Ryerson’s first Muslim chaplain addresses mental health issues on campus

(By: Zahraa Hmood)

Almost a year after the promise of a Muslim chaplain for Ryerson University, it has finally arrived. Muslim Chaplaincy at Ryerson has chosen Imam Yasin Dwyer as their Muslim chaplain, to help provide spiritual guidance for Muslims at the university.

The organization, Muslim Chaplaincy of Toronto, is raising money to operate three university chaplaincies in Toronto, including Ryerson, to provide counselling, educational, and mentoring services. Dwyer says the Muslim student body at the school put out an advertisement looking to hire a Muslim chaplain.

“I was convinced by more than a handful of people to apply because of my own experience in chaplaincies,” said Dwyer. He said he was chosen and accepted the position.

So far, Dwyer says he has been able to speak with Muslim students in his new role, but they are still waiting for office space and space to provide counselling and pastoral services. He says they’re looking to have the space ready for the first week of February.

Dwyer spoke at an event co-hosted by the Ryerson Muslim Students’ Association (RMSA) and the Somali Students’ Association at Ryerson (SSAR), called “Taboo Talk: Mental Health,” on Friday, Jan. 27. This event is meant to “tackle the stigmas surrounding mental health within the Muslim community,” according to its Facebook page.

This same event was held for the first time in April 2016, when former Ryerson MSA president Radwan Al-Nachawati made the announcement that the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) agreed to contribute 30 per cent of funding for this project, $25,000.

Several experienced professionals in the field of mental health spoke at this event, sharing their insights about the importance of treatment, continuing the conversation, and having empathy for those dealing with mental illness.

Dwyer says he has his own beliefs about the rise of mental health in their community: loneliness. “People are lonely. We lack these quality friendships. We lack this ability to trust and to feel you can give yourself completely to another person,” he said.

During the events discussion, he spoke about how the community views the issue of suicide.“The idea of suicide, as well, of mental health, of anxiety, depression, is sometimes unfairly looked upon as weakness, as lacking the ability to be strong and just stand up to the everyday challenges that every human being faces,” Dwyer said.
He hopes to impact the conversation around mental health in Ryerson’s Muslim community through his new role, Dwyer says, “Ultimately, our tradition teaches that we are all mirrors of each other. We’re only as good as our sister, we’re only as good as our brother. So therefore, we have to have empathy, we have to share mercy, and we have to share love with each other.”

Cover photo by Asim Sheikh

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