As youth director for the Muslim Community of Knoxville, AbdelRahman Murphy is one of only four full-time salaried Muslim youth ministers in the country. He spends a good part of his time working with Muslim students at UT.
“That way the campus has a point person for the Muslim community,” he said, adding that he spends most of his time helping students deal with the transition from high school to college while maintaining their faith.
“When [students] encounter some kind of stress it can chip away at their religious faith,” he said. However, he also helps them with academic and social issues.
He holds office hours three times a week and has “Food for Thought” on Thursdays, where he and students go out to dinner and discuss contemporary issues.
“It’s not your typical religious study service,” he said.
He also gives sermons twice a month at the local mosque, on Thirteenth Street.
He estimates there are between 100 and 200 Muslim students at UT, but only about fifty-five are active in the Muslim Student Association.
“They don’t feel comfortable in their religious identity,” he said.
Murphy said one of his jobs is to help the youth in his charge “bridge the gap between being a young American and young Muslim.”
Murphy understands that can be difficult. His mother is an Egyptian immigrant and his father is an Irish-American who converted to Islam. That background helps Murphy understand both the experience of growing up in both an immigrant family and an established American family.
“I consider myself a patriotic American Muslim,” he said.
Murphy said he’s reached out to several UT professors to make his presence known.
Professor Rosalind I. J. Hackett, head of the Department of Religious Studies, said she thinks Murphy’s presence on campus is not only a boon for Muslim students but also for the wider campus community who might have questions about the Muslim way of life.
“He also adds value to UT’s quest to be a more diverse and inclusive campus,” she said.
Murphy said he wants to serve the entire community, not only Muslims. He said he’s happy to help non-Muslim students who need guidance. Each month, he takes a group of students to feed needy people on Magnolia Avenue.
“My service is to humanity,” he said. When he is invited somewhere to speak, he said he draws from the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad, but also tries to keep his topics general, so anyone can relate to them. He focuses on personal discipline and maturity and emotional development.
Murphy has applied for the UT master’s program in mental health counseling and hopes to start in the fall. He previously studied English and religion at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
Before coming to Knoxville, Murphy worked with Muslim youth in Chicago and Dallas. He has spoken at various universities, including Georgetown and the University of California, Los Angeles.
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