SU can benefit from strengthening its connection to Syracuse Muslims
Prior to there being any established mosque or record of a Muslim community in Syracuse, Syracuse University was the place where a majority of young Muslim students and later on other Muslims from the community would gather.
The relationship between SU leadership and the general Muslim population in Syracuse has helped blossom a community that was almost non-existent to now having five religious centers. Still, SU needs to increase awareness and education on the Muslim experience and Islam, according to the annual report released by Chaplin Duric for the previous school year. Adding classes that analyze “isms” and “phobias” can encourage students to face their biases. SU should also grow programs and classes such as Dialogue On Race & Ethnicity, which will provide in-depth education and conversations that mandatory classes like FYS (first year seminar) may not touch on.
With a rise of islamophobia and attacks towards Muslim communities in the United States, it is important to help strengthen education to dismantle stereotypes and violence toward Muslims. SU’s help and support to further education surrounding these topics within higher education is both beneficial to students on campus and the community members from different backgrounds they will interact with.
From 1955 to 1968, SU added a Muslim Fellowship to Hendricks Chapel as a religious group on campus with Professor Fazelelah Reza as the first advisor for a Muslim student group. With a slowy growing Muslim community both on and off campus, Hendricks Chapel added an Islamic Chaplaincy in 1979.
Without a mosque or Islamic community center in the city of Syracuse, Hendricks Chapel was first held as a prayer space for Friday prayers. As a need for a larger space began to grow further, Hendricks Chapel Dean Jack McCombe helped ISCNY purchase a piece of land to start construction on the first mosque in Syracuse. The mosque was officially open to the community in 1982, making it the first mosque in Syracuse. For a period of time, the former president of ISCNY’s board worked part-time as SU’s chaplain for Muslim students on campus.
Imam Ahmed Nezar Kobeisy then took over the position full time at ISCNY and the chaplain seat at SU. The Muslim Student population on campus has a larger presence, which created new spaces and accommodations for Muslim students on campus. SU installed Wudu stations, a ritual to cleanse one’s self before prayer, several Muslim student prayer spaces and incorporated halal meal options.
SU’s relationship with the Muslim community in Syracuse helped opened several doors for not just those living in Syracuse but Muslim students attending other colleges.
“Several leaders and students from different universities came to see the Muslim Student Association prayer space and wudu stations located in Hendricks Chapel,” Chaplain Amir Duric said.
After a series of part-time chaplins, Amir Duric became the first full-time chaplain for Muslim students at SU.
According to Duric, SU was a prime example for other universities when it came to making accommodations for Muslim students on campus. He has held the title of chaplain for five years and has helped establish and renovate the main Muslim prayer room in Hendricks Chapel. Many of the achievements and mile stones reached by and for Muslim student on campus were the first of its kind at any university in the United States.
The history between SU and the Syracuse Muslim community is an example of why it is important and beneficial for universities to work alongside the community that surrounds them. ISCNY still stands on the same land it was purchased on during the year 1980. The mosque’s location sits right on Comstock Avenue, making it accessible to students on campus.
The power SU has to help mold and provide needs or solutions to communities is clear looking at impacts they have had on the city in the past. Leadership at SU stepping off the Hill is just as important as students stepping off the Hill. Those in power at SU need to be leading by example. SU stepping outside of its silo to be involved in community conversations should be expected. Without the university cultivating relationships in the past with the Muslim community, it may have taken longer for Islamic Society of Central New York (ISCNY) or any mosque to be present in Syracuse.
SU should be present and well connected with all of Syracuse. More collaboration between the community and campus can open so many new doors. SU is not a separate entity from the city, they should be at the table to listen, understand and provide solutions to community issues and needs.
Sarhia Rahim is a Sophomore Policy Studies Major. Her Column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at [email protected].
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