After six years of pushing the administration to hire a Muslim spiritual adviser, the Brandeis Muslim Student Association (BMSA) has finally been granted their request with the appointment of Dr. Qumar-ul Huda as Adviser to the MSA and Adjunct Assistant Professor in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies last Wed.
"(The BMSA) really needed somebody and the whole BMSA feels really thankful and happy," BMSA President, Zahra Ayubi '06 said. "We can't wipe the smiles off our faces."
Dr. Huda is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and comparative Theology at Boston College, specializing in Islamic mysticism, scriptural reasoning and ethics. Graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a Ph.D. in Islamic History in 1998, Dr. Huda has had much experience with Islamic religion and philosophy.
"The qualities (the administration) was looking for was someone who was scholarly, a progressive thinker, and someone who was approachable," Assistant Dean of Student Life, Reverend Nathaniel Mays said. "And he seems to have all those characteristics."
Upon hearing the news that he had been hired, Dr. Huda was shocked, but also quite happy.
"I had a very positive reaction," Dr. Huda said. "I was quite surprised since I'm a professor and a scholar. It shows Brandeis is trying to include scholars on campus and help Muslim students on campus."
Already familiar with the Brandeis campus and community, Dr. Huda has given several lectures here and even had family members attend the university.
"I think Brandeis being such a top liberal arts college, it's important to reflect on the intellectual issues of all time," Dr Huda said. "By not having a scholar of Muslim issues that can help students, (the Brandeis community) realized there was a big gap."
Ayubi explains that it was a grassroots effort to find a mentor and convince the administration of the importance of such a role within the BMSA.
"We worked with the administration to establish the need for the mentor," Ayubi said. "We've always needed one, but more so after Sept. 11."
Impressed with a lecture Dr. Huda gave at Brandeis last semester during Islam awareness week, BMSA members thought he would be a great candidate for the mentor position.
"We met with him and felt really comfortable with him," Ayubi said. "He was able to address our questions."
Similarly, other BMSA members were impressed with his scholarly experience in the Muslim community.
"He has the academic background to address our questions with depth, the credentials to teach at Brandeis, and the compassion and emotional concern worthy of a Chaplain," said BMSA member, Ammad Bahalim '04.
Several qualities embodied the BMSA's ideal advisor, according to Ayubi.
"What we were looking for was someone who was a scholar, someone who was going to be a resource to us and the rest of the campus, someone that everyone could turn to for questions, help us engage in interfaith dialogues, and put us on an equal footing with other religious groups on campus," Ayubi said.
Dr. Huda's position will entail many responsibilities, including holding office hours, leading the Friday Jumma prayers, speaking to students personally about Islamic issues and engaging in multi-faith dialogues.
"He's there as a resource, and (not) just for the (BMSA)," Ayubi said. "I invite all people to take advantage of this resource on campus."
According to BMSA member, Bariza Umar '04, Dr. Huda's appointment came at a crucial time when the organization is pushing to have more equal representation, especially in light of a Sept. 11, 2003 on campus and to relocate their prayer room to a more central location.
"It is my understanding that (the BMSA) will still be entirely student run, except now we will have more legitimacy on campus," Umar said. "We will have equal representation among the Abrahamic faiths on campus, we will no longer feel that we have no one we can talk to, we will have someone to advise us on our problems, who to invite to speak on campus..."
Especially during high-tension times, such as Sept. 11, the BMSA felt the need to have a more equal voice on campus throughout the six years of not having an advisor.
"Since the attacks of Sept 11, 2001 the Muslim community on campus has been severely affected," Bahalim said. "The lack of any resources to help address their needs came into clear view when a Priest, Rabbi, and Muslim Student had spoken at the chaplain's ceremony/service shortly after. The administration had promised and assured us that our needs would be met, while addressing the Muslim community in the basement of Gordon. It is sad that it has taken so long to find a chaplain. The mentor is just one of our needs in a desire to be treated with equity and fairness like any other religious organization on campus."
Ayubi adds that the introduction of a mentor to the BMSA is only the first step in improving the future of the BMSA and its relationships with other religions on campus.
"This is our starting point to building a stronger Muslim community and ties with students of mixed faiths," Ayubi said.
The addition of a BMSA advisor/adjunct professor will aid in establishing greater plurality on campus, according to Bahalim.
"The BMSA will be better equipped to deal with the needs of all members of the community," Bahalim said. "It will allow Muslims to better become part of the fabric of Brandeis, and not be regarded as the 'other'. Brandeis will only become more inclusive of its various and diverse cultures, traditions, and religions by hiring a Mentor for the BMSA. It will also put the BMSA on par in at least one respect with other comparable institutions in the area and throughout the nation."
In the spring semester '04 Dr. Huda will become an adjunct professor in the NEJS department, teaching a course on Islam.
"I'm trying as my role as a mentor to build a sense of community, and be a part of the discussion series on Islam," Dr. Huda said.