Brief Overview of Muslim Chaplaincy Services in Canada
Prepared by Hanny Hassan with minor modifications.
Muslims up to the end of the 1960’s formed a very small proportion of the Canadian population and an even smaller proportion of those where were incarcerated. As the Muslim population increased following the opening of immigration to permit newcomers from the Commonwealth countries and later other Asian and African countries, the Muslim population of Canada increased. Social problems accompanied the increase in the population.
By the late 1970’s, there was a need for Muslim chaplains to cater to the spiritual needs of Muslim prisoners. The Council of Muslim Communities of Canada, with limited resources, initiated a volunteer chaplains program in Ontario. Some of the volunteers were paid a modest honorarium and expenses. Murray Hogben, in Kingston, and Ishrak Ali, in Toronto were two of the volunteers. They visited penal institutions on request.
The Ontario Chaplaincy Service, at the time, was made up of only Christian chaplains. Muslims and others requested that chaplains from other faiths be recognized. A few Muslims enrolled in the chaplaincy training program that was sponsored by the service. However, it is not believed that any completed the formal requirements in the early decades.
Michael Abdur Rashid Taylor, currently the Director of Islamic Chaplaincy Services Canada and Manager of Spiritual and Religious Care Services at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, completed his chaplaincy residency with the Toronto School of Theology in 1994 and was Canada’s first professionally, certified African-Canadian Muslim chaplain. Yasin Dwyer of Queen’s University also completed his chaplaincy certification and Nazila Isgandarova is also a certified chaplain, currently completing her DMin at the Waterloo seminary.
Other Muslim organizations also provided informal pastoral and chaplaincy services in both prisons and hospitals over the years. In some cases, this was provided by imams, such as the Abdul Moniem Khattab, who had a degree in social work and provided these services as an employee at a Sarnia hospital and as a volunteer elsewhere, until he returned serving as an imam.
Chaplaincy services continue to be provided on an ad hoc, voluntary basis through many local mosques and Muslim community organizations. For example, Naeem Qureshi, regularly leads Juma’a (Friday noon) prayers at the Bluewater Centre for Young Offenders near Goderich, Ontario.
There is some coordination and training of this effort through the Ontario Multifaith Council (OMC). See - http://www.omc.ca/ - for the OMC home page and - http://www.omc.ca/members.html - for a list of members of OMC. The Ontario Multifaith Council has the responsibility to ensure that candidates for positions as Spiritual and Religious Care Providers (Chaplains) have sufficient knowledge and experience to provide and coordinate spiritual care and religious services in a multifaith setting. It is understood that a formal certification process for chaplains will replace the one administered by OMC in the next few years.