Controversial imam out at Northeastern

(This article first appeared in the Boston Jewish Advocate on September 7, 2012)

By Elise Kigner
Advocate Staff

Northeastern University has informed a controversial religious leader that he would no longer be recognized as the school’s Muslim chaplain.

Abdullah Faaruuq, who is the imam of the Mosque for the Praising of Allah in Roxbury, said he had served as volunteer chaplain at Northeastern for about 15 years.

Northeastern also replaced its Spiritual Life Center with a new Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service. The Spiritual Life Center’s director, Shelli Jankowski-Smith, resigned in June after working at the school for eight years, according to the Huntington News, the Northeastern student newspaper. Brandy Purcell, another staff member at the Spiritual Life Center, also has left Northeastern.

Faaruuq’s departure came soon after Charles Jacobs, president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, wrote in an Aug. 24 column in The Advocate that his group would soon be releasing a short video about Islamic radicalism at the university. The video criticizes Faaruuq for supporting convicted terrorists. Jacobs said the film would soon be available at

Among the incidents detailed in the film is a speech by Norman Finkelstein that was hosted by the Spiritual Life Center, according to Jacobs’ column. In his speech, Finkelstein said Israel was behaving like the Nazis and criticized Jews for their wealth. He also questioned the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, Jacobs wrote.

In an interview, Jacobs said that about six months ago his group, at the request of officials from the Spiritual Life Center, provided a film clip that showed Faaruuq at the event arguing with Jewish students and applauding Finkelstein.

Mike Armini, senior vice president of external affairs at Northeastern, said the changes at the Spiritual Life Center were prompted by the arrival in January of a new vice president of student affairs, Laura Wankel. Around this time, staff began rethinking the center and its annual chaplain appointments, Armini said. He said Faaruuq’s departure was not connected to news of the release of the APT video.

“This reorganization has been taking place for many months, so it’s not related to any outside group,” Armini said.
In an interview Tuesday, Faaruuq said about a week ago he received an email from Robert Jose, associate dean for cultural and residential life, explaining that Northeastern no longer needed his services.

“My email return was, I still remain in the service of G-d, of Muslim students and humanity as a whole,” he said.
As chaplain, Faaruuq said he taught classes on Islam and counseled hundreds of Muslims who came from around the world on issues ranging from wearing a head scarf away from home to fitting in daily prayers with school work.

Faaruuq said he might continue to be involved with the Islamic Society of Northeastern University, a Muslim student group. He said he was in contact with student members who are planning events for the fall.

“I think [for] Northeastern, because of certain circumstances, things are better that I am not there,” he said, declining to elaborate on the circumstances.

The new director of the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, Alexander Levering Kern, previously served as Protestant chaplain at Brandeis University, and directed its Interfaith Leadership Development Fellows program.
Kern, who is a Quaker, also served as executive director of Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, an interfaith social justice network. He declined to comment for this story.

In an interview on the Northeastern Web site, he explains that the center will continue to offer space for prayer; will develop relationships with new and returning religious leaders; and offer dialogue programs. He appointed a new Muslim spiritual advisor, Irfan Imalie.

In a statement, Jacobs commended Faaruuq’s dismissal, but said Northeastern President Joseph Aoun should take steps to reduce the further radicalization of Northeastern’s Muslim students, including investigating the funding sources of the Islamic Society of Northeastern University.

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