issue Spring 2023

Wayfaring Strangers Come Together

By Sabreen Alfadel
Shahzaib on campus with fellow Muslim Student Association participants.
Photo by Michael R. Schmidt

One of the fascinating aspects of health care is that it encompasses different health systems — many of which are physical systems — yet spiritual health seldom gets accounted for. In an effort to reveal the physical, mental and social aspects of the care system, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) collaborated with the Rosalind Franklin Christian Fellowship and Jewish Student Union during the 2022–23 academic year. The groups hosted a four-part Spiritual Wayfaring Series to help attendees realize and meet their spiritual needs through the lens of the three Abrahamic religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Shahzaib Haider, CMS ’25, a member of MSA and organizer of the series, led guided discussions around spiritual health, and emphasized the importance of meeting spiritual needs from a healthcare standpoint. Shahzaib was always one to reflect on the importance of spirituality, and reached out to two students from the Jewish and Christian student organizations with whom he had previously established a relationship. He said it was important to him to get their guidance, support and camaraderie in fostering this series.

“(Spirituality) has helped me get in touch with my mental health, get a good grasp of my emotional connection to myself, my understanding of my own emotions and how I interact with people,” Shahzaib explained. “It really had this multifaceted improvement in my life once I started exploring it a number of years ago. I wanted to give that back to the community as well.”

Shahzaib always appreciated the motivation behind MSA’s past events — unity and creating a community that checks in on itself — and he wanted to achieve a similar outcome with the Spiritual Wayfaring Series. His goal was to encourage future healthcare providers to look at spiritual health as a system of mental health. Ultimately, Shahzaib provided a space for attendees to become aware of their spiritual health, and also consider this aspect of their patients’ identities.

“As future healthcare providers, it’s not enough to just treat disease on a physical level.”

“As future healthcare providers, it’s not enough to just treat disease on a physical level, though obviously that’s what most of these patients are coming for,” Shahzaib said. “When you’re talking about continuity of care, and patients you’re going to see routinely, it’s important that you are cognizant of these kinds of aspects of their life.”

Shahzaib was very intentional in the way he ran the sessions, from setting up a PowerPoint for visual aid to ensuring that everything took place in-person, which allowed for attendees to easily connect and feel comfortable engaging in vulnerable discussions. The first session was designed to gauge where attendees were in their spiritual journey, ensuring a shared understanding of the experience. Subsequent sessions then explored more abstract subjects, like the idea of God or a higher power, and discussed virtues, morality and methods of increasing spirituality.

Group members include Maaz Haji, CMS ’25, who served as MSA president in spring 2023.

That’s what Shahzaib liked most about it being interfaith: “Though I’m not necessarily going to conduct the same practices as a different religion to uplift my spirituality, it helps to reframe some of the practices in my own religion.

“Getting folks to have this conversation together instead of just within their own head …  allows this constant back-and-forth of challenging your spirituality,” he said. “Just like any muscle in your body, you have to challenge it to build it. You have to challenge your spirituality for it to be increased.”

Shahzaib feels that spirituality is a journey that lasts a lifetime, and although the destination is one that is personal and not always attainable, he considers it important to seek greater knowledge and deeper understanding. In building various connections, one’s holistic wellness can be strengthened.

“Health, diseases, disorders, they don’t know any boundaries between people,” he explained. “It’s important to focus on our similarities rather than our differences, in order to better our own spiritual health and our patients’ spiritual health in the future.”

Sabreen Alfadel is a staff writer with the RFU Division of Marketing and Brand Management, specializing in content development for social media efforts and initiatives.