Muslim chaplaincy service launching today

Salmah Kassim
Salmah Kassim
A long-planned Muslim chaplaincy service for the University of Otago will be officially launched today.

Two chaplains are taking up part-time, voluntary roles providing pastoral care and spiritual support to Muslim students - retired political lecturer Dr Najib Lafraie, a former Afghanistan foreign minister who fled the Taliban, and Salmah Kassim, a former diplomatic officer at the Malaysian High Commission in Wellington.

The service also covers Otago Polytechnic, and Dr Lafraie and Ms Kassim are joining an existing team of 10 chaplains.

University chaplain the Rev Greg Hughson said Muslim chaplaincies had been established in universities worldwide in the past 20 years or so as part of a move towards multi-faith chaplaincy teams.

"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," Mr Hughson said.

Najib Lafraie
Najib Lafraie
"In working towards establishing a 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."

Ms Kassim said she was pleased to take up the new appointment and believed her own background had equipped 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 said he was excited to be appointed one of the university's first Muslim chaplains and also believed his own varied life experiences would 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."

University student services director Karyn Thomson said the chaplaincy provided pastoral and spiritual care for all university and polytechnic students. Chaplains would meet with anyone, regardless of religious faith or lack of belief.

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