Being a Muslim in college isn’t always easy, whether you are finding a place to pray, facing stereotypes or wanting to participate in Dance Marathon.
One student group has been trying to address these issues and unite Muslims on campus, whether they come from Pakistan, Senegal, or elsewhere: the Muslim-cultural Students Association (McSA).
From Monday through Thursday, the group will host its 14th annual Islam Awareness Week, inviting several speakers to present aspects of the faith. This year is to be the first time artists, including a Muslim rapper, participate in the event.
The McSA has always been been “strong advocates for Islamic practice on campus,” according to University Chaplain Timothy Stevens. “We have worked together, for example, to identify rooms on campus that can be used by individuals for daily prayers. We have also secured Parkes Hall as a space for Friday prayers and special observances such as Ramadan.”
Sophomore Sijh Diagne said the group has given him great support.
“I wanted to meet a Muslim group, because being Muslim is a very important part of my identity,” he said. “They really welcomed me.”
The group aims to be inviting, said President Hibah Yousuf, while also making the campus aware of the religion.
McSA organizes events such as iftars during Ramadan, as well as a big Ramadan dinner, attended by more than 350 students, faculty members, friends and family members. They also have smaller events, like a dinner to celebrate the end of Eid during the first week of Winter Quarter.
McSA also organizes speaker events in the fall and spring. Last fall, they invited Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst for Alec Station, the Osama bin Laden tracking unit, to talk about the war on terror. They also co-sponsor events such as a racial-profiling forum with FMO and Alianza on Jan. 20. and last year’s Jurassic 5 concert with A&O.
“I know there are a lot of non-Muslim people that come to a lot of our events pretty frequently,” Yousuf said. “And we’ve been able to build some bonds because of that, which has been really exciting. I think people definitely know of our presence on campus and enjoy the programming that we do, because it is pretty different.”
McSA’s efforts were recognized when it was awarded Outstanding Student Group of the Year from the Center for Student Involvement last year.
McSA was created 20 years ago and originally consisted mainly of graduate and international students. The group has changed considerably since it began, Stevens said, becoming more undergraduate-focused.
The group is currently working with Dance Marathon to find ways McSA members can get involved, besides dancing.
“What’s really exciting and unique about that is that in the past, Muslims students have wanted to be involved,” Yousuf said, “but they were reluctant because not everyone feels comfortable dancing in a mixed environment, because of the modesty issues that come with being a Muslim.”
She emphasized that McSA is above all else a cultural group.
“We don’t consider ourselves a religious group, rather we consider ourselves a cultural group,” she said. “We don’t want to ever proselytize or impose people with values that we uphold in Islam, but at the same time we want to create an environment of awareness and understanding of those differences and similarities that Islam has with other lifestyles, because we really do believe it’s a lifestyle.”
For Diagne, McSA has also taught him a lot.
“It brings to me a lot of cultural diversity, because a lot of people in McSA are Middle Eastern,” he said. “I was growing up in Senegal, and it’s 95 percent Muslim, but it’s black Africa, we have a lot of Sufi orders that are different. They have different cultural views about Islam than I do, and so it’s really interesting to [interact] with them.”
During the Ramadan dinner, he said, men and women sat at different tables, something he and his family didn’t do in Senegal.
McSA’s 150 to 200 members come from very different backgrounds, whether it be Africa, the Middle East or Southeast Asia. Yousuf said that although Sunni and Shiites Muslims in Middle Eastern countries tend to be in conflict, those disputes matter less here.
“There are a lot of differences,” she said, “but because we try to celebrate more of the culture rather than religion, it hasn’t really gotten in the way yet.”
Diagne concurred, saying discussions don’t usually revolve around religion itself, but rather how “being Muslim is going to influence your academics, education, and your social interactions.”