Recognizing the need for religious leadership for Muslim students on campus, the Office of Religious Life (ORL) recently hired Khalid Latif as the University's first Muslim chaplain.
Latif, 23, who grew up in Edison, N.J., graduated from New York University with degrees in political science and Islamic studies and completed a year of chaplaincy there, will offer spiritual guidance to students and promote interfaith programs on campus.
He will be dividing his time between part-time chaplain positions at Princeton and NYU, as well as finishing his master's degree at the Hartford Theological Seminary, where he is getting certified in Islamic chaplaincy.
"I don't sleep, ever," he joked. "It's not too bad. The stuff I do is really enjoyable."
President of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) Lubna Malik '08, who is studying abroad at Oxford but has communicated with Latif, said the chaplain is someone students can relate to. "His cultural upbringing is very similar to our own," she wrote in an email. "This makes him very easy to get along with."
ORL Dean Thomas Breidenthal said he was pleased to see the warm welcome for Latif at a reception in Murray-Dodge Hall last Thursday. "This is also a part of our ongoing historic concern to always move in the direction of greater diversity within our religious staff, to bring more interfaith voices, which we're very pleased about," he said.
Latif said he hopes to bring much-needed religious guidance for Muslim students on campus. "A lot of the time, students of any religious background need counseling and advising, and at times there is no individual to go to," Latif said. "Students have to take on the burden of providing counseling to themselves, and they're not always in the best position to do so."
Latif may also help the MSA conduct prayers, since it is difficult for students to lead them five times daily. "He will also be very helpful in helping the MSA arrange programs, especially interfaith programs," Malik said. "He is also planning on assisting the Princeton MSA with developing links with other MSAs in New Jersey to create a strong sense of community."
Latif is the only chaplain at the University who is a staff member of the Office of Religious Life. The other 15 chaplains at the University are all "independent religious leaders who are responsible to their own separate agencies, but they are here because they are recognized and welcomed by the University" to be religious leaders and advisers, Breidenthal said.
"In the long term, having chaplaincies that are autonomous and independent is a good thing," Breidenthal said, adding that this option is not currently feasible. "It helps to maintain presence of a vigorous and independent religious community on campus. Our thinking was that it is more important to have a representative Muslim voice as a part of the whole religious scene here, and that's why we took the initiative."
Latif said Muslim chaplains are almost always hired by universities because independent Muslim chaplaincy institutions are not available. "I think you will see in the coming years development of national institutions for chaplaincies, but at the current time it's not something people are as conscious of as one would hope that they would be."
"Many Muslims came here as immigrants 40, 50 years ago," Latif explained. "They had the task of developing mosques and things like that, coming from countries where it was not their responsibilities to do so. When they came here there were a lot of things they had to establish fundamental institutions for themselves. I think you'll see development in other capacities."
Latif was recently featured in a short documentary by NYU student Sarah Nasr about the role of Muslim chaplains at academic institutions. Though the number of Muslim students has doubled in the past 15 years, "only about 30 universities in the country have full-time Muslim clergy," according to the documentary.
"The Muslim students at Princeton have been wanting a chaplain for quite some time," Malik said. "For the past few years it was put off due to funding issues."
The application and interview process began at the ORL last semester. Before the final decision was made, MSA students had the chance to speak with candidates.
Breidenthal said Latif was chosen partly because "he has a strong track record in work with both Jews and Christians, and in bridging various communities within the Muslim community."
Latif has helped plan a dinner in conjunction with the Center for Jewish Life, where Muslim and Jewish students will be "analyzing and having a discussion about fasting, forgiveness and repentance in both religions. Ramadan is this month ... and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur also coincide, and it's a good opportunity to talk," he said.
Latif said he was attracted to Princeton because it is close to his hometown and offers a dynamic different from the one he experienced in New York.
"I think Princeton is very accommodating," he said. "Most universities in general don't have a Muslim chaplain position. The idea is fairly new, and Princeton is among the few that is willing to explore."
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