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Imam leaves college

Kamal+Hammouda+left+his+position+as+the+College+imam
Evan Hein
Kamal Hammouda left his position as the College imam

After a combined 18 years as the Grinnell College imam, Kamal Hammouda declined the offer to return for the 2023-24 school year after what he said are disagreements over the terms of the position. The College continues to search for a new imam as the role currently sits vacant and Muslim Student Association (MSA) leadership on campus works to fill in the gaps.
As it stands, the imam position is allotted 10 hours a week with no benefits. Hammouda’s proposal, submitted in the spring of last year, increased the hours to 20 hours a week and included eligibility for benefits. He said that these changes are necessary to adequately complete the job and attract candidates who don’t live in the immediate area. This proposal was denied, and as the job is listed on the Grinnell job site – jobs.grinnell.edu – still has the same hours and benefits as offered last year.
Ellen de Graffenreid, vice president of communications, wrote in an email to the S&B that, according to information she compiled from the Human Resources department, the two other religious leaders on campus, the rabbi and chaplain, do not explicitly track hours but have the expectation that about 40 hours of work are performed each week. At Grinnell, positions that are over 20 hours of expected work a week are eligible for benefits.
De Graffenreid, when asked why Hammouda’s proposal was denied, wrote that she is unable to discuss the specifics of personnel matters. She wrote that, in general, “every staff position at Grinnell starts with a position description and request. That request outlines the position’s duties and responsibilities. That request is also evaluated against similar positions in the employment market and at other institutions, which determines things like its title, level, and compensation. All positions are evaluated by Human Resources” and “the Personnel and Organizational Review Team.”
Hammouda began hosting Friday prayer in the living room of his home after a group of Muslim students found him and asked him to begin leading service. In 1998, after some discussion with Deanna Shorb, the newly-appointed chaplain at the time, Hammouda agreed to come to campus as the appointed imam of Grinnell College.
He took a brief hiatus from the position in 2015 before returning last year to serve as interim imam after the prior imam, who was commuting from Iowa City, decided to leave the position. Coming back to the role this time around, Hammouda said he was motivated to set the position up for future success.
“The most I would have stayed in the position would have been two-three years,” said Hammouda, as someone who is mainly retired at this point. “I wanted the position to be viable for some external person from outside to be willing to come and move to the area.”
Ahmad Ayyeh `25, cabinet member of the Grinnell MSA, said that imams are an important resource for Muslim students as they share advice and offer an opportunity for counseling from another Muslim person. According to Ayyeh, the Grinnell College imam also acts as a mouthpiece to advocate for the Muslim community on campus.
“18 to 24 is a prime time for A, rebellion, B, exploration, and C, questioning,” said Hammouda, “and if you don’t have somebody who cares about you, you might not get the right answer.”
Ayyeh and Istar Abdullahi `25, cabinet member of the MSA, noted the role that Hammouda played in helping Muslim students feel comfortable at Grinnell.
“He had this method where he made sure to let us know that it’s a non-judgmental zone for us as Muslims,” she said, “He made sure to keep it open so students wouldn’t feel like ‘oh, I’m not religious enough.’”
“We don’t have any counselors [at SHAW] that are Muslim or fully understand the extent of what it means to live through your whole life as Muslim,” said Ayyeh, “I know that Kamal used to have a lot of students that come to him weekly and ask him questions, and not just about religious questions, but also just about life questions.”
Ayyeh and Abdullahi said that their organization and the community of Muslim students have felt the loss of an imam on campus. They, and other members of the MSA cabinet, met with Rabbi Sarah Brammer-Shlay after Hammouda’s departure to discuss how to fill that void until a new imam is hired. For now, Muslim student leadership will be taking up much of the responsibility, they explained.
“I do feel a little more anxious this semester,” said Abdullahi, “because we are, as MSA, taking on those roles that he [Hammouda] was doing last semester.”
Ayyeh spoke specifically about how he and other student leaders have had to focus on hosting Friday prayer on campus in lieu of someone with more formal religious training.
“We’re already falling behind on schedule because we’re trying our best to make sure that Jamaat prayers are run,” he said. He went on to discuss the difficulty that comes with leading prayer for a group of people who belongs to varying denominations of Islam. “I only have proficiency in one of the denominations. I can’t speak for all. Any Muslim imam would have enough proficiency in all denominations to talk and speak to them.”
As a religion of over 1.6 billion people that spans the globe, Islam encompasses many denominations, or subgroups, with a variety of historical and traditional differences in their practices – the two most prominent branches are Sunni and Shia Muslims.
De Graffenreid said that the College plans to include MSA leadership in the hiring process for the new imam, but neither Ayyeh nor Abdullahi have been contacted about the extent of this involvement as of yet.
Hammouda plans to continue to hold weekly Friday prayer in his home, as he did prior to his position at the College and encourages anyone interested in attending to email him at phoenix3@netins.net.

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About the Contributors
Eleanor Corbin, Editor in Chief
Eleanor is a fourth-year political science major with a concentration in statistics. Nine out of ten times she is ready and willing to discuss embroidery, types of loose-leaf tea, and metal music. Best approached with her favorite candy, cherry Twizzler bites, in hand.
Evan Hein, Staff Photographer
Evan is a second-year psychology major from Kansas City, Kansas. He once had to ask his friends to describe him in one word for a psych project. 33% of the twenty-five descriptive responses were the word “ginger,” followed by a small chortle.
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