Muslim Chaplains can be found in a variety of institutional settings. Below you will find information pertaining to the most common settings: educational campuses, the military, corrections institutions, and hospitals. Additionally chaplains are employed at a variety of non-profit, government agencies, and businesses. These chaplains are considered community chaplains and are grouped together under that title.
I. Corrections Chaplaincy
Prison is a unique place for people to face the fundamental questions about life and death. Common themes in prison chaplaincy are the search for the purpose of life, the meaning of death, the role of hardship, trials, justice, punishment and reward. Prisons are places where people are seeking spiritual support and care as faith helps inmates to adjust to the psychological consequences of prison life. Challenges such as depression, fear, confinement, and separation from loved ones while they struggle with the emotional problems like guilt, loss of freedom and finding new directions.
Corrections chaplains are employed by the county, state and federal governments to ensure that detained and incarcerated individuals have access to their First Amendment rights for the free exercise of religion. These chaplains serve an important role in assisting individuals in their spiritual growth and personal development – an essential part of any true corrections system. Their duties include: facilitating religious services, teaching, providing pastoral counseling and grief support, coordinating volunteer clergy and religious programming, mediating conflicts, delivering death notifications, and providing guidance on religious accommodations. Corrections chaplains also commonly serve on institutional teams providing services to their colleagues in times of crisis.
Importantly, they are responsible for ensuring services to all inmates regardless of faith. In the case of non-Muslims this may involve things such as providing grief support to a Christian upon notification of the loss of a family member, monitoring a Jewish worship service, or setting up a Native American Sweat Lodge.
Muslim chaplains have a unique role as cultural brokers between the prison administration and the Muslim inmates. Part of this is serving as an expert on sensitive cultural and religious issues with regards to the practice of Islam in the prison setting, and other times advocating for Muslim inmates in the event that they become subject to unfair treatment due to their religious affiliation. Arranging for daily prayers as well as jummah (congregational worship) and Eid prayers, are important parts of a Muslim chaplain’s duty. Chaplains also maintain Ramadan fasting rosters and provide institutional guidance on meal preparation and serving times. Muslim chaplains are responsible for ensuring that the theological diversity and practices of Muslim prisoners are protected and supported by Chaplaincy Services in way that does not allow one interpretation to be imposed unilaterally. Chaplains are first and foremost part of the corrections team. As such they must maintain an critical professional boundary between themselves and the inmates, this is particularly important in a prison system where it requires a constant process of discernment to ensure inmates are not manipulating their religious freedom to circumvent institutional regulations.
The corrections setting offers a unique opportunity for Muslim chaplains interested in supporting education in the Islamic sciences as inmates often have substantial time to invest in learning. Classes on topics such as Quranic Arabic, tajweed (recitation), sira (biography) of the Prophets, and fiqh (jurisprudence) of worship are often of interest. Engagement with Islam can also help to prepare Muslim inmates for release and reduce recidivism rates.
Requirements & Education
The specific requirements for a Muslim corrections chaplain are dependent on the institution and level (i.e. county, state, federal). At the federal level, chaplains must have a Master’s of Divinity (M.Div.) degree or its equivalent, two years of chaplaincy experience, and formal endorsement. AMC strongly encourages chaplains to also have at least one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. Fluency in English, strong classical and Quranic Arabic, tajweed (recitation), counseling skills and knowledge of American culture and other religions are necessary for those Muslims interested in becoming a corrections chaplain. To be successful it is also important that chaplains understand the way racism and social economic disparity have contributed to a culture of mass incarceration in the United States that has disproportionally impacted African Americans.
II. Education Chaplaincy
As the needs of diverse student populations on college and university only increase, Muslim Chaplaincy is an emerging presence in higher education. Colleges across the nation, especially private institutions, are expanding their religious and spiritual life personnel to include Muslim Chaplains. While some institutions opt for titles other than chaplain to identify these religious professionals, employing terms like Muslim Advisor, or Coordinator for Muslim Life, these positions share a common focus: supporting campus Muslim communities through facilitating and/or providing weekly religious services, offering pastoral care, educational programming, and representation in inter-faith engagement.
On many campuses, Muslim chaplains are at the forefront of challenges ripe for deeper exploration but fraught with complexity. These include, but are not limited to the relationship between Muslim chaplaincy and the academic study of study of Islam offered by faculty in a time where basic literacy about Islam is urgently needed; the extent to which a college or university’s rhetorical embrace of rising pluralism matches their support (or lack thereof) for Muslim student life and practice; helping college-age students find their voice, faith and stamina amid the onslaught of academic, social, relational and developmental pressures.
Through all of this, Muslim chaplaincy on a growing number of U.S. campuses is expanding opportunities for students to access spiritual tools and resources in their overall identity formation. Chaplains may accomplish this through a variety of means, but none more valuable than simply offering empathetic presence, listening and unconditional compassion for those they serve.
To learn more about Muslim Chaplaincy in higher education, you may access the professional resources listed on our website.
III. Healthcare Chaplaincy
“God, the Exalted and Glorious, would say on the Day of Resurrection: ‘O son of Adam, I was sick but you did not visit Me. He would say: O my Lord; how could I visit You whereas You are the Lord of the worlds? Thereupon He would say: Didn’t you know that such and such servant of Mine was sick but you did not visit him and were you not aware of this that if you had visited him, you would have found Me by him.”
The Muslim Healthcare chaplain, like all health care chaplains, works to meet the spiritual needs of patients, their loved ones, and institutional staff in diverse health care institutions including hospitals, community health centers, and post traumatic care settings. In these institutions chaplains are often involved a multitude of ways. First and foremost, they serve as a compassionate presence for those with spiritual needs within their institution regardless of their religious affiliation.
Chaplains are an integral part of the multidisciplinary team in a healthcare setting. As such, they may round with doctors, place notes in patient charts, attend family meetings to discuss end of life care, work with art therapist to develop spiritually infused projects, provide cultural information to social workers, and serve on institutional ethics committees that examine difficult questions around the continuation of care.
Chaplains play an important role in these settings helping individuals to make meaning of their medical journeys, accept transitions in life and sometimes into death, and advocate for themselves. Chaplains are people with whom patients can share concerns, fears, and sadness they may not want to share with others. Depending on the placement of a chaplain, they may be involved in long-term relationships with patients such as Oncology Chaplains, or they may only see people once such as in the emergency room.
Perhaps more so in hospital chaplaincy than other forms of institutional chaplaincy, Muslims Chaplains often spend substantial time in their early journey discerning their own theological boundaries as they relate to providing care for others particularly around rituals. For example, chaplains explore how they will respond when a Christian family asks for a Baptism to be preformed for their dying baby, how to navigate Prayers of Commendation at the time of death, and how to navigate cross gender physical contact when a dying patient’s loved one seeks a hug.
Muslim chaplains may also facilitate jummah (worship service) and daily prayers in their institution. These gatherings can be important places to connect with staff and visiting loved ones.
Requirements & Education
Hospitals increasingly seek chaplains who are Board Certified. Among other things, board certification requires a chaplain to hold an M.Div. (or its equivalent), a minimum of four units of Clinical Pastoral Education, and endorsement. Given the shortage of Muslims with such training, institutions with large Muslim patient populations will sometimes make accommodation for those with less training, but AMC encourages Muslim chaplains in such roles to continue to work towards Board Certification.
IV. Military Chaplains
“And it isn’t for the Believers – that they proceed altogether to war. So why not proceed from each group a party among them that they may acquire understanding in the religion and that they may warn their people when they return to them, that they may beware?”
[An English Translation of the Meanings of the Qur’an, 9:122]
The United States of America Armed Forces maintain chaplaincies to accommodate religious needs, to provide religious and pastoral care, and to advise commanders on the complexities of religion with regard to its personnel and mission, as appropriate. As military members, chaplains are uniquely positioned to assist Service members, their families, and other authorized personnel with the challenges of military service as advocates of religious, moral, and spiritual well being and resiliency. Military chaplains are protected personnel in their function and capacity as ministers of religion. Service regulations further prohibit chaplains from bearing arms and classify chaplains as noncombatants.
Former VP of Military Chaplains Rafael Lantigua speaks in this video about his chaplaincy work with the US Air Force.
Requirements & Education
The specific requirements for a military chaplain depend on the branch of the Armed Forces a chaplain is interested in working in.
A) US Army Chaplain Corps
A candidate seeking to serve as an Army Chaplain and Officer must obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement from your religious organization.
B) US Air Force Chaplain Corps
A candidate seeking to serve as an Air Force Chaplain and Officer must:
- Have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a minimum of 120 semester hours
- Master of Divinity or equivalent theological degree with no less than 72 hours from an accredited institution
- Two years of religious ministry leadership experience
- Must be a U.S. citizen, no dual citizenship
- Receive an Ecclesiastical Endorsement from a Department of Defence-recognized endorser
- No violations of privileged communication and/or confidentiality
- No violations or compromises of noncombatant status
- No convictions by courts-martial or by civilian courts (except for minor traffic violations or similar infractions)
- No record of disciplinary action for failure to exercise sound judgement with respect to morale or welfare of subordinates
- No disciplinary action for engaging in an unprofessional or inappropriate relationship
- No record of disciplinary action for financial irresponsibility, domestic violence or child abuse
- Must be between the ages of 18 and 40
C) US Navy Chaplain Corps
A candidate seeking to serve as a Navy Chaplain and Officer must:
- Have a bachelor’s degree from a qualified four-year undergraduate educational institution
- Have a graduate degree in theological or related studies from an accredited educational institution (note that a qualifying degree program requires no fewer than 72 semester hours or 108 quarter hours of graduate-level work with 2/3 of those course hours completed in residence; also note that related studies may include graduate courses in pastoral counseling, social work, religious administration and similar disciplines when one-half of the earned credits include topics in general religion, world religions, the practice of religion, theology, religious philosophy, religious ethics and/or the foundational writings from the applicant’s religious tradition)
- Have two years of full-time religious leadership experience that’s compatible with the duties of a Religious Ministry Professional (RMP) in their respective Religious Organizations (RO) and relevant to the settings of military chaplaincy
- Hold an ecclesiastical endorsement from a religious faith organization registered with the Department of Defense
V. Community Chaplaincy
“Anyone who believes in Allah and the Last Day, should serve his neighbor generously ”
(Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Excerpt from Number 48, Narrated by Abu Shuraih Al Adawi)
“Community chaplain” is a broad to term that encompasses those who serve with public institutions such as police and fire departments as well as those who are associated with businesses, non-profits, protest movements, and masajid. Additionally, AMC recognizes those who have been professionally trained, but who may not currently be affiliated with a specific institution at this time. Community chaplains serve an important role bringing spiritual wellness into the lives of their neighbors and connecting people to resources.
Given the broad nature of this category, the responsibilities of Muslim community chaplains vary greatly. One thing that is consistent is that, while rooted in Islam, they provide spiritual care to all those seeking it within their organization regardless of their religious identity. While few Muslims serve in these roles currently in the United States, AMC is excited about seeing an increase in the years to come. Here we attempt to give a brief overview of some of the areas of service.
A) Police & Fire Department Chaplains
The primary role of chaplains within these agencies is to provide care for their colleagues and to serve those that the department serves such as victims of crime or those who have lost their home or loved ones to a fire. The setting of their work varies from riding along in patrol cars and on fire trucks, to sharing meals, visiting people in their offices, and presiding over funerals. Additionally Muslims serving in these roles act as bridges between the agencies and the larger Muslim community.
B) Disaster Response Chaplains
There are several different routes that a person might become a disaster chaplain. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and their state equivalents employee Board Certified chaplains that provide care for their disaster relief and response staff. Additionally, Islamic Relief USA and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) have partnered with the Disaster Interfaith Network to provide training for chaplains interested in deployed volunteering with their response efforts nationally. Chaplains serve an important role for those directly impacted by accompanying them as they begin their journey of meaning making and grieving, they also help to reduce secondary trauma for the response workers.
C) Masajid & Islamic Centers Chaplains
This is an exciting realm of growth for chaplains in the United States where masajid often serve as central places of gathering for Muslims. Chaplains do not replace the Imam, but serve in a complimentary role providing pastoral counseling, education, and assistance representing the masjid in the local community. It is common for them to provide a similar compliment to Youth Directors. These chaplains may meet with people inside the masjid, but they may also visit members in their homes or during a hospital stay during times of birth, sickness and death.
D) Business & Non-Profit Chaplains
Some large businesses hire chaplains to serve the needs of their employees while some non-profits hire chaplains to provide for their clients as well as their staff. These chaplains may provide pastoral counseling, ethical guidance, and conflict mediation. Many professionally trained Muslim chaplains find that the skills of chaplaincy are an ideal fit for a variety of social service jobs – particularly those with Islamic organizations.
Requirements & Education
The requirements and education for community chaplains vary by the agency or organization that they are serving with. AMC strongly recommends that all community chaplains have at least one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education and encourages them to seek endorsement. Community chaplains should never provide services at or through an organization without a contract in place and if operating as individuals they may want to seek liability coverage to ensure that they are protected.