Merchant to serve as Tufts’ new Muslim Chaplain

Abdul-Malik Merchant has begun his role as the new Muslim chaplain for the Tufts University Chaplaincy. While at Tufts, he also will continue to serve in his current position as the Associate Imam of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC), a mosque and community center in Roxbury that serves around 1,500 congregants. According to an email from the University Chaplaincy, Merchant began his new role on Sept. 1. 

According to the email, Merchant has a wide range of experience working with a diverse group of people.

“He has experience across communities and age ranges, including working with inner city youth in Washington, D.C. and teaching classes as a Junior Resident Scholar at the MAS [Muslim American Society] Community Center in Alexandria, VA,” the email read.

The email added that Merchant is enrolled at Boston University’s master’s program in theology and social work.

Merchant, originally from the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia metropolitan area, has always aspired to work in a spiritual context.

“It’s my calling,” he said in an email to the Daily. “I pray I’m able to do so sincerely for God’s sake and effectively.”

After spending almost 10 years overseas at an Islamic seminary within Umm al-Qura University in Mecca, Merchant has been working in the Boston area for three years. Prior to his current post at the ISBCC, which he has held since 2016, Merchant served as the Muslim spiritual advisor at Northeastern University

The search process to fill the chaplaincy vacancy was mostly conducted over the summer and kickstarted by former University Chaplain Greg McGonigle, according to the Office of the President’s Chief of Staff Michael Baenen.

“The interview process gave students, staff and faculty a chance to meet with candidates, and campus stakeholders indicated they were very excited by what Abdul-Malik would bring to the position,” Baenen said. “I am delighted that he has joined the Chaplaincy team.”

Merchant replaces Celene Ibrahim, who left Tufts last spring after five years to teach at Groton School.

Merchant’s appointment comes during a range of changes taking place within the chaplaincy, such as McGonigle’s sudden departure this summer and the appointment of Jennifer Howe Peace as interim chaplain. In the fall of 2018, Rabbi Naftali Brawer began his new position as university Jewish chaplain, replacing Jeffrey Summit.

The University Chaplaincy is excited to welcome Merchant to its team and learn from his pool of knowledge, according to Catholic Chaplain Lynn Cooper.

“Abdul-Malik is passionate about the intersection of mental health and spiritual life,” she said in an email to the Daily. “His warmth is contagious. I look forward to learning from him and seeing him walk with students on their paths at Tufts and beyond.”

Peace highlighted Merchant’s unique training and skills that he brings to Tufts, including his fluency in both Arabic and English.

“Abdul-Malik Merchant is a thoughtful, personable, and deeply knowledgeable religious leader,” Peace said in an email to the Daily. “He has extensive training and background in both Islamic studies as well as pastoral care and counseling.”

Peace also said that she thinks Merchant will fit in well at Tufts and the chaplaincy.

“He strikes me as someone who is committed to relationship-building and student empowerment,” she said.

Because it is a new position for Merchant, he does not have any specific goals yet, other than forming a strong connection to the Tufts community.

“My only plan is to establish strong relationships with the students, faculty, and alumni I’m serving,” Merchant said in an email. “I believe the most impactful service comes via genuine relationships.”