As the nation’s first ever Muslim chaplain, Imam Yahya Hendi has always played a unique role on campus, but this month, he’ll be even more busy than usual. In addition to his dual role as the university’s Imam and as the senior Imam of the Islamic Society of Frederick in Frederick County, Md., he has been preparing various seasonal activities.
With Ramadan beginning last week, Hendi is working to coordinate a special iftar on Oct. 3 called “Fast-a-Thon” that hopes to bring Muslim and non-Muslim students together to celebrate Islamic culture and raise money for charity. Hendi took time from his schedule to discuss the importance of interfaith dialogues and the role he plays both at and outside Georgetown.
In 1999, you became the first full time Muslim Chaplain at Georgetown, also making you the first Muslim Chaplain at any American university. What was the significance of that event, and how have times changed?
I think it was quite important to have a Catholic university be the leading college doing this. We have always wanted to strengthen the relationship between Catholics and Muslims, but also Christians and Muslims. Muslims worldwide started looking up to the Catholic Church, especially because of Pope John Paul II and his vision of reaching out and building bridges. Since then, things have improved — other colleges have imitated Georgetown and have been taking this as a challenge for them to be as outreaching and as inclusive as Georgetown. Now we have five Muslim Chaplains at universities in the country, and I have a feeling the number will grow.
In addition to being the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown, you serve as the senior Imam of the Islamic Society of Frederick in Frederick County, Md. Do you ever have trouble managing your dual roles?
I am the leader who gives vision and leadership, but I am not there every day — I am here, at Georgetown. It is a challenge, but it can be done if one knows how to organize one’s time and if you know how to say “no,” and when to say “no,” when to say, “Sorry, I can’t do it.” I schedule myself to completely honor my commitment here and my commitment there. (MORE)