and what’s similar,” Aziz said. “The similarities are amazing between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. We have so many things in common that we don’t have an excuse to divide ourselves, in my opinion.”
As Monday was Eid Al-Adha, a sacred Muslim holiday, Aziz has already hosted six events on campus. He hopes to also create a Muslim film series and bring in more Muslim singers and theater performances.
Aziz is also working with Bon Appétit, the campus food service provider, in developing meals during Muslim religious holidays. Currently, Bon Appétit has special meals during other religious holidays, but not during Muslim ones.
Aziz, who has also worked as a prison and hospital chaplain, noted that his time at the University has been enjoyable not just because of the campus environment, but also the welcoming atmosphere he has encountered.
“For the first two weeks, I would walk around campus and not say who I was and people would think I’m a student,” Aziz said. “It showed me that people are willing to talk to me regardless of my beard or skin color. They would approach me. That was a nice feeling.”
Aziz joins the line of Muslim chaplains who have served the University in one of the oldest Muslim chaplain programs in America.
“I would say 80 percent of college campuses don’t have a Muslim chaplain,” Aziz said. “It’s been many years, probably a decade. I really appreciate that.”
He also noted that he appreciated how the University provides budgeting for events.
Aziz connected his experiences as chaplain now to how he felt in college and high school and how he used to be shy about practicing his religion openly.
“Maybe some students don’t feel as open about their religion on campus, but I want them to know that no one is going to judge you. They should have the right, and Wesleyan does give you that right to be open,” Aziz said. “I want to provide more programming to make the Muslim kids feel more comfortable.”
John Hossain, a graduate student at the University, admires Aziz for his engagement with students.
“I’ve found the new Muslim Chaplain, Imam Sami, to be deeply invested in his students,” Hossain wrote in an email to The Argus. “He’s put significant effort into reinvigorating Muslim life on campus, for both practicing and non-practicing students, and providing a close-knit and diverse community for us to support one another. I’m hoping he builds momentum with this over the next couple of years and increases the visibility of Muslims at Wes.”
Alicia Strong ’18, President of the Muslim Student Association, also discussed her confidence in working with Aziz in the upcoming school year. She had also previously collaborated with him in the wider Connecticut community.
“He is very friendly and genuine and I know he’ll be able to reach Muslim students of varying religiosity,” Strong wrote in an email to The Argus. “I know him from my work in the Connecticut Muslim community and he is incredibly motivated. I’m particularly fond of his work educating people about Islam and his interfaith work. Hopefully the Muslim Student Association can have a bigger presence on campus with his help.”