With the departure of former Muslim chaplain Bilal Ansari to the new Zaytuna College in California, the College is considering his legacy as they search for a new Muslim chaplain.
Ansari, who began working at the College at the start of the 2011-12 academic year, was also assistant director for the Center for Learning in Action. Both of the positions are part time jobs.
“Those two responsibilities fit well together, but they could also be taken apart,” Rick Spalding, chaplain to the College, said. “Thankfully, they didn’t take those two pieces apart, and we are searching for someone who brings those two portfolios together.”
According to Spalding, Ansari left an indelible mark on the College community.
“He made it completely impossible to think of Williams College without a Muslim chaplain,” Spalding said. “[Ansari] created such a strong foundation for his successor that when he announced he was leaving, it was impossible to think that Williams wouldn’t replace him, that Williams didn’t need someone to do what he did.”
Ansari has joined his wife in Berkeley, Ca., helping to found Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts college in the United States.
“[Ansari] was so available, so present to the life of the campus,” Spalding added. “Not just to students – to staff and faculty too. In that sense, the magnitude of the loss is multiplied.”
The job was posted in July. Spalding said that the College has received almost two dozen applications since then, with a number of very qualified applicants in that pool.
“[Spalding] is chairing that search,” Dean Bolton said. “There’s a committee being formed, and among the members is Paula Consolini, the director of the Center for Learning in Action.”
Spalding expressed hope that the committee would be fully formed soon so it could begin its work of reviewing and interviewing applicants.
“I’m very hopeful that we will be bringing finalists to interview on campus in November, and making a selection before the end of first semester,” Spalding said. “It’s possible that we could have someone on board by January 1, before Winter Study.”
Meanwhile, Muslim students on campus have less access to religious guidance during the interim period between Ansari’s departure and the hiring of a new chaplain, although the Muslim Student Association receives support from both the Chaplain’s office and the Davis Center.
“My sense of the spirit in the group is that they miss [Ansari] terribly, but they’re mobilized in keeping their strong community going and playing a strong role in the choice of his successor,” Spalding said. “There are several students who are capable of offering the khutbah [sermon] at Friday prayers, so they’ve got that underway.”
Mizzel Badruddin ’15 and Salmaan Karim ’15, co-chairs of the Muslim Student Association, said that Ansari’s departure has profoundly affected their community.
“Having [Ansari] not here is without a doubt a huge change and loss for the Muslim Ephs and wider campus, not only as a chaplain who was a tremendous resource for spiritual and personal growth, but also as a mentor, guide, activist for all kinds of causes and a dear friend to many people,” Badruddin said.
Karim added that the Muslim Student Association hoped a replacement would be found soon.
“The Muslim Ephs will definitely take part in the search process for a new chaplain, and will coordinate accordingly with the chaplain’s office and other centers on campus in determining the best candidate who will enrich both the Muslim and wider campus community.”