Chaplaincy and Volunterism

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August 15, 2013 by Muslim Padre

Chaplain Identity: Volunteerism

Response to the article ” Is Canada doing enough to deradicalize convicted terrorists”

I was thinking last week, that the title chaplain has absolutely no resonance with the Muslim community. Yes, first generation, converts and the black American community know what a chaplain is, but for the much larger immigrant community, you might as well say you are a pumpkin. Even if the concept is known, there seems to be a stigma attached to it. Part of the problem, among others, is the pervasiveness of volunteer Muslim chaplains in government institutions.

Volunteerism is important, every Muslim is responsible for the care of the community. Every responsible human does, at some point in their lives, ‘social work’, ‘counseling’ , ‘spiritual advisory’, and ‘pastoral care’. In a general sense all these come under the rubric of what a chaplain does, but yet just by engaging in these virtuous deeds does not make one a chaplain. Volunteers, particularly in Canada are vital as our institutions generally don’t go heavy on hiring full-time or even contract chaplains. What this results in is the blurring of the lines which distinguish between lay and professional. Without this distinction, every well-meaning, but yet, unqualified person can claim to be a Chaplain and be regarded as so by others and even the public. The more these lines are blurred, the less meaningful and indeed authoritative the profession actually becomes. As Imam Yasin Dwyer notes in the article:

It’s interesting, because you would never think of soliciting volunteers to play the role of psychologist. With chaplaincy it’s thought, well, anybody can come in and handle a Bible, a Torah, a Qur’an. But we need professional chaplains and professional Muslims to speak to the issue of radicalization, and speak with authority.”

I single out Muslims in this regard, because the Christian and Jewish community seem to be one the ball when it comes to this. I don’t understand how as Muslims we can allow people (however well meaning) to put into jeopardy the lives of people who are in need? Islam is egalitarian, but if we are quick to question the credentials of a doctor, plumber or ‘shaykh’ , why is chaplaincy the exception? How can we can be so flimsy with something so important like caring for the ill, dying, inmates, soldiers, students and families?


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