September 9, 2014
I hope this letter reaches you with the best of health and Iman. First and foremost, I wanted to welcome you or welcome you back to Loyola for a year of learning and growth. As your new Chaplain, I hope to be in touch with each of you personally. Please do visit me during my Office Hours in Campus Ministry. At this point, walk-ins are welcome, but I am happy to schedule appointments. I’m still coordinating the best way to take appointments. But, among other places, the MSA will post my weekly schedule.
In this note, I want to take a moment to introduce myself. I was born in Pakistan, but I’ve been a lifelong Chicagoan for the past 40 years. Though my home mosque was the Frankfurt mosque (known as the American Islamic Association) in the far South Suburbs, I’ve been involved in the Muslim community in literally all of its corners and center. I ran the MSA at my alma mater, Columbia College Chicago. We had far more non-Muslims than Muslims in our weekly meetings and in our Friday prayers; I thought that was normal. At Columbia, I earned a BA in Film/Video. I can’t believe it’s been twenty years since those days. I was also the first full-time employee of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, hired to produce a low-budget TV show and manage their office.
Over the years, I’ve had jobs as a Paperboy, Vacuum Cleaner salesman, Gas Station attendant, Customer Service Rep, Information Technology specialist, and most recently as a teacher. I’ve been teaching Qur’an classes throughout Chicago for twenty years. I’ve given talks or sermons or full courses at nearly all the mosques in Chicago at some point or other.
I went into Academics a bit over a decade ago, retiring from all other work. In large part, nobody could answer my questions about Islam, belief, or life. So, I decided to pursue my answers. I’ve had the privilege of secular and traditional Islamic studies, from some teachers who were fantastic, and others not so fantastic; but I am thankful for all of them. These studies continue through to this day. I’ve taught courses at many of the colleges and universities all across Chicago, mostly Islamic studies, but also World Religions, film classes, and other subjects in the humanities.
Speaking of film, I also write essays on movies at RogerEbert.com. The late Roger Ebert was one of my teachers, and he pulled me in to write for him. Because my schedule is so busy, it’s been hard to write for the site. I’ve also been pulled in to start writing for another site, called moviemezzanine.com.
You might find it interesting that most of my speaking experience comes as trial by fire. When I used to work downtown in the Loop, the Downtown Islamic Center staff made me one of their backup Imams for Friday prayers. I wound up giving sermons almost every week with some 5 minutes notice. One of the first was on the Friday after 9/11/01. Now, I average about a thousand talks, lectures, sermons, class sessions per year. I have about 13 scheduled for this week so far, not including Loyola Office Hours. I spoke at a Wedding yesterday, and made the mistake of eating before my talk; my brain was completely clouded. I should also mention that even after thousands of talks, the stage fright does not decrease that much.
When my wonderful, precious daughters come into town (ages 14 and 11), I try to cancel all those meetings, but sometimes it’s not so easy. They’ve grown used to listening to Baba talk, and are also really adept at making fun of their father’s teaching methods.
My first semester at Loyola was in the Spring of 2008, teaching a section of Introduction to the Qur’an. I’ve taught a few other courses since then, including Intro to Islam, Revival and Reform in Islamic History and Thought, and a course on Muslim Literature. Prof. Hermansen, whom you should all get to know because she is one of the biggest scholars in Chicago, wanted me to get involved with the MSA to help give them some direction. Six years later, I’m now your Chaplain and am eager to serve.
On that subject, I should also make a few final comments. First, all of the above sounds a lot more interesting than it is. I’m just a regular guy. I like being in my 40s more than I liked being in my 30s, which I liked far more than my 20s. Second, I’ve also made a million mistakes in the process, every kind. I like to comment that I’ve failed in more things than most of my peers; that has made life much easier to live and navigate through. My point in all this is that you need not be impressed by me, but if my path inspires you, then go for it. More importantly, most anything you share with me, I probably have experience in helping. And, if I’m unable, I’ll work with you to figure out how to get help. But I need you to promise me to seek it out, whether it is a religious need, an academic need, an emotional need, a social need, or resolution through a crisis. The goal is for each of us to sometimes get out of the quicksand that we are stuck in while striving for the skies to reach our full potential. Our job in Campus Ministry is to minister.
May Allah bless you.