Iman Jafri thought she wanted to go to medical school. Instead, she is Carleton’s new Interim Chaplain for Muslim and Interfaith Life. Jafri fills a position that had been vacant Fall term following Ailya Vajid’s departure last spring.
Jafri, 26, graduated from Carleton in 2015 with a degree in Sociology and Anthropology. She had also completed pre-med course requirements, thinking she might want to apply for medical school. But after graduating college, Jafri began to question her career path. Uncertain of what to do next, she took Chaplain Carolyn Fure-Slocum’s advice to further explore her passion for religious community and intercultural understanding, which Jafri began as a student Chaplain’s Associate. She abandoned her dreams of medicine in order to pursue a masters degree at Harvard Divinity School.
Despite making a significant change in her career path, Jafri says her return to the Carleton Chapel feels more like a homecoming than a new direction.
Jafri says that her Muslim identity was always an essential part of her life, especially in her suburban hometown of Eagan, MN, which has a very small Muslim population. She said her parents, immigrants from Pakistan, told her and her brother that they “had to be conscious of the fact that we might be the first Muslims a lot of people were meeting, and that we were representing our family, Pakistan, and Muslims all over the world all the time.”
Despite the pressure of constantly representing her culture, Jafri relished any opportunity for intercultural or interfaith dialogue. “It’s something my parents had always been involved in,” she explained. Her mother, for example, gave a presentation on Ramadan at Jafri’s school every year—a memory Jafri looks back on fondly.
“As a result, a lot of events that I would go to even as a young kid were an interfaith dialogue or dinner or going to different services at churches and things like that. I was used to being a Muslim representative.”
Jafri hopes to bring her experience with and passion for interfaith conversation to Carleton. She noted that one of her favorite Chapel programs is the Council for Religious Understanding, a multifaith discussion group. “Having a faith identity is something that brings you together even if you’re not from the same community,” she explained. Jafri hopes to branch out beyond the Muslim community to be a resource to the wider Carleton community, regardless of religious affiliation.
“Carls are very self sufficient. Even if they don’t have a whole lot, they’ll do something with it. If they’re in a kitchen and they have three ingredients, they’ll make a meal out of it. I think that’s what I’ve seen of the Muslim community here,” Jafri said.
Resourceful as they were without a chaplain, leaders of Carleton’s Muslim community are excited to have one again. There are certain things that the Muslim community felt they could not do on their own. Rameen Dogar ’21, President of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Chaplain’s Associate, said that without a chaplain, “the only thing we feel qualified as a board to discuss are more experience-related questions, such as ‘what is it like to be Muslim?’”
Dogar added that without a chaplain, “text-based discussions” about the Quran are difficult. She hopes that under Jafri’s guidance, these types of conversations will become a larger part of the MSA’s weekly meetings.
Several students expressed gratitude for Jafri, identifying her as both a source of spiritual guidance and as “someone to advocate on our behalf.”
Kiki Perry ’21, Vice President of MSA, noted that one of the MSA’s main initiatives is to make Ramadan “more normalized on campus so there are more services and options for students who are fasting.” When it comes to providing various accommodations for religious observers, “it’s definitely helpful to have Iman serve as a liaison between faculty and staff,” Perry explained.
Jafri’s main goal as Carleton’s Interim Chaplain is to be a “wealth of knowledge,” which is exactly how Perry describes her. Jafri’s knowledge is contemporary, Perry says; she brings a fresh perspective to the chaplaincy.
“A passion area for me is religion in media,” Jafri noted. “I love talking about representation, I love talking about Muslims in media, and how stories about religious people or stories about faith and community are told.”
As for the future, Jafri says she doesn’t know what’s in store. But for now, she’s “glad to be back.”