STUDENTS IN ACTION: THE MUSLIM STUDENTS ASSOCIATION (MSA) OF SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY
Of Syracuse University’s 325 recognized student organizations, the Muslim Students Association (MSA) stands out as exceptionally active. “We have tried to make the college experience as comfortable as possible for all our members, regardless of one’s religious beliefs,” states Azhar Ali, MSA’s president. MSA’s mission is to sup- port Muslims on campus as well as educate the community about Islam. Currently MSA has about forty active members, the majority of whom are Muslims raised in the U.S. Other members include international students, graduate students, and those interested in this faith community.
MSAs exist at most major universities across the country. SU’s chapter appears to have been launched after the first Muslim Chaplain was established in Hendrick’s Chapel in the 1990s. The association’s executive team includes Azhar Ali (President, an Exercise Science major), Ismail Pathan (VP, a Finance and Accounting ma- jor), Haseeba Syed (Secretary, Chemical Engineering masters student), and Moeed Chohan (Treasurer, a Biology major).
MSA is one the most active student organizations on campus. For the Spring 2011 semester alone, its members organized four major events, budgeted by the Student Association, Graduate Student Organization, and the Co-Curricular Fund.
MSA’s sixth annual Fast-a-Thon, held in January, is a staple event for every MSA across the nation. The purpose of the event is to invite non-Muslims to fast with MSA students. Fasters must refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset, a Muslim tradition during Ramadan. At the same time, MSA solicited donations for the Syracuse Rescue Mission, a local non-profit that serves meals to families in need. Ali states, “While this is a philanthropic event, we’re also educating people about Muslims. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, so this is the essence of what our religion embodies.” This spring, MSA raised $2,400, bringing the six-year total to over $10,000. MSA won the award for Most Outstanding Philanthropy Programming for a Student Organization at SU for the second consecutive year at the “44 Stars of Excellence Gala & Celebration,” sponsored by Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.
In February 2011, MSA hosted the event “Islam and the African American Experience” featuring a pre- sentation by Vaheer Ali of Columbia University, who gave a slideshow about how Islam has been rooted in African American culture and American culture generally since the nation’s founding. Some 35% of Muslims in the U.S. are African Americans, indicating the level of diversity that this religious community represents.
In April, MSA hosted a theatrical performance called “Hijabi Monologue,” a Muslim spin-off of The Vagina Monologues. The all-female theater group, based in New York City, offers performances to college cam- puses. The actresses address misconceptions about women in America who wear the headscarf. The event was followed by a Q&A session.
April also included the lecture “Muslims in America – keeping Faith Alive,” presented by Khalid Latif, Executive Director of the Islamic Center at New York University (NYU) and Chaplain for the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Latif spoke about how recent events, such as the proposed Islamic Center at Ground Zero, have fed strong misconceptions of Muslims. The event served to emphasize that people must unite, regardless of their faith, in order to rewrite the narrative about Muslims in America.
MSA had also planned the event “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” a book presentation by the late Dr. William Manning Marable (Columbia University). Unfortunately, the guest speaker unexpectedly passed away on April 1st due to lung failure. Dr. Marable’s book – which took him 20 years to write – was published on April 4th, and represents a landmark for understanding this memorable but seldom understood Muslim American icon.
For more information on MSA at SU, visit their website at http://syr.orgsync.com/org/msaatsyracuse/home.