At Middlebury College, Muslim Chaplaincy Is a Husband and Wife Affair

Photo courtesy of Beau Scurich and Naila Baloch / RNS

Beau Latif Scurich and his wife Naila Baloch. Photo courtesy of Beau Scurich and Naila Baloch / RNS

Many of the country’s most prestigious universities have hired Muslim chaplains in recent years to offer spiritual support to their Muslim students. Middlebury College, one of America’s oldest liberal arts schools, outmatched them all.

The small rural Vermont school hired Beau Latif Scurich and his wife, Naila Baloch, in the summer of 2014 to share the full-time Muslim chaplaincy position.

The 30-somethings, who were previously chaplains at Tufts and Northeastern universities, are the first married couple to share a full-time Muslim chaplaincy position at a U.S. college.

Q&A: How Would You Respond If Your Christian Daughter Became a Muslim?

Photo courtesy of Dan Raybon / RNS

Patricia Raybon with her daughter Alana Raybon. Photo courtesy of Dan Raybon / RNS

Alana Raybon was baptized as a child in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She attended youth activities and vacation Bible school and even sang in the choir. But today, she wears a headscarf and worships Allah.

Her mother, Patricia, describes Alana’s conversion to Islam as “heartbreaking,” and yet, they’ve found a way to love each other despite the faith divide. They share their struggles in Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace, a book that begs a vital question: how would you respond if your Christian child converted to Islam?

Religion News Service talked to them about their experience. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Alana, tell us the story behind your conversion.

Alana: I developed a love and reverence for God in church, but I couldn’t connect with the idea of the Trinity. I didn’t let my mother know about these feelings, and patiently waited to feel a connection to this concept. In my 20s, I began searching for spiritual enrichment and came upon the concept of Islamic monotheism — the idea of God being one, solely, without any associate. I became inspired to learn more about Islam and converted to the faith as a junior in college and called my mother to share the news.

Q: How did you react, Patricia?

Patricia: I was devastated. A daughter can call from college with all sorts of news — forgetting her mother is still dealing with her own life. In my case, my husband and I had hit a low point in our marriage, my widowed mother had come to live with us, my other daughter was closing a business, and my husband had a cardiovascular emergency. In all of that, Alana called from college to say, “Mom, I’m a Muslim.” Emotionally, I had run out of steam. So I thanked her for calling, asked how her classes were going and if her car was running OK. Then after a few minutes of such talk, we hung up. Looking back, it was my oddest reaction ever to a phone call.


Zaytuna College Recognized as First Accredited Muslim College in the U.S.

Photo via Zaytuna College / RNS

Mark Delp teaches formal logic to Zaytuna College freshmen. Photo via Zaytuna College / RNS

A college that requires the study of both Wordsworth and the Quran for graduation is now the first fully accredited Islamic university in America.

Zaytuna College, a five-year-old institution in Berkeley, Calif., was recognized in March by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, an academic organization that oversees public and private colleges and universities in the U.S.

The accreditation means Zaytuna, which owns only two buildings and has 50 students, is a legitimate institution of higher learning, only a few blocks from its esteemed neighbor, the University of California, Berkeley.

“Being accredited puts us at the same table” as other accredited colleges and universities, said Colleen Keyes, Zaytuna’s vice president of academic affairs.

“It makes us equal partners.”

For faculty — of which Zaytuna has 15 — it lends credibility and status.

5 Things to Know About ISIS and the Theology of Evil

Anadolu Agency/Contributor

Iraqi army forces and Peshmerga regained control of Diyala's Sadiye town. Anadolu Agency/Contributor

As an evangelical theologian and pastor, I want to say that ISIS is evil. Evil is a term we don’t normally hear in the media or politics, which is likely a good thing given our lack of public morality and civility these days. Indeed, judgementalism was condemned by Jesus, but is still often practiced by many churches — so humility is always called for. But it is still a responsibility of the faith community to name evil where it clearly exists in the world. And by any standards, the actions of ISIS are evil.

The latest report issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq on “The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Iraq,” catalogues the human rights atrocities committed by ISIS, making it abundantly clear that this group is evil. They include:

  • attacks directly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure,
  • executions and other targeted killings of civilians,
  • abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and gender based violence perpetrated against women and children,
  • slavery and trafficking of women and children,
  • forced recruitment of children,
  • destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance,
  • wanton destruction and looting of property, and denial of fundamental freedoms.

The report goes on to identify the targeting of ethnic and religious groups — such as Christians, Yazidis, Shi’ite Muslims, and many others —and subjecting them to “gross human rights abuses, in what appears as a deliberate policy aimed at destroying, suppressing or expelling these communities permanently from areas under their control.” The report describes the actions as possible “war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”

In light of these sober findings, the faith community must remind the world that evil can be overcome, and that individuals involved in evil systems and practices can be redeemed. But how to overcome evil is a very complicated theological question, which requires much self-reflection. In trying to figure out how to overcome evil, it is often helpful to first decide how not to. Here is a good example of how not to respond to the reality of evil.

Obama: No Religion Responsible for Terrorism

Photo via American Spirit /

Photo via American Spirit /

President Obama said Feb. 19 he doesn’t use terms like Islamic extremism because doing so would promote the false idea of a Western war with Islam, which would help extremists recruit more terrorists.

“No religion is responsible for terrorism — people are responsible for violence and terrorism,” Obama told delegates at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.

Obama also said military force alone will not defeat terrorism, and the nation must work with local communities to reduce the influence of those who advocate violent extremism.

“They are not religious leaders,” Obama said. “They are terrorists.”

He also said: “We are not at war with Islam — we are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

What the Chapel Hill Murders Reveal About the Place of Muslims in American Society

Courtesy of REUTERS/Chris Keane

Students attend a vigil on the UNC campus, for Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha. REUTERS/Chris Keane

RALEIGH, N.C. — Deah Barakat took my class “Islam in the Modern World” at N.C. State University a few years ago. He was curious about Islamic history, contemporary spiritual and political movements, and was great in class discussions. I’ve taught thousands of students in the last 11 years here, but Deah stood out for his enthusiasm, kindness, calm demeanor and obvious charisma.

Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha were the very best people. They embodied the core Islamic principle of “ihsan” — doing that which is both beautiful in itself and beautifying to the world. They volunteered to assist poor and homeless people. They planned to travel to camps in Turkey to help Syrian refugees in need. They were creative, intelligent, kind, generous. There are no words for how much we have all lost when they were gunned down and murdered in their Chapel Hill condominium last week.

Yet many insist their murders resulted from a dispute over parking. While the particular motives of the shooter cannot be determined at this stage, it is abundantly clear that these deaths were not just about parking. It is also clear the emerging discussion is about the place of Muslims in contemporary America. As we analyze the meaning of Deah, Yusor, and Razan’s murders, we are also peeling back layers of societal debates about Islam, Muslim-Americans, and the culture of intolerance and violence taking root in the U.S. On some level, it does not matter whether the shooter actually intended to kill three Muslims because they were Muslim. The public conversation is revealing several collective concerns in stark and disturbing ways.

How Franklin Graham Transformed a Debate about Duke Chapel into a Culture War

 Photo via RNS

Evangelist Franklin Graham with his father, Billy Graham, at the elder Graham’s final crusade in New York in 2005. Photo via RNS

Franklin Graham’s Facebook fulminations last week about plans to issue the Muslim call to prayer from the bell tower of Duke Chapel transformed what could have been a nuanced campus debate about religious establishment, sacred space, and pluralism into a countrywide fracas that calls to mind 1980s culture wars.

He helped generate enough publicity to ultimately lead a school better known for porn stars than piety to reclaim its chapel for Christianity.

Why did Franklin Graham’s Facebook post carry this much power? Two reasons. One, some people simply love his narrative about Islam. Recent polling shows that a significant number of Americans believe that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence, and voice substantial support for police profiling of Muslims. Graham’s narrative builds off these suspicions that go far beyond his conservative evangelical constituency.

But more important, he’s a Graham. He carries the power of his father’s name and his legendary evangelistic ministry, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, or BGEA. According to Grant Wacker’s new biography, Billy Graham is the closest thing America has had to a pope, beloved by many for his ability to channel the ideals of middle America as much as a convicting gospel. The fact that, despite his retirement in 2005, the BGEA continues to use his likeness in promotional materials and that political candidates left and right still clamor for photo ops with Billy Graham are testaments to his enduring status as “America’s Pastor.”

Duke Reverses Decision to Allow Muslim Call to Prayer

Photo via Erini Barker / Flickr / RNS

Duke Chapel sits at the heart of the Gothic-style campus in Durham, N.C. Photo via Erini Barker / Flickr / RNS

Officials at Duke University abruptly dropped plans to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer from the iconic bell tower of Duke Chapel after online protests led by evangelist Franklin Graham and unspecified security threats.

The decision on Jan. 15 came one day before the “adhan,” or traditional call to prayer, was to be broadcast from the heart of campus in Durham, N.C.

Michael Schoenfeld, a Duke vice president for public affairs and government relations, said in a statement the school remains committed to “fostering an inclusive, tolerant, and welcoming campus” for all students but “it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”

Schoenfeld said campus officials were aware of several security threats but declined to elaborate.

Graham, who leads his father’s Billy Graham Evangelistic Association from the other end of the state, in Charlotte, said the call to prayer includes the words “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” which was shouted by Islamist militants during last week’s deadly attacks across Paris.

“As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism,” he said on his Facebook page.

On Being A Muslim Parent

LAST YEAR, as I was unpacking my son’s school backpack, I found the children’s book on the Prophet Muhammad that my wife and I read to him at night. He had brought it to school without telling us. “It was for show and tell,” he explained to me.

You might think that my first reaction would be happiness. One of my goals as a Muslim parent is to help my kids feel connected to their faith. Clearly my son felt close enough to his religion to bring a book on the Prophet to share with his class.

What I actually felt was a shock of fear shoot down my spine. It was an immediate, visceral reaction. A whole slew of questions raced through my head. What did his teacher think of Muslims? What about his classmates? Would somebody say something ugly or bigoted about Islam during my son’s presentation? Would his first taste of Islamophobia come at the age of 5 during show-and-tell?

My fear at that moment is one small window into what it feels like to be a Muslim-American parent at a time when Muslim extremism is on prominent display and Islamophobia in America continues to spread.

My wife will not let me watch news shows in our home for fear that one of our kids will saunter by during the segment discussing Muslim terrorism (and it seems to be a regular feature of the news these days) and ask what’s going on.

The truth is, I would not have a good answer for them. I am doing my best to get two kids under 10 years old to love and identify with their religion in a secular urban environment. I don’t have a way of explaining to them yet that there are some people who call themselves Muslim who do stunningly evil things. When the TV talks about Islam, mostly they talk about those people. Moreover, when some Americans think about Islam, all they think about are those people.

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