Second Muslim chaplain begins tenure at College

On Feb. 2, Sharif Rosen began his tenure as Muslim chaplain and assistant director of the Center for Learning in Action (CLiA). He replaced former chaplain Bilal Ansari, who retired at the end of the 2013-14 academic year, as the College’s second Muslim chaplain.

Rosen’s role at the College is to be a resource to Muslim students and support the religious life of the entire community. “I’m here in the service of the entire campus community,” Rosen said. “Everyone who meets me should expect to find me a source of unconditional care and concern. For Muslim students, I’m here to support their growth.”

As assistant director of the CLiA, Rosen’s job is to promote student service through individuals and organizations and build partnerships with the local community.

Before accepting the job at the College, Rosen worked at Dartmouth as a Muslim and multi-faith advisor. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in history at Loyola Marymount. Since then, Rosen has worked as a community relations leader at the UMMA Community Clinic in Los Angeles and for five years as a director of student services at Qasid Arabic Institute in Amman, Jordan, where he studied a traditional Islam curriculum. He has also worked as a volunteer prison chaplain. While he works at the College, Rosen is continuing his graduate studies at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut and translating a treatise on Islamic ritual worship.

He was initially attracted to working at the College by the dual nature of the role, which combines faith and service through the chaplain’s office and CLiA. When he worked at UMMA, Rosen had the formative experience of helping under-served populations in Los Angeles. The work developed his social justice perspective so that he is now concerned with finding structural solutions to bridge gaping inequalities, and in Williamstown, he is excited to “promote and expand the positive impact Williams students can make in collaboration with local projects and organizations.”

Rosen has enjoyed his work at educational institutions because of the “high level of cultural, intellectual, and increasingly, multi-faith exchange” that college atmospheres foster. In that vein, he was drawn to the chaplain’s office’s commitment to inter-religious understanding and a “broader campus climate that promotes appreciative discourse across difference.” He sees the inter-faith relationships that have been built under the leadership of Chaplain to the College Rick Spalding as a benefit to the entire community.

For Rosen, his entire childhood was an inter-religious discourse: his mother came from a Roman Catholic family and his father is an “orthodox Agnostic” with Jewish roots. Reading the autobiography of Malcolm X in middle school influenced Rosen’s initial interest in Islam, but his conversion to the faith was a slow process that took place from high school through college.

As a college student, he found that Islam stopped the “spiritual malaise” he felt by giving him a “baseline of well-being.” It helped him “realign [his] understanding of the Divine,” but also to improve his day-to-day practices and relationships with others. In Jordan, he learned from scholars about the Qur’an and its traditions, and he worked under a spiritual mentor who not only guided him along the Muslim faith but also provided him an example of a generous host to those of all religions. Rosen seeks to emulate that example in his role at the College.

Rosen’s admittedly reserved nature has led him to appreciate the Chaplain’s office’s efforts to introduce him to the community, with a welcoming event on Feb. 4 and dinner with the Muslim Ephs. He foresees one more social event so he can engage with the community before starting to plan the work of the semester.

“There’s no doubt that Sharif will be a gift,” Spalding told Communications, “not only to religious and spiritual life on campus, but to the well-being of our whole community.”

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