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Muslim Chaplains join Otago Tertiary Chaplaincy Service

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Monday 1 April 2019 11:16am

A Muslim chaplaincy service begins today at the University of Otago, something that has been in the planning for some time, but coincidentally arrives at a critical time for Muslim staff and students with the recent tragic events in Christchurch.

Najib Lafraie
Dr Najib Lafraie

Retired University of Otago political lecturer Dr Najib Lafraie, a former Afghanistan foreign minister who fled the Taliban, and former Diplomatic Officer at the Malaysian High Commission in Wellington, Salmah Kassim, have been appointed to the roles.

Their role will be similar to the Christian chaplains in offering pastoral care and spiritual support, but in particular to Muslim students and staff.  They will also assist with chaplaincy-organised educational events to promote greater understanding about Islam and all religions.

The service, which is also available to Otago Polytechnic students, officially begins today, 1 April. 

University chaplain Reverend Greg Hughson says Muslim chaplaincies have been established in Universities worldwide in the past 20 years or so as part of a move to multifaith chaplaincy teams.

The group which oversees chaplaincy at the University and Polytechnic, the Chaplaincy Consultative Committee, supported an application from the newly formed Otago Muslim Chaplaincy Committee to establish the two part-time voluntary roles late last year. 

“It’s taken some time to work between the various parties involved, but we are delighted to expand the chaplaincy service from two to three partners – expanding it from interdenominational and Catholic Christian to include Muslim chaplaincy,” Reverend Hughson explains.

“In working towards establishing Muslim chaplaincy here at Otago over many years, we were not to know how necessary and important this would be, given the terrorist attacks on 15 March.”

Director of Student Services Karyn Thomson explains the Otago Tertiary Chaplaincy Service provides both pastoral and spiritual care for all University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic students.  The new appointments also correspond with growing numbers of Muslim students at the University.

“The real focus of the chaplains is pastoral care of both students and staff.  They will meet with anyone regardless of religious faith identity or lack of religious belief.”

Hajjah Salmah Kassim
Hajjah Salmah Kassim

Ms Kassim says she is pleased to take up the new appointment and believes her own background equips her with the skills to assist students. 

“With my own experience of being in a foreign land for more than 20 years - leaving behind my daughter, husband and family while completing my bachelor degree - it gives me the privilege to understand students’ experiences here in New Zealand.”

Dr Lafraie is excited to be appointed one of the University’s first Muslim chaplains and also believes his own varied life experiences will assist him in the role.

“At Otago we have hundreds of Muslims who both work and study away from their families, their communities and their support systems. The chaplaincy has been established for this exact reason; it is to provide a support system for any Muslim in need. It is to be there for any Muslim facing any problem, big or small.”

Vice-president of the Muslim University Students Association Naser Tamimi says the establishment of the Muslim chaplaincy service is very positive for Muslim students.

“Having a Muslim leader at the University is a really good thing, especially for new students and post-graduate students who may not have as many contacts in the Muslim community.

“This will really benefit the Muslims at Otago in future years.”

There are currently 10 chaplains at the University including those based at the Invercargill and Christchurch campuses and the Polytechnic. Most work part-time. The first specialised Māori chaplain, Reverend Wayne Te Kaawa, was appointed last year.

For further information, contact:

Rev Greg Hughson
University chaplain
Mob +64 27 212 1048
Email greg.hughson@otago.ac.nz

Naser Tamimi
Vice-President Muslim University Students’ Association
Mob +64 20 4072 9581
Email tamna429@student.otago.ac.nz

Liane Topham-Kindley
Senior Communications Adviser
Tel +64 3 479 9065
Mob +64 21 279 9065
Email liane.topham-kindley@otago.ac.nz