Students push for spiritual advisor compensation
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 22:04
Three members of the Muslim Student Association recently sent a proposal to the Undergraduate Student Government asking them to provide monetary support for their spiritual advisor, Imam Samer Alraey as well as giving him an official advisor position.
“This is a proposal to request that our current Chaplain, Imam Samer Alraey be officially offered a position as a counselor with reasonable compensation,” reads the beginning of the proposal.
Alraey has been the resident Chaplain for the Muslim faith at Baruch since 2005. In the past year, however, he has had to increase his time here due to heightened demand, and now comes out up to five days a week, typically from noon until ten or eleven at night.
His increased presence has come at a cost, mostly economical, as the Imam has had to pass up on other offers that would keep him away from Baruch. This is the primary fear of the students who require his service and is argued in the proposal: “Imam Alraey’s vast experience and highly reputable status in the Muslim community [...] will make him the best candidate for this position. However, we are facing the possibility of losing him since it has become difficult for him to continue his services dues to the lack of proper financial accommodations.”
The Imam provides his services free of charge, but “New York is a very expensive city to work in,” he said, and he must begin to consider other options, even though he says he really wants to stay at Baruch.
That is why Noureen Ramzan, former president of Women in Islam, Mashud Abukari, general member and special advisor to the MSA, and MSA president Yafees Sarwar approached USG president Antonio Alfonso several times with hopes of getting the economical support for the Imam’s services.
“They came primarily to me, straight to the top, which is fine,” said Alfonso. “They told me, ‘there’s a serious need here, with everything from the infiltrations, to growing animosity in the Muslim community, and […] we need someone who is as qualified and as experienced in counseling of all sorts like Alraey.’”
The argument from USG however, is that other spiritual leaders for the Christian and Jewish communities receive private funding for their services and that the MSA should look to do the same. However, private funding is not an option, at least at the moment, for the Association.
“Since 9/11 most organizations are actually building up from the ground up,” said Sarwar. “Mainly Mosques and other organizations for the non-profit; those are even more in need of funding. That’s why if anybody has to invest, they’re actually spending on Mosques or something like that. And that’s why Chaplain funding is very hard to come by and that’s why we are taking the USG route.”
The only chance they did have of private funding was not a viable one, according to Sarwar.
“We were approached for private funding by the country of Saudi Arabia but we’re not O.K. with their policies,” he said. “We are much more traditional Islam and they have their own brand and [accepting their funding] would be walking a very dangerous line.”
While Alfonso understands the concern of the students, he also can’t ignore the consequences of signing off on such a proposal.
“It’s a classic [example] of separation of church and state,” he said. “We’re a public institution and if you do that, you have to then provide it for everybody else. You’re opening Pandora’s box.”
He emphasized the importance of having this separation due to the setting of a public school and noted that the proposal would have little luck in getting approved.
“If we were to go forward with some sort of referendum I do not believe it would pass the board of trustees and I don’t believe the president would approve it,” Alfonso said. “More importantly, I don’t think it should be approved. I think separation is extremely important.”
It is worth noting, however, that the main reason the proposal was put forward was to the concern that if no immediate funding is provided, the students would lose the Imam.
Sarwar emphasized that if private funding was found they would not be looking to have the school provide the compensation, yet he completely understood Alfonso’s concerns that other religious organizations would feel entitled to similar compensation and pointed out that he would be “completely fine with that.”