Imam Salih Yucel sits beside the hospital bed of Fazal Mabud, a 66-year-old native of Pakistan who lives in Brighton, and begins offering him spiritual guidance. Mabud had heart surgery six months before, but it was unsuccessful. The next morning he would go under the knife again.

“You are in good hands,” Yucel, a Muslim chaplain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, reassures Mabud. Yucel counsels Mabud to say a prayer of supplication and repeat an Arabic word for God 100 times in preparation for the operation. Then the pair bend their heads, turn their open palms toward their faces, and begin to pray.

Mabud is one of about 11 patients Yucel will visit at the hospital on this day. His weekly schedule includes working two days at Brigham and Women’s and two days at Children’s Hospital Boston. He’s also on call at the North Shore Medical Center.

One reason for his popularity could be this: Yucel is the only Muslim chaplain in the Boston area with clinical pastoral education, an interfaith training program that teaches spiritual leaders how to care for people in crisis, says Mary Robinson, director of Children’s Hospital’s Chaplaincy program. Because of this training, says Robinson, “if he were doing a preoperative visit, he’s skilled in caring for a Roman Catholic or a Jew or a Protestant who would like to have prayer before their surgery.”

CPE, as it’s called, is one of the qualifications employers seek when they hire chaplains, but it’s a rarity among imams, Robinson says. In fact, Robinson remembers that when the hospital hired its first Muslim chaplain 13 years ago it couldn’t find an applicant with the CPE certification.

That situation is changing with the help of Connecticut’s Hartford Seminary , which seven years ago established what remains the only degree program in the nation for Muslim chaplains — religious leaders who do their work inside institutions such as prisons, colleges/universities, corporations, the military or, in Yucel’s case, hospitals. Hartford Seminary offers a 48-credit master of arts degree in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, which takes two years to complete. There’s also a one-year, 24-credit graduate certificate. Together the two degrees equal a master’s of divinity, the basic requirement for many chaplaincy jobs.


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