Interfaith Center hires new director of Muslim life


Shaykh Jibreel Speight, Chapman’s new Director of Muslim Life, lived in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for 17 years before coming to the university. Photo by Mellisa Zhuang

After an increase in Chapman’s Muslim student population, the Fish Interfaith Center hired its first Director of Muslim Life, Shaykh Jibreel Speight.

“Chapman recognized that we have a large Muslim community,” Speight said. “It would be wise for someone here to work with them and be a guide to them and others into how to practice Islam,” Speight said.

Gail Stearns, dean of the Fish Interfaith Center, said that Speight’s main role is to be a mentor for both Muslim and non-Muslim students and to educate students about Islam, as well as to encourage students of different religions to engage with one another.

“We put together a strategic plan where we decided that we needed a more interfaith staff about three years ago,” Stearns said. “We looked at the major religions (on campus) and decided which were the important ones to have personnel from, and one of them was to have a director of Muslim life.”

Millennials make up 52 percent of Muslim adults in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center.  As the director of Muslim life and Chaplain to the university, Speight will help Muslims on campus communicate with different religious clubs on campus, said Hakeem Wakil, a junior integrated educational studies major and the president of Muslim Student Association.

Speight will be able to educate Muslim Student Association members on Islamic theology, Wakil said.

(One of the position’s aspects) is to bring out the similarities we have with one another and reduce the ‘differences’ when in fact there may not be differences at all.”

“In Islam, we’re taught to be good citizens in our community and one of the components of that is engaging with others,” he said.

The association, which aims to spread awareness about Islam for both Muslim and non-Muslim students, hosts educational events, like Hijab and Kufi Day, where students are encouraged to try on traditional Muslim headpieces.

After studying electrical engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Speight, who was born in New York, worked as an engineer before attending Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he studied Arabic and judicial studies.

“I started practicing Islam as soon as I accepted it. I decided to pursue Islamic studies after being exposed to different learning sessions,” said Speight, who lived in Mecca in from 2001 to 2018.“I was very impressed with the depth of knowledge within Islamic tradition and I wanted to learn more.”

The position’s purpose is also to work with other religions on campus, Speight said.

“(One of the position’s aspects) is to bring out the similarities we have with one another and reduce the ‘differences’ when in fact, there may not be differences at all,” Speight said.

Speight is the third director of religious life at Chapman, joining Rabbi Corie Yutkin and Nancy Brink, the director of church relations. He will lead prayers at 1 p.m. every Friday.

“Friday prayers are known in Arabic as ‘Jumu’ah,’ derived from the Arabic verb meaning ‘to gather.’ Friday is the ‘Day of Congregation,’” Speight wrote in an email to The Panther. “This congregation is often in mosques, but it is also in places where there are designated prayer rooms, like what exists at Chapman.”

Speight said he welcomes both Muslim and non-Muslim students.

“Throughout the world, there are 1.5 billion Muslims, so that’s a lot of people,” he said. “We’re just like everybody else, and we’re people too; we have likes and dislikes and dreams. Have a conversation with these people – you’d be surprised how similar we really are.”