Muslim chaplain explores faith, service, with upper school students

Written by Christy Richardson on January 12, 2012


CONTACT: Susannah Wells, head of school

Imam speaks of service, faith at Pine Cobble School

Bilal Ansari rounds out ninth grade study of Islam and Western Civilization, speaks with students and faculty in a 2+ hour conversation

WILLIAMSTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS. Pine Cobble School’s 6th – 9th grade students welcomed Bilal Ansari to Pine Cobble this week. Ansari was invited by the ninth grade class to attend their Western Civilization class at 10:30 AM on Tuesday, January 10th. Ansari is Williams College’s first Muslim chaplain and associate coordinator of community engagement; the college describes him as “boundlessly energetic, eminently approachable, and seriously funny.” He conversed with the ninth grade for an hour and a half, on subjects ranging from the tenets of Islam to service to his own journey growing up in New Haven Connecticut. Later, other students and faculty members joined Ansari in a conversation that continued over pizza.

The ninth grade class has been studying Islam and its connection to Western culture, and recently finished readingIslam: a Short History, by TED prize winner Karen Armstrong, as well as Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Among the other recent speakers in Berger’s class include Asian studies professor Sam Crane, Ph.D., who spoke with students the Tao Te Ching; Jane Swift, former lieutenant governor and acting governor of Massachusetts, who spoke about women and politics; and history professor Sara Dubow, who spoke about legal history and women’s rights.

Berger notes that because conversations like these take place over an extended period of time — Ansari was here for nearly two and a half hours — they are deeper and more meaningful than students might get during a shorter presentation.

Sue Wells, head of school, agrees.

“Pine Cobble offers the flexibility to bring in lecturers in any subject, at any time, to explore ideas with students and make connections between diverse disciplines,” says Wells. “It’s always a favorite experience to welcome leaders who bring ideas to life and help students hone critical thinking skills, curiosity about our world, and compassion toward others.”

Prior to working at Williams, Ansari organized grassroots movements in affordable housing, labor, community empowerment, economic development, and healthcare. He founded the Muslim Chaplains Association, a resource for chaplains of all faiths who address the needs of Muslims in their institutions, and he is featured widely in the PBSdocumentary “The Calling.” (

Pine Cobble is a coeducational day school founded in 1937. The School serves students ages two-years-nine-months through ninth grade, from Berkshire County, southern Vermont, and eastern New York. Nestled in a beautiful setting originally designed as an estate by Olmsted Associates, Pine Cobble supports intellectual rigor, curiosity, and creativity within a caring community. A fundamental tenet of the Pine Cobble experience is character education; nine character pillars — compassion, gratitude, respect, honesty, responsibility, patience, self-control, courage, and cooperation are woven into every aspect of the students’ lives.

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