Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898 | SUBSCRIBE

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal | Harvard Portrait

Khalil Abdur-Rashid

November-December 2018

Khalil Abdur-Rashid

Photograph by Jim Harrison


Khalil Abdur-Rashid

Photograph by Jim Harrison

As Harvard’s Muslim chaplain, Khalil Abdur-Rashid thinks of his work—including leading prayer each Friday, hosting seminars on Islamic ethics, and organizing community-building activities—as helping students to develop their “ ‘SQ,’ what I call their spiritual quotient.” In the process, he often finds himself helping them navigate multiple cultural identities. He knows what that’s like firsthand: his Muslim-convert parents raised him within a Southern Baptist extended family (“We did Ramadan, and we did Christmas”). They were active in education and politics in Atlanta, where he began his career as a social worker, investigating child-abuse cases for the state of Georgia. Then, 9/11 and its aftermath pushed him to explore his faith more deeply. He went abroad to Yemen and Turkey to study Islamic law before landing in a Ph.D. program at Columbia in 2010. There he also served as a religious-life adviser, commuting nearly two hours daily from Coney Island, where he was imam of a Brooklyn mosque. When news broke in 2012 of Muslim students being surveilled by the New York City Police Department, Abdur-Rashid spoke out, and was named to the police commissioner’s advisory council as a consultant on policy changes. Some months later, when three Jordanian students were violently threatened by a bus driver for speaking Arabic, he called up City Hall to demand action. “I was born and raised in a family of grassroots activists,” he says. But, in that moment, “I saw ‘oak tree activism.’ Activism from the institutional level, top down.” That experience informs Abdur-Rashid’s perspective on his current role. “There has to be somebody at the table, in the room, to advocate for students’ needs, who’s connected with major institutions,” he says. “That is the profoundness, I think, of this position.”

You Might Also Like:

Vegan muffins, hash, bacon, and other plant-based options are served at a cafeteria counter

This year's Campus Services holiday breakfast featured a "plant-forward" station. 
Photograph by Robert Fitta/Harvard Magazine

While You Were Away

Drawing of Harvard and Oregon football players at the Rose Bowl, with the goalposts depicted at two long-stemmed red roses with a bar between them

Illustration by Mark Steele

Headlines from Harvard’s history

Photograph of Peter Ashton and field team in Borneo

At left: The field team included (from left) Asah, Naban, Ashton (note his indispensable leech socks), and Ladi.
Photograph by Timothy Whitmore/Courtesy of Peter Ashton and Arnoldia.

Dipterocarp and shuttle derring-do, and more

You Might Also Like:

Vegan muffins, hash, bacon, and other plant-based options are served at a cafeteria counter

This year's Campus Services holiday breakfast featured a "plant-forward" station. 
Photograph by Robert Fitta/Harvard Magazine

While You Were Away

Drawing of Harvard and Oregon football players at the Rose Bowl, with the goalposts depicted at two long-stemmed red roses with a bar between them

Illustration by Mark Steele

Headlines from Harvard’s history

Photograph of Peter Ashton and field team in Borneo

At left: The field team included (from left) Asah, Naban, Ashton (note his indispensable leech socks), and Ladi.
Photograph by Timothy Whitmore/Courtesy of Peter Ashton and Arnoldia.

Dipterocarp and shuttle derring-do, and more