For many years, Muslim students have been an active part of the student body at DePaul. In mid-March, the university’s Muslim student group, United Muslims Moving Ahead, celebrated its 25th anniversary on campus. This year also marks the 10th work anniversary of Abdul-Malik Ryan, DePaul's Muslim Chaplain, as well as the 10th anniversary of the university’s Muslim Life Center.
“UMMA is a spiritual, social and service-oriented student organization working to raise awareness about the multifaceted and rich heritage of Islam in the DePaul and broader Chicago communities,” says Abdul-Malik Ryan, the assistant director of religious diversity and pastoral care at DePaul, and the university’ Muslim Chaplain. “In addition to being an acronym for the group, ‘ummah’ is an Arabic word meaning ‘community,’ which we use as the basis of our organization.”
In addition to the group’s 25th annual community dinner in March, which brought together current DePaul students, alumni, faculty and staff to celebrate the organization’s anniversary milestone, UMMA also hosts various events for DePaul’s Muslim community throughout the year. Eid celebrations mark the two major holidays of the Muslims calendar. In addition to weekly services in DePaul’s Muslim Life Center, Jumu’ah on the Quad allow Muslims and interfaith guests to observe congregational prayer in St. Vincent’s circle. Fast-a-Thon serves as an interfaith event in which the entire DePaul community can participate in the spiritual practice of fasting in support of a social justice issue.
“As the only religious group at DePaul for Muslims, our goal is to provide a network of support for and opportunities for involvement to our members and the broader Muslim community on campus,” Ryan says. He estimates about 75 students attend something for UMMA in a typical week, and around 200 students participate in events and programs throughout the academic year.
"UMMA is less of an organization and more of a home to me," says Imaan Kahn, a senior at DePaul and president of UMMA. "It has made me feel like a vital part of our campus community. My time in UMMA has taught me how much a difference one person can make in society."
Alongside UMMA’s silver anniversary, Ryan also is celebrating a milestone – this spring marks his 10th year as the Muslim Chaplain at DePaul. A Blue Demon alumnus, Ryan completed law school at Georgetown University and worked with Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network before returning to DePaul as the first Muslim Chaplain. Though several other institutions have since followed DePaul’s lead and hired their own, Ryan was the first Muslim Chaplain hired by a college or university in Chicago.
As Muslim Chaplain, Ryan’s role includes everything from working with UMMA and other on-campus organizations on programs to providing spiritual guidance and advice to DePaul’s Muslim community.
“DePaul’s Muslim student community is diverse, and most are immigrants or the children of immigrants,” Ryan says. “As our students learn and grow on campus, I get to act as a spiritual guide as they work to discover, adjust or reaffirm how their Muslim faith fits into the various aspects of their lives. DePaul prides itself on education and the inclusion of people of all faiths, so in addition to supporting students’ spiritual development, a Muslim Chaplain can provide a consistent and pastoral Muslim voice that can respond to issues and benefit the entire DePaul community.”
Moving forward, Ryan and other organizers for UMMA hope to continue strengthening DePaul’s Muslim student community and broader network, including opportunities to involve the university’s large number of Muslim alumni.
“UMMA alumni have a large impact on various communities and nonprofits around the United States and the world. A number of them are even Muslim Chaplains around the country,” Ryan says. “We estimate there are more than 3,000 Muslim alumni across the country. We’re looking for ways to better incorporate these important members of our community into our network and services. We’re consistently referring back to the Arabic word, ‘ummah,’ and asking ourselves, ‘Who are we leaving out? What can we do to include and serve more members of our community?’”