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Muslim Student Association searches for an Imam

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The large bookshelf kitty-cornered on the wall in the new Interfaith Center is fully occupied. There are books for anyone to read. Free food, fruits, and cakes sit on the welcome desk for anyone to take. Each chaplain has a snug office space, painted warm yellow or calm green.

But one room remains empty, though perhaps not for long.

The Muslim Student Association has recently begun the search for an Imam who will work in the Interfaith Center with Muslim students.

Members of MSA’s executive board have reached out to two capital district mosques, the Islamic Center of the Capital District, located in Schenectady, and Al-Hidaya Center, located in Troy, in search of an Imam willing to lend his or her services.

MSA has also requested to work with these groups to raise the funds necessary to pay an Imam.

According to Aleyna Sarap, event coordinator for MSA, the challenges so far have been finding an Imam who can sacrifice their working schedule to come to the school, even part-time.

She is confident that “once we actually confirm someone, it should run smoothly.”

Sarap said the offer was put on the table mid-September of this year by Ekow King, Director of the Office of Intercultural Student Engagement, who suggested an Imam assume the office space out of fairness of religious representation.

Sarap provides that the university has been supportive in their search.

According to the Pew Research Center, Islam is the third largest religious group in New York.

Sandy Damhof, pastor of Cornerstone Campus Ministries, looks forward to welcoming an Imam into the Interfaith Center.

“They [MSA] rely on us to help plan events, but we can’t necessarily help them with their individual faith questions,” she said.

According to Sarap, MSA is searching for someone “open-minded,” who can communicate well with all Muslim and non-Muslim students, as well as the other chaplains in the Interfaith Center.

“Muslim students have questions about their faith, and, especially students who live on campus, they don’t always have access to local mosques,” said Noor Ali, a Muslim junior at UAlbany.

Farzana Nazrana, also a Muslim junior, added, “Sometimes students will preach during our prayer times on Fridays, but its not the same as an Imam.”

Mona Haydar, a Syrian American Rapper who recently spoke at the UAlbany Performing Art Center, has put MSA in touch with the Association of Campus Muslim Chaplains, a U.S. organization which coordinates and supports Muslim chaplains in high schools, colleges, and seminaries.

The executive board is still waiting for responses from all the institutions they have contacted.

MSA has established no clear time goals for their search.

“Nothing is set in stone,” said Sarap. “It could happen tomorrow or in five years.”

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