A Chaplain’s Plea


http://www.flickr.com/photos/marianone/2242220965/sizes/l/By Ibrahim J. Long

Humanity has come a long way. Life was once simple: living on a farm with family in an agrarian economy or trading goods at a local market. Yet, today we live in a time where societal life has become increasingly complex, and this complexity has had a dramatic effect upon our social relationships and emotional needs.

Urbanization and industrialization has dissolved traditional social support networks, and due to this lack of social cohesion, the traditional responsibilities of the community towards its members (particularly our youth) have been placed in the hands of institutions.

All of this has resulted in several effects: one negative is that youth relate less to their family by turning less often to them for counsel and advice. On the contrary, because they still need someone to turn to, they may seek the counsel of friends, classmates, teachers, or co-workers.

However, while meaning well, classmates, teachers, and co-workers are not always best suited or qualified to provide appropriate advice.

A positive effect is that an increasing number of universities (as well as some boarding schools) have recognized that their students’ emotional and spiritual needs are not being met by the community; so they have created chaplaincy positions.

However, Muslim chaplains (also known as Muslim spiritual care providers) are still quite new to North America. And so far, few Islamic educational institutes are seeking to provide them with the necessary knowledge and skills that this newly established profession requires.

Muslim Youth Face Diverse Problems

Problems experienced by Muslim youth are diverse and related to multiple factors, perhaps unfelt by their parent’s generation (or at least to the same extent). Some such examples may be increased sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, pornography addiction, materialism, harsh criticisms of their faith, and a variety of peer pressures.

To address these issues, we must have leaders who understand the biological, psychological, and social developmental changes which influence how Muslim youth experience and perceive the world around them.

While imams and Islamic centers can and should play a crucial role in providing mental health services, if the imam is not seen as being culturally sensitive to the pressures of Muslim youth in North America, they may be less likely to seek his help when in need.

Furthermore, imams are often times unfamiliar with counseling methods and local mental health services; their education often focuses on the religious ruling of alcohol and not on how to counsel someone fighting peer pressure to use it or an addiction to it.

Most Islamic Institutions Do Not Provide Chaplaincy Training

Studies have shown that imams often lack any formal spiritual care training and are often foreign born/educated, making it difficult for them to relate to second-generation Muslims.

While many traditional Islamic institutions provide courses in Islamic law, theology, and spirituality, these do not alone address the essential issues needed to train those serving the Muslim youth (be they a Muslim chaplain, imam, or youth leader).

Too often the lack of spiritual care courses, or the greater emphasis upon law in courses made available in the community, has led those presently serving the youth to erringly quote fatwas or religious doctrine without addressing what may be at the root of an issue (e.g., a problem at home, a problem with their peers, or another issue which needs further care and attention).

To properly assist the youth, leaders must have at least some understanding of counseling and spiritual care.  Although Islamic chaplaincy may sound new, portions of what it entails can be found discussed amongst Islam’s greatest theologians, jurists, sufis, and philosophers (for example: Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali). Without question, the life and example of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) is replete with examples of providing good counsel and spiritual care.

Yet amazingly, very few Islamic institutions can be found who are working to provide those who serve the youth with the necessary counseling skills needed to appropriately administer to their needs.

My Plea

Our communities desperately need more educational institutions that can provide classes on Islamic spiritual care and counseling practices for imams, youth leaders, and present and future Muslim chaplains and spiritual care providers.

Many contemporary institutions already possess several of the key ingredients for such courses and programs: sacred law, theology, and spirituality. In addition to this, Islamic educational institutions should seriously consider hiring Muslims trained in spiritual care and counseling to offer classes and services in their community.

Furthermore, programs should be organized and offered by institutions that focus on the basics of providing Islamic spiritual care education and services for those who excel and desire more education and then be encouraged to receive credentialing by completing further training with a professional association. This would result in a greater number of qualified members within our communities who can cater to the needs of not only our youth, but any seeking the help of a Muslim chaplain and counselor.

Caring for Muslim youth should be one of our community’s top priorities. Yet, few Islamic educational institutions are providing the education and training needed by those serving the youth. For this reason, I am encouraging Islamic institutions to offer counseling services and courses in Islamic spiritual care by trained professionals. If we do not serve those serving the youth, what then can we truly expect from the future of our community?

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8 Comments

  1. School Teacher says:

    As Salamu Alaykum,

    I teach at an Islamic school and sometimes speak at youth events. It is unlikely that I will be able to enroll in any chaplaincy program in the foreseeable future. Are there any books I can read to help me improve my service in my current capacity?

    Jazak Allahu khayr
    Was Salam

    • Ibrahim Long says:

      Wa ‘Alaikum As-Salam School Teacher,

      Your question truly highlights one of my overall concerns in this article. As a teacher who works closely with Muslim youth and desires providing more counseling like services, what workshops and courses are available to you? Very few. Because of this, I believe it is absolutely necessary for communities to seek out certified Muslim chaplains and other professionally-trained counselors to provide workshops on techniques in counseling and spiritual care.

      Presently there are no books that comprehensively introduce the approaches behind an Islamic approach to spiritual care. However, a valuable book has recently been published which looks specifically at counseling Muslims (including a chapter on Muslim youth). It is called:

      Counseling Muslims: Handbook of Mental Health Issues and Interventions edited by Sameera Ahmed and Mona M. Amer

      That being said, counseling in spiritual care takes a non-directive and client-centered approach. To be able to provide such care, it is necessary to be trained by someone proficient and professionally certified in this practice.

      More resources are also available on my blog: http://ibrahimlong.com/muslim-chaplaincy/

      God bless.

    • As Salaam Alaikum, My name is Abbdus-Salaam Musa and I’m the president of the American Islamic Indigenous Clinical Pastoral Educational Training. We are a new organization of clinically train chaplains in Clinical Pastoral Education. Our make is two Supervisors In Training (SIT) who are training individuals of all faiths. Our mission is to address the needs that are being expressed by the author.

      We have professional individuals who are being trained currently in different parts of New York City. We are willing to conduct workshops and training for those who wish to receive this training from an Islamic perspective, If you or anyone else is interested I can be contacted by cell phone at 347 407-6888 or the email listed above or abdus_salaam63@yahoo.com.

      We will be giving an informative program on June 30, 2013 in Queens New York if you are interested in hearing an awesome presentation given by a panelist of Medical Doctor/Chaplain, Psychologist/Chaplain, Phd. DM/Chaplain, retired Director of Minsiteral Services of NYC/Chaplain and other trained individuals. If you are interested in attending please contact me ASAP before all the tickets are gone.

      Chaplain Musa

  2. Danilo G says:

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    Thank you very much for this article. The youth is indeed essential for the future; they are the ones that will continue the legacy after we are gone from this world, and therefore it should be an absolute priority that we take care of them.

    Negative influences are omnipresent these days, and to keep the young ones on the right path is no easy task – yet an extremely rewarding one. However, if someone wants to help others stay on the right path, they must first learn about this path themselves.

    Bringing knowledge to people, and teaching them how to pass on this knowledge themselves, is a vital duty. Thank you once again for this article on a subject that will gain more attention insha’Allah.

    Jazak’Allahu Khair

    • Ibrahim Long says:

      Wa ‘Alaikum As-Salam Danilo,

      Alhumdulillah, I appreciate your comment and just wanted to reflect on one part of it: “if someone wants to help others stay on the right path, they must first learn about this path themselves.” I want to even break it down to simply “If you want to help others, be willing to learn yourself.”

      It is my experience that counseling and spiritual care is not just about knowing an array of therapeutic techniques and interventions, but also being open to learning about what is meaningful for the one seeking counsel. In the context of faith and practice, it is also not simply about providing the “right answer.”

      If the counselor simply provides what he or she believes is the “right answer,” they may miss the underlying distress that the one seeking their counseling is actually experiencing. This is why it is SO important to be trained to assess and recognize underlying spiritual and emotional distress. A lack of awareness concerning this point is also what I believe is causing part of the disconnection between our youth and Islamic centers.

      Jazak Allah khair.

  3. Nora says:

    Jazak’Allahu Khair for highlighting this. Muslim youth do need some form of support and counsel. It would be great if this support was available in schools and universities.

    It has become a time of fitnah. Muslim children in the west are constantly exposed to negatives in society (drugs, sex, etc). Mental and spiritual support is essential especially for those who face problems at home. Younger people have the ability to change and adapt easily. A person to talk with, good advice and direction can really help in shaa Allah.

    May Allah answer your plea, brother.

  4. Ibrahim Long says:

    Ameen to your dua’.

    Alhumdulillah, there is a growing number of schools and universities that have created a Muslim Chaplain position; though they are mostly in the Eastern parts of North America (i.e., Yale, Choate Rosemary Hall, Princeton, Duke, University of Toronto… etc).

    I would also like to state that there are many more Muslim chaplains who are involved in healthcare, the military, and prison chaplaincy.

    What is generally lacking right now are educational opportunities to further train those providing (or seeking to provide) Islamic chaplaincy, counseling, and youth services. Too often, I believe, counselors are provided for our youth without proper training.

    God bless.

  5. Brian Cokayne says:

    In a sense you seem most fortunate there in USA to have in the first instance the programmes taking place,and such lucidity as this website provides from correspondants such as yourselves to make it viable in terms of the Qur’an’s teaching.What do we have here in England? we do have,Inshallah, the daylight and the rain when it comes, to give us the greenery and also a very high quality of drinking water.But socially are we not an unblessed land if that’s not too heathen a word, for we have a mountain of consumerist values and its consequent mass of waste bearing over our every workday..For those who value the guidance to keep up the prayer,to pay the poor due,to choose intrinsically good actions the task is made so much harder by the preponderance of material culture…I can hardly comprehend how a believer can make the time to unroll the prayer mat four or five times a day.I have two very beautiful prayer mats which I have cleaned.What will you think if I tell you that both of these prayer mats I found abandoned amongst detritus?One at a non too cared for urban roadside,the other thrown on the soiled concrete behind a glass and plastic bottle skip(dumpster i think is your term)We cant ignore these truths of unsustainable practises in respect of God’s creation but the work of environmental care does seem a steep uphill task,how then are we to tackle the fragmentation of spiritual values you are concerned about?
    Jazak Allah khair (I learned this phrase from the letters above)Brian Cokayne, Stockport, England

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