How SU’s Muslim chaplain builds a community of compassion
A conversation with SU’s Muslim chaplain, Imam Amir Durić
Hendrick Chapel’s Imam Durić reflects on his life experiences that led him to the chaplaincy.
Across from the Hendricks Chapel choir room is the Chaplain’s office suite. The comfy couch and gray armchairs with headrests create a cozy space for the religious community at Syracuse University. Among its personal offices is one for Amir Durić, SU’s Muslim chaplain and faculty advisor of the Muslim Student Association.
Imam Durić is different from the other chaplains at Hendricks because he is also a social science doctoral student at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. As a student, he sometimes takes the same classes as those he will lead in prayer the next day.
“When you see someone in class, it feels good,” Durić said. “It makes me feel good because we are now part of this broader community. It’s not just coming together for worship, but we are a part of the Orange family.”
Durić focuses his ministry on relating to students and creating a strong community on campus. His life experiences have led him to focus on the empathy and compassion he developed during his childhood in war-torn Bosnia in the midst of war.
“I am a war child,” Durić said. “You hear the sound of shells and missiles, and you know based on sound if it’s going to come near you or if it’s going over. As children, we knew this one was going over, so it’s not dangerous, or it sounds like it may fall nearby, so let’s hide.”
The Bosnian War began when Durić was just 4-years-old and he was just entering elementary school at the war’s end. He spent much of his childhood with the looming memory of the war as the country and his community rebuilt.
“It gives a different perspective that many probably don’t have because there is a peace when you don’t know if you are going to be alive in the next hour or next minute,” Durić said.
During this period, the Durić family took a leadership role in his community. During Ramadan, when those of the Muslim faith pray every day, Durić would shout at the top of his lungs to call his community to pray and break the fast in his family home.
“My grandfather would ask me to go outside of the house and do the call to prayer,” Durić said. “In the house, after we break our fast, he would ask me to lead the prayer.”
As a prayer leader in his house and later at the mosque, Durić grew a passion for the faith and for leading a community. But being a religious leader and Imam wasn’t always the plan.
“This was one attempt where I wanted to change my direction,” Durić said. “I wanted to do PR, and I was accepted into the [graduate] program in Sarajevo.”
But during Ramadan, on a trip to New Jersey to help a Muslim community, he was offered a job to stay. This New Jersey community wasn’t any community, though; coincidently, this was the same community that awarded Durić a scholarship during his undergraduate education. Durić originally rejected the job offer and returned to Bosnia to prepare for graduate school. However, the community kept calling and eventually persuaded Durić to accept the job and serve the community.
During his seven-year tenure serving that community, he continued his education at the Hartford International University for Religion and Peace, earning his chaplaincy and a master’s in religious studies. Durić’s vital decision to forgo his public relations program and to the faith put him down the road of community leadership.
“When you see the impact that you have on other people and those around you, that is where you get motivation,” Durić said. “When you get parents who are grateful for the education you are providing to their children, and that sense of belonging you create when doing something that is the glue for people to come together and you do something they find meaningful, I found that motivational.”
After seven years in New Jersey, SU approached Durić to potentially fill the Muslim chaplaincy position. Initially, Durić turned down the offer because he believed he was not ready. But when he met the person again and asked out of curiosity if the position had been filled, the person said only a part-time chaplain filled the position and asked Durić to send his resume.
“And I did, and he called me, and we scheduled an interview, so I’m still thinking this is exploratory,” Durić said. “After the interview, they offered me the job, so now I don’t know what to do.”
Durić was torn between this new opportunity, which allowed him to work on his passion for education, and the community that offered him a home in the United States.
“How can I leave the community that gave me a home,” Durić explained. “so many people that I appreciate and love, and then there is this new opportunity that is mostly working with youth and young adults and students.”
Durić decided to accept the job at Syracuse but was still returning to the community in New Jersey every Sunday to help with the transition.
“I would drive four hours back to New Jersey early in the morning. I would teach classes, I would give a lecture, lead a couple [of] prayers, and then drive back to Syracuse on the same day,” Durić said. “That was my commitment to make sure they had a smooth transition. I was doing that for three to four months at least.”
Durić explained that this commitment was to pay back the community that helped him find his passion and make himself feel better about leaving. In his seventh year at SU, Imam Durić has grown the Muslim community from 15 people to filling Hendricks Chapel with more than 130 students to pray every Friday. He has also seen an increase in the enrollment of Muslim students since he began here. He attributes the presence of Muslim programs and the strength of the on-campus community.
With all this progress also comes challenges. In the past month, the conflict between Israel and Hamas has profoundly affected both the Jewish and Muslim communities on campus. But Durić holds out hope and calls for compassion and understanding.
“This is a time that reveals character,” Durić says. “It’s easy to replicate tensions, and it’s easy to start speaking inappropriately or acting inappropriately, but I think as leaders, it is especially important to model rather than mirror.”
Durić lives by the principles of empathy and unity, and he aims to lead the community by example.
“It’s not just numbers, it’s life. Each one of these had aspirations and dreams and was dreaming of the future. And for me, especially as a child in the war in Bosnia, it hits home and brings additional empathy towards those who suffer,” Durić said. “That’s why it’s even more important to model the world we would like to see rather than mirror the world we are in.”