Marwa Aly: Muslim Chaplain

Marwa Saied Aly joined the Wesleyan community as Muslim Chaplain. She will be spending part of her time at Wesleyan and part of her time as a Trinity College chaplain.

Marwa Saied Aly joined the Wesleyan community as Muslim Chaplain. She will be spending part of her time at Wesleyan and part of her time as a Trinity College chaplain.

Q: Muslims are currently observing Ramadan. How do Muslims do this  while attending school or going to work?

A: Muslims go about their daily activities as usual regarding school and work, however they abstain from food and drink from dawn to sunset. Furthermore, they increase their reading of the Holy Qur’an and pray more. While it may be more physically exhausting, many Muslims definitely experience a spiritual nourishment during this blessed month

Q: What attracted you to Wesleyan and when did you start on campus?

A: I had attended some previous Muslim Students Association (MSA) events at Wesleyan and it was very refreshing to see how intellectually engaged and passionate students are on this campus. The fact that social justice is also a key pillar in student life is also a key attraction.

Q: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

A: I was born on Long Island, New York and I have lived there all my life until recently.

Q: After receiving your Bachelor of Arts in Middle Eastern Studies and Philosophy May 2006 from Fordham University, what did you do?

A: I began my Master’s in Islamic Studies and Christian Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary that summer. Going to college, it was difficult to find Muslim faculty and staff. As an American Muslim who is trying to properly integrate into society, there are a lot of pressures that college students face when trying to strike the balance. I thought it was important to have Muslims that are aware of the cultural context that we live in represent Islam with clarity.

Q: You are Wesleyan’s first female Muslim chaplain and this is the sixth academic year that Wesleyan has had a Muslim chaplain. Why do you think there are so few Muslim chaplains in academia?

A: I think that this is still considered a fairly new field. Muslims are used to finding spiritual and/or counseling advice from their peers or from a local imam at a masjid. The fact that now Muslim students are demanding this type of representation on campus is refreshing and hopefully will pave the way for more institutes of higher education to deeply consider hiring a Muslim chaplain. In addition, Hartford Seminary is the only accredited institution that certifies Muslim chaplains. More awareness regarding this important and growing field is needed.

Q: What should the Wesleyan community know about Muslim female clergy?

A: Within the Muslim community, it is common for me to address males as Brother so and so and there is the reciprocal relationship, so I do not mind being called Sister Marwa or Chaplain Aly. I will not speak on behalf of all Muslim women, but for Muslim women taking leadership positions, they tend to dress modestly, wearing loose clothing and usually a headscarf, so it will not be difficult to point out who the Muslim chaplain is on campus.

Q: When are your services and generally what occurs during a service?

A: My services are varied. For Muslims on campus, the Friday prayer is held in the Muslim Prayer Room in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life on 169 High St. I will begin holding study circles as well, God willing after the very beautiful month of Ramadan is behind us and people begin acclimating to their schedules.

Q: When are you usually on campus, what is the best way for students to contact you and how can students best learn about Islam-related events?

A: I am usually on campus Mondays and Wednesdays from noon to 6 p.m. and every other Friday. The best email address to use is maly@wesleyan.edu and the best way to learn about Islam related events is to contact Jourdan Hussein,  jhussein@wesleyan.edu, who is the MSA president and he will add you to the listserv.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by working with the Wesleyan community? How will you work on interfaith relations at Wesleyan?

A: Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the Shabaat Shalom dinner. The Jewish students had invited the Muslim students to break bread with them and they were able to feed a nice group of hungry Muslims. I hope to continue participating in these types of events while thinking of creative ways to keep expanding the Wesleyan circle. I hope to provide a listening ear to those who would like to talk and express their concerns, desires and dreams. I hope to provide a mentorship to the MSA and be actively involved in interfaith events. I hope to properly inform the Wesleyan community about Islam and to be a confidant to those that need it.

Q: How is college a unique environment and time period to explore one’s spirituality? Please explain a little more about your philosophy of spirituality.

A: College is when I first began my spiritual journey. While I was always proud to be Muslim, college is really where I developed a passion for it. For many, college is the first time one needs to make potentially life altering decisions and pave the road of the future. Also, one is now in a completely different environment and wants to know, “who am I and who do I feel I most connect with?” You are no longer in an environment where classes decide who your friends will be. Hence, in this pursuit to find out what principles are important to you and what atmosphere you want to be surrounded with, issues regarding spirituality are bound to arise. People either decide to address it head on while in college, or sweep it under the rug for a later time. However, the collegiate atmosphere definitely promotes this type of critical analysis and questioning and it is a great environment where people find that they have a plethora of resources and an environment that can nurture these questions and help find some answers. The journey of spirituality does not end in college though. It is a life long process where we are consistently responsible to hold ourselves to account and consider how we can best serve God and our communities.

Q: Tell us a little more about yourself.

A: I have an older and younger brother, Sharif and Yousef respectively and I enjoy reading, spending time with friends and volleyball. My family lives in New York.

(Photo by Olivia Bartlett)