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By Larry Hertz
POUGHKEEPSIE – As Maryam Sharrieff assumes her new role as Advisor for Muslim Student Life, she says she’s eager to get to work in what she describes as a “warm and welcoming” environment. “The students I have met so far are mature and intelligent and are natural leaders,” she said. “They’ve fought hard to establish a presence on campus and know the direction they want to go, and I will support them.”
Sharrieff, who is pursuing a PhD in Anthropology and Religious Education at Teachers College-Columbia University, succeeds Nora Zaki, who left Vassar last spring.
In her short time on campus—she started January 10—Sharrieff said Vassar had proven to be the welcoming place Zaki had described. “There is an Arabic saying, ‘Ahlan wa Sahlan,’ which loosely translated means ‘Welcome—you have reached your people; you have reached (your) ease.”
Sharrieff said she has also discovered the vibrant Muslim presence in the surrounding communities near Vassar and is eager to continue to foster the relationships with local Muslims that Zaki and others at the College have established. “My job extends beyond the students to the faculty and staff here at Vassar and into the community,” she said.
Kashaf Zaheer ’22, a member of the Search Committee for the position, said she and others on the committee and members of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) were impressed by the breadth and depth of Sharrieff’s experience as a leader and a mentor.
“Maryam offered new ways for raising awareness of Muslim identity alongside how she as a mentor would help students facilitate these events,” Zaheer said. “When Maryam came to campus, she was well received by many of the MSA members. I personally loved her bubbly nature and excitement about the community around Vassar. The MSA has had limited interactions with the Poughkeepsie Muslim Community, so her interest in forming some permanent bonds sounded exciting. I am excited to have a Muslim Life Advisor who will help guide students in this time of their intellectual growth away from home through her knowledge, patience, and kindness.”
Rev. Samuel Speers, Associate Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices, said Sharrieff brings a wealth of experience in Muslim educational communities to her new job here. “In this time of significant growth for Vassar’s Muslim student community, we are so excited about the skills in the student leadership development, community building and pastoral care Maryam brings to this newly expanded position,” Speers said. “She brings both extensive traditional Islamic education and a deep commitment to interreligious understanding and relationship-building.”
Sharrieff has served as Muslim Chaplain at Brandeis University in suburban Boston, was a Muslim Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Leadership Institute in Jerusalem, and a Muslim Fellow at the Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education at Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College in Newton MA. She is an instructor for rabata.org, an online site for traditional knowledge for Muslim women by Muslim women.
Sharrieff earned her BA in Middle Eastern Studies, Italian, and TV and Film at Rutgers University and received her MA. in Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School, where she focused on Islam in America and on female scholarship, leadership and authority in Islam and Judaism.
Sharrieff said she was especially looking forward to joining the rest of the staff of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices in their move into Pratt House, which is being fully renovated and is expected to open in March. She has visited her new office several times and said she was captivated by the atmosphere there. “Pratt House already feels like home,” she said. “It’s such a welcoming space that feels like a hug from the Divine.”