June 25, 2024

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Israel-Hamas war: Faith leaders on college campuses overwhelmed

2 min read

For many of the university chaplains and faith leaders caring for students angered and shaken by the Israel-Hamas war, the needs are acute, the days intense. The bloodshed has roiled campuses in the United States, at times sparking rival rallies and competing demands.

Kaiser Aslam, Muslim chaplain at the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University, has been helping students wrestling with complex questions and anxieties — from why there is suffering to whether public advocacy for Palestinians or criticism of Israel could jeopardize future career opportunities or spark other repercussions. Some, he said, are grieving family members killed during Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Esther Reed, with Rutgers Hillel, recalled trying to comfort a student who was sobbing uncontrollably on learning a friend was killed in Israel in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas militants that triggered the latest fighting. Another student, she said, asked if police could escort her from class to her dorm, afraid to walk alone.

“Muslim students are walking around scared, just like the Jewish students are walking around scared,” Reed said.

In this charged and polarizing climate, chaplains and campus ministries are navigating tensions as they console and guide students gripped with anger, pain, confusion or fear stemming from the new violence, old grievances, and the emerging narratives of the war and the broader Israel-Palestinian conflict.

They’ve been helping organize vigils, leading prayers, providing community, lending an empathetic ear and sending messages of hope.

But it hasn’t been easy.

Some say it’s been a particularly complex and testing time because of the scope of lives lost and depth of suffering, the inflamed passions and the heated debates on some campuses — including over the positions of their own universities.

At Northwestern University, Tahera Ahmad, associate chaplain and director of interfaith engagement,…

Mariam Fam, The Associated Press

2023-10-28 10:36:50

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