Feryal Salem: The Muslim Woman Who Trains US Chaplains

When Feryal Salem was growing up in Illinois, many of the teachers who instructed her in Islamic law and theology were women, a tradition she continues as co-director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program at Hartford Seminary.

The Connecticut seminary offers one of the country’s few accredited programs for Islamic chaplaincy, which means that Salem has a large role in training the next generation of Muslim interfaith ambassadors and spiritual counselors for colleges, hospitals, prisons, and military units.

Salem is also an assistant professor of Islamic scriptures and law at Hartford and associate editor of The Muslim World, an academic journal.

“I teach students both to think critically as well as to see that their faith is not something that is to be embarrassed about,” she explained.

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Her research specializes in early Islamic thought with an emphasis on the foundations of Islamic scripture, hadith methodology, and hermeneutics in classical Islamic texts.

The Muslim female professor received her Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

She is the author of The Emergence of Early Sufi Piety and Sunni Scholasticism: ‘Abdallah b. al-Mubarak and the Formation of Sunni Identity in the Second Islamic Century (Brill).

In addition, Salem has studied Islamic studies from various classically trained scholars in the Muslim World. She received her certification (ijaza) in Qur’anic recitation from the late Syrian scholar Abu al-Hasan al-Kurdi in 1998.

She was also certified in recitation by Shaykh Kurayyim Rajih in 2013. She has studied a number of related Islamic sciences including Shafi’i and Hanafi jurisprudence (fiqh), Islamic theology (aqida), early Islamic history, Arabic grammar, Muslim inheritance law, classical logic, Qur’anic sciences (ulum al-Qur’an), and Islamic legal methodology (usul al-fiqh).

In 2009, she received a degree in the hadith sciences from the Nuriyya Hadith Institute of Damascus attached to the ancient Umayyad Mosque complex and whose curriculum includes studying a range of classical Islamic texts along with their commentaries.

The professor, who speaks seven languages, English, Arabic, Turkish, French, Ottoman Turkish, Persian, and German, is affiliated to several prestigious organizations like the American Academy of Religion, the Middle East Studies Association, Zaytuna College Board of Trustees, Connecticut Council for Interreligious Understanding, and the American Academy of Religion: Steering Committee on Interreligious Education.

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