The word jihad does not mean ‘holy war’ as it has been misrepresented in recent times. Its translation is simply ‘struggle,’ and the Muslim students at MSU have entered into a new struggle to redefine the Muslim community as an important and powerful part of America. Their jihad is building strength to bring unity and a greater awareness of Islam to fellow students.
[mosque] Part of this struggle is also political. In 2000, the major Muslim organizations in America gave their official endorsement to George W. Bush. With a voting bloc several million strong, their support went a long way in helping him win in a close election. This year however, relations are strained between Bush and the Islamic community. Their greatest concern comes from the civil rights infractions that have taken place against the community since September 11, 2001. On Thursday October 21 the American Muslim Taskforce, a national political action committee, officially endorsed John Kerry for president.
The endorsement was the product of a continuing dialogue between the Muslim organization and the democratic candidate. However, the Taskforce’s official press release called the endorsement a protest vote against the Bush administration that had done little to reach out to the community and the troubles many Muslims had endured after 9/11. In its statement, the political committee lamented the inaction of Kerry in respect to these issues. “The fact that it was a close-call between endorsing Kerry and a no endorsement speaks volumes as to how far Kerry’s plans fall short for Muslims,” said Bassam Abed, a MSU College of Law J.D. (doctor of law) candidate.
[endorse] Abed’s sentiment is shared by much of the Muslim community both nationally and on campus. The feeling is that neither candidate has really made a commitment to speaking to the Muslim population. For the time being, however, President Bush’s stance on the issues that Muslims hold dear has been less than endearing. A recent survey posted on the MSA website asked what students considered to be the greatest issue for the 2004 election. Nearly 75 percent of the respondents picked the Iraq war above the economy or health care.
All share a concern for the acts of discrimination that have taken place against many Muslims. From female members getting headscarves pulled off, to the frightening attacks on mosques, the feeling is that any discrimination against an individual is against them all. Even students at MSU have not been spared. Some, like Farhan Azeez, human biology junior and MSA member, have been victims of racial profiling. Azeez was pulled off a plane, under the suspicious looks of fellow passengers, simply because of his name. Held for three hours he was finally released without apology. “It seems in a ‘random’ search we’re always the lucky ones,” Azeez said.
Unfortunately for the Muslim community, the events of September 11 skewed the perceptions of their fellow Americans terribly. “Muslims carry a heavy burden they don’t want to carry,” said Michael Perez, a doctorial student of anthropology. “9/11 was the defining moment for Americans in trying to understand us. We want to be expressed by our faith and commitment, not through the cold lens of that one event.”
This commitment to understanding is the main goal of the Muslim Student Association. The MSA provides a community base that incorporates religious commitment with academic study to help students fulfill their obligations to both worlds. Like all students, those of the Muslim faith struggle to balance academics, social life and work into their daily schedules. However, for these students there is the additional obligation to uphold the five pillars of Islam, one of which is the call to prayer five times a day.
The call to prayer is something that many non-Muslims find hard to understand. ‘What else do you do in a day’ is a question familiar to some Muslims on campus. For many this obligation is not felt as a constriction on their time, but rather an opportunity to put their hectic life in perspective. “It’s a beautiful way to organize your day,” said Arfan Qureshi, a psychology graduate student. “It really helps you to see the big picture.”
[lucky] Even with this benign attitude, students sometimes find it hard to set aside time for prayer in a day dominated by class schedules. Some may have to step out of class to fulfill this obligation. Others work the prayers into a window of time, explaining that consistency is more important than strict adherence to a set schedule. To help the faithful, the MSA worked with the local Islamic center on Harrison road to provide a second Friday evening prayer for those who have class conflicts.
Finding time for prayer is not the only challenge to Muslims’ religious commitment on campus. For new students the adjustment to college life has other dangers as well. One of the tenets of Islam is an abstinence of alcohol. This can be a tough promise to keep in the midst of the campus’ party culture. “It can be especially hard for a freshman coming in and rooming blind,” accounting junior Kashif Saleem said. “It’s really important to surround yourself with the right people.”
As the president of MSA, Saleem tries to help his fellow students with these situations by putting together activities that encourage a feeling of community. One event is basketball night every Friday, to give Muslim students an alternative when their other friends might be going out to drink.
A second aspect of the MSA is promoting a greater understanding of the Islamic faith among the rest of the student body. For this reason, the association recently conducted an Islamic Awareness week on campus. Activities included three lectures and an information booth in the International Center. Saleem said a common misconception is that Islam is an eastern religion. “Islam is very compatible with the west,” Saleem said.
[taylor] Though the awareness week did not generate the numbers of participants the group would have liked, the MSA members viewed it as a success. Refusing to define their goal by attendance, the group was pleased with a chance to create a dialogue with fellow students. “You don’t judge success based on numbers,” Azeez said. “Islamic awareness doesn’t end when the week is over; we constantly promote it through our actions.”
Not all Muslims share the same views of their religious obligations. Some choose to stay outside the association because of a difference in interpretation of the scope of Islam in their lives. For these students their personal definition of their connection with Islam may allow for greater flexibility in both the undertaking of prayer and the consumption of alcohol. “I want to be able to wake up one day, and not regret anything that I might have missed out on because of the restrictions of my faith,” computer engineering sophomore Mustafa Zunic said. “I know what Allah expects from me, and I can honestly say I cannot give all of that to him right now. I have my faith that I will never lose, and in return I ask him to give me strength to get through life.”
Muslim students’ struggle will continue as they promote a greater understanding of the Islamic faith, a journey they make in step with the difficult path of higher education. For them, that road leads to the lasting establishment of the Muslim community as a vibrant and vital part of American culture and a recognized voice in our political system.
The Muslim Student Association is on the web at