Reflecting on the 2016-2017 school year
May 1, 2017
My dear students,
I hope you receive this letter with the best of health and Iman.
It has been quite a year. For me, each of the previous years has been more intense than its predecessors, with the past twelve months being the most intense of them all. I had many things planned this year in terms of programming and had to scrap most of them, except for pastoral care and the extra-curricular classes, in order to have maximum time for students.
I have to conduct my final calculations, but I estimate that scheduled office visits increased by 100% while unscheduled office visits increased by 350%. Communications from alumni increased by 500%. Visits by non-Muslims have also increased to the point that as much as 20% of the visits to my office are by non-Muslims. The student needs beyond (or through) spiritual formation have ranged from help for anxiety, fear (about the political situation), personal problems, family troubles, relationship problems, academic issues, faith issues, marital troubles, and — sadly — suicide ideation. I would help students in my capacity, while referring so many students to the Wellness Center that I wondered if I was singlehandedly keeping them in business.
I do have to take a moment to address suicide. The number of students visiting with suicide ideation has skyrocketed. We have some theories why, but we are still at a loss. But, I know those feelings of despair and rejection. There is, however, always hope. There is *always* hope. Sometimes, when students come to my office, sinking into despair, I have to remind them that the fact that they have come to my office means that they have hope. The fact that you are reading this letter is a sign that you have hope. This hope will not cure depression or prevent ideation, but it is a start to help me help you get help.
In any case, we did conduct numerous classes throughout the year, exploring the Qur’an, the life of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, the Hadith literature, Hadith sciences, Ethics through a Muslim lens, multiple classes on the various books of al-Ghazali and Rumi. We also had classes on Endo’s “Silence” through a Muslim lens. I suspect that I learned as much as each of you.
Most of all, however, my relationships with many of you have begun, and with many of you have grown. It has been a joy serving you. I estimate that nearly 500 Kleenex were used to help the tears. I estimate that we have shared some 20 boxes of Ice Breaker breath mints. I told a zillion jokes, of which a few were not inappropriate. A few. Maybe some of those tears were caused by the jokes.
I will admit that I did not want to start the school year. I was exhausted from global and personal matters from the Summer. Imagine the struggle that any of us has gone through in dealing with the various atrocities committed by and against Muslims. Now, imagine carrying the struggles of 30-50 people. I am not claiming any nobility on this; just plain exhaustion. It used to be that my summer was a three month period of complete decompression after nine months of heavy intensity. Last summer was an indication that those days are gone and I have to change strategies. Further, I went through a painful process of having some toxicities removed from my world. When I started the school year, I was so worn that I was leaving campus as quickly as I could.
Here we are, now at the end of the school year, and I experienced two high points in the past week. One was the annual “Mozaffar Appreciation Day,” from you, with a beautiful gift, a beautiful card, and delicious candies. Thank you so much for it. The other, I was taken aback to be honored with Loyola “Staff Member of the Year.” To be honest, when I first received an email on the nomination, I thought it was a joke. The “Mozaffar Appreciation Day” is embarrassing because thank you’s are not necessary for obligatory work. It is my pleasure and obligation to help you find health in all aspects of your life, starting with your heart. The “Staff Member of the Year” award was sweet, yet bitter sweet, because it reminded me that much of my work is the careful process of providing glue to cracked and scarred hearts. I prefer to be the quiet person hiding in the cave doing work, while others get the accolades. A student said I reminded him of The Giver in “The Giver.” I would like to think of myself as Batman, but I’ll take it. And the honors are very precious for what they mean.
I often get asked if I get tired or frustrated from serving you. To be honest, I don’t. I don’t think parents get tired of being parents, though our bodies get exhausted. Perhaps the point is that the fuel is not salary, not attention, but just modest love. Each of you is precious to me with each of your complexities and stories. When each of you enters my office, it is a joy to see you, and a hope that I can lighten the loads on your souls, if at least a little.
As I have said before, I do not know where we will be in a year. There is no indication that the national or global tensions will decrease any time soon, while there are many indications that they will escalate. And that is a reminder of the cold reality of this worldly life: it is not paradise. But, it is also not hell. This world is full of joys but also full of struggles. I urge each of you to improve upon the things you do have control over, which are your relationships with yourselves, with others, with the Prophet, may peace be upon him, and with the Divine. Among the goals of religion, beyond salvation and explanations, is guidance for navigating through the various experiences of life. The more you can develop your religion, the more you can face what comes your way in ways that are healthy. Maybe I’m just a thick headed South Sider in that when I think about the future, I say, “Bring it on.” It’s no fun if it is not impossible.
For those of you who are graduating, you have my prayers. I am looking forward to watch you soar. It has been a privilege watching past students get married, have children, complete their studies, develop their careers, and simply grow. If you have benefitted at all from my service, then I ask you to pay it forward. Mentor others. Give to others. I have lived multiple lives over the years, doing just about everything immature and wrong that a person can do. The life of faith, gratitude, integrity, excellence, generosity, and deep relationships is the most fulfilling life I have had aspired to live. But, I do expect each of you to have experiences when your faith gets challenged, where your integrity gets tested, where you find excellence an inhibitor, where you want to withhold your giving, and where you have relationships that are poison. This is all part of the experience of life.
This experience of life is so fascinating. I could not have imagined that the past five years would have contained what they did. I cannot imagine what the next five years will contain. But, I am eager to find out, and I hope that they will include you. I would tell you to “Set the World on Fire,” but because I’m Muslim in this climate, that is not a good idea. So, I will settle and demand from you to “Live extraordinary lives,” because you have it in you to do so.
May peace be upon you.