by John Atsalis | Tufts appoints its first female Muslim chaplain.
The Tufts Chaplaincy recently welcomed its newest member, Shareda Hosein, as its Muslim chaplain on campus. She is Tufts’ first female Muslim chaplain and her appointment may have come as a surprise to some due to her gender. However, her appointment is in line with both Islamic doctrine and chaplaincy standards.
Hosein’s appointment is not unusual considering her qualifications. Her internship on the Hill last year means that she is acquainted with issues facing Muslim students. The internship was part of studies for her advanced degree. She holds a Master’s degree from Hartford Seminary, with a concentration in Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations, and she has a graduate certificate in Islamic chaplaincy. Hartford Seminary is currently the only institution that prepares Muslim chaplains to meet U.S. Armed Forces chaplaincy requirements. At Hartford Seminary, she found a very open interfaith dialogue among chaplains-to-be of every faith. There were men and women studying with her to become Muslim chaplains. She has female colleagues working at a prison in Philadelphia and at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
In the Islamic faith, women cannot lead men in prayer, so Hosein’s role in prayer services is restricted. The University must bring imams to campus to lead prayers. However, prayer services are just one part of a chaplain’s duty. More important is the counseling and education she brings to Tufts. She has an array of administrative duties and serves as a coordinator for Muslim students on campus. She is in the same position as Tufts’ Catholic chaplain Ann Penick, who similarly cannot perform mass because of her gender. The Catholic Church has sponsored female chaplains for years despite the Church’s conservative attitude concerning women leading worship services. While there is no similar governing body in the Muslim world, the same attitude prevails. Female chaplains uphold the traditions of their faith, while abiding by doctrine. The only reason Tufts does not have to bring a Catholic priest to campus for Catholic services is because University Chaplain O’Leary, as a Catholic priest, can direct mass.
Hosein first pursued a chaplain position in a much different capacity. Hosein is a lieutenant colonel in the US Army reserve. She began as an active-duty private working as typist and from there climbed the ranks of the military. She was inspired to become a US Army Chaplain several years ago, but the army declined her 2004 application because they were concerned about the Islamic prohibition on females leading services. However, she could have still led women and children in prayer and still counseled Muslim men in the military. The Army also was concerned that the appointment of a female Muslim chaplain would have angered some in the Muslim world. The Army should reconsider its stance on females in the chaplaincy since they do not intend to violate the traditions of their faith. While it would make fiscal sense to consolidate the roles of a Muslim chaplain and an Islamic imam (who can lead prayers), it is important that Islamic women have a female religious authority they can consult with in case they are uncomfortable approaching a male figure. This is especially important because men and women often have unequal roles in Islam. Also, Hosein would be able to support families of Muslim men in the military with the perspective of a soldier who has been deployed overseas away from her family.
The Muslim faith has only recently been introduced to the concept of chaplaincy. Hosein noted that the chaplaincy is a position in society that is rather unique to Western culture and the United States. Chaplains in the United States are best known for the advice that they offer in the military and in the prison system. Hosein feels that in an Islamic society, religious guidance comes from many people, men and women alike, while in a more secular society, such as the United States, chaplains are necessary for those in need of advice. In addition, while women in an Islamic society may have the religious knowledge to be able to give counsel and advice, it is not likely that men first seek advice from women unless a woman has a title such as chaplain. This harks back to the fundamental gender inequality found in conservative Islamic societies overseas.
thinks that many Muslims across the world would accept her role as a
moral compass for Tufts students if they understood what her position
entails. Although many may accept her right to offer guidance, the
question arises as to whether it is the ideal situation for most
Muslims. She has been welcomed with open arms on the Tufts campus, but
it is naive to assume to that this will happen worldwide. Hosein brings
to the campus her experiences as an army officer, a female Muslim in
America, and her interfaith education at Hartford Seminary. Her
addition to the chaplaincy ensures that academic forums will continue
to be held for interfaith understanding. Excepting the prohibition on
prayers, Hosein meets the qualifications needed for a campus such as
Mr. Atsalis is a freshman who has yet to declare a major.