Alum Spotlight: Dr. Nisa Muhammad ’17 Works Around the Pandemic Clock

By Caye Banks

Like many of us, Dr. Nisa Muhammad ‘17 finds herself on Zoom calls at all hours. As Assistant Dean of Religious Life in the Office of the Dean of the Chapel at Howard University, she is adapting to life during a pandemic with all the energy she brings to everything she does.

“We have Zoom calls at all hours to meet the needs of students,” she said. “I’ve met with [overseas] students after fajr [prayer] at 6 a.m., when it is afternoon their time. We have virtual study hall, and we started a social justice tutoring program for the children of faculty and staff who are teleworking using work study students who otherwise would not have jobs since we are not on campus.”

Dr. Muhammad works closely with Muslim students by helping them strengthen and affirm their faith in challenging circumstances. She also organizes Muslim worship and devotion services, providing pastoral care to students and faculty, and responds to many different questions and challenges from race to religion to relationships.

It won’t surprise anyone who knows her that Dr. Muhammad is also the advisor to student groups ranging from the Interfaith Collegiate Corps to the Juvenile Justice Advocates to the Muslim Students Association, even to the Chess Club.

“My door is open to all students who find their way to my chair with questions, concerns as well as comments about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness at the Mecca, as Howard University is known.”

During these hard times, Dr. Muhammad is also the President of the Association of Muslim Chaplains, where she has assisted Muslims through healing circles and is committed to meeting the professional needs of the members.

The pandemic has brought her problem-solving skills to the forefront.

“It helped me to think outside the box and do things I would not normally do. I work longer and harder to help my students, many who feel lost and isolated as they struggle to stay connected.”

Since she was a child, Dr. Muhammad has been surrounded by religion. She grew up in a Baptist home and church where her father was a pastor. “We practically lived in church, and when we weren’t at our church, we were at my grandparent’s church.”

She taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. “When God spoke to me in another language, and I expressed my devotion as a Muslim, it was natural for me to continue my advocacy in Islam.”

Dr. Muhammad is devoted to helping other Black Muslims feel supported.

“Howard has been the host for the HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] Muslim Students Association Annual conference for several years. I saw a growing number of Black Muslim students coming from predominantly white institutions, also.”

In October, Dr. Muhammad organized the first Black Muslim Students Conference. “It was the first time Black Muslim students had come together and planned a conference like this,” she said. “It was a great success.”

Dr. Muhammad remembers her Hartford Seminary experience fondly. She says it was one of the best decisions she ever made and loved every minute of it. She challenged herself in ways she did not think possible. 

Initially, she enrolled in the Graduate Certificate for Imam and Muslim Community Leadership program and then transitioned into the Islamic Chaplaincy Program. She had to commute from Washington, D.C., for most of her program.

Dr. Feryal Salem was her favorite professor. Dr. Timur Yuskaev also helped Dr. Muhammad by advising her for her master’s thesis. Both played important roles in her education at Hartford Seminary.

Dr. Muhammad recently graduated with her Doctor of Ministry from Howard’s School of Divinity’s Class of 2020. Never one to slow down, she is now in a Ph.D. program in African Studies.


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