Towards the end of Fall semester 2012, my friend Omar and I were talking about how excited he and I were that he was going to be going to the same school I was. Omar and I had been friends for our entire lives (we have baby pictures together), but Omar always lived on the other side of town. I only got to see him every few months. Now Omar was going to my university. We were driving around campus and I was showing him around (as he was moving to my side of town) when he revealed to me that he was joining a fraternity that goes by the name of Fiji.
My initial reaction was how any other Muslim would react: “Omar, fraternities aren't for Muslims. Drinking, partying… that stuff doesn't exactly fit with the lifestyle of practicing Muslims”. Omar responded with other benefits of a fraternity – an easy way to make friends and meet new people (useful to Omar since he was coming in from far away) as well as business connections and a network that could help him on later on in life. I had no answer to that. We then joked about an alternative… A Muslim fraternity… What would that be like? What would we call it? Alif Laam Meem?
Then the idea was born.
After thinking about it deeply over the next few months, I decided that Muslims on campus needed a Muslim fraternity. After bringing the idea to my friend and mentor Faiez Usman, he had brought up to me that the co-Founder, Araf Hossain, had thought of a similar idea. Araf and I got together, and we crafted a shura and appointed an Ameer. From that shura, we compiled a list of names of people whom we thought would be most dedicated to building this colossal project. After finally compiling a list, we sent out formal invitations on February 12th, 2013.
Shortly after, we had our initiation. We initiated 17 members to the founding class of Alif Laam Meem. At our Initiation were visitors Ustadh Ubaydullah Evans, a graduate from Azhar and teacher for 'ālim, as well as Mohamed Geraldez, owner of Jaan J neckties. Their beautiful words and duas of encouragement empowered us to take the first step on this long journey. We individually knighted our members with their red kufis, a symbol of the fraternity. Our first dues were paid at Initiation. As another symbol to the ultimate purpose of the fraternity, all members were required to donate $100 to sadaqah (charity). The goal was to socially build men who would sacrifice themselves for others.
After completing our first few events and slowly bonding, we got word of a Men's Domestic Violence Rally that was taking place in Dallas. We thought it would be a good idea to show up and not only represent Alif Laam Meem on this issue as Muslim men but also as human beings as this is a human issue that affects our local and greater community. We suited up in business attire, made signs, and wore our kufis to the rally. Our presence was very strong. We were asked by many for pictures and we even received a shout out on the stage from Mayor Rawlings, the mayor of Dallas. Many of the media cameras were on us and we were interviewed by the Dallas Morning News. We realized that we may be making an entrance to the Dallas community earlier than expected.
It turns out that we were not mentioned in local news or in the newspaper. It'd didn't affect us too much – our intentions were there to support a cause and we did just that. However, after uploading a picture of us holding the signs online, something amazing happened. The picture was shared thousands and thousands of times across multiple media networks, including Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter. We were soon being interviewed by ABC News, Upworthy, and even a student news paper called York Vision.
We realized that we would have to plan around expanding much earlier than expected. We drafted an application, and after some time, learned that Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania, University of California, San Francisco, and University of Central Florida would be in the process of making Alif Laam Meem a nationwide phenomenon.
The UTD Chapter of ALM wanted to document our experiences as well as a create a skit-based show. Hence, Kufi Krew was born and is an ongoing project for the chapter.
After Ramadan, we prepared for inducting our next class at UTD. We will induct a new class every semester inshā'Allāh.
An unexpected wave exposure just recently hit ALM again after the article on York Vision got posted on The Independent. Now ALM has been hosted on Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, New York Daily News, as well as others.
And here we are.
So why a Muslim fraternity?
So many Muslims on campus feel that either they have to compromise their social life to live an upright Muslim lifestyle or compromise an upright Muslim lifestyle to have a social life. Alif Laam Meem is an institutional solution to that problem. Alif Laam Meem is a social fraternity with a high emphasis on community work. We have a lot of fun. And that fun, that joy, that love fuels us to bond together, build ourselves, and serve our communities. We can't keep making Islam all about halaqas and events and lectures for the younger Muslims in our country.
The reality is – these young people can be spending their lives doing much more fun and exciting things on a college campus than attend a halaqa. It's in our social experiences that we each learn to understand one another, no matter how practicing members are. Some members are struggling to pray 5 times a day. Others regularly pray Fajr at the masjid. But what's common between us is that we all want to come closer to Allāh and living up to the standard that RasulAllah set, and we're going to help each other get there. We are truly experiencing akhuwwa, or “fraternity”, and in it is much benefit. For some of our members, it is saving their faith. We haven't done much to make this dynamic work the way it does. Brotherhood is a natural blessing Allāh has bestowed upon those who love Him, as it says in the Qur'an “إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ”
or “The believers are but brothers.” We've only institutionalized it.
Furthermore, as a fraternity, our membership doesn't end when college ends. It's a lifetime membership, a lifetime network, that will benefit each of the members in the future. As members become successful and useful contributors to society inshā'Allāh, they will be able to collaborate and contact each other for projects, jobs, or other needs.
What about the MSA?
So I believe that the way we've run Muslim college campuses so far has been a bit problematic. And for us to have not been paying attention to this very closely is also quite problematic, as development during college years is essential. From my experiences with the MSA, the MSA's job is not only vaguely defined but also massive. Serve the Muslims. With the growing number of Muslims on campus around the country, that's quite the task!
Also does this sound familiar at all? I see the MSA playing the current overburdened role of our typical modern day imām of a masjid in America. Unfortunately, imams today are expected to do everything for the community: lead prayers and rituals, teach classes, hold youth programs, counsel the community, participate in interfaith, and more. Similarly the MSA, whose leadership is made up of 5-7 board members that are full-time college students, are expected to cater to brothers, sisters, converts, educational needs, roommate needs, volunteering, interfaith, iftars, fast-a-thons, jumuahs- you name it. What ends up happening is that our MSAs become very people based: MSAs with strong leaders dedicate their lives to building the best MSA they can while MSAs with weak leaders, no experience in Islamic work, or who (to keep it real) are simply interested in leadership for a resume, simply fall flat. How can we allow countless MSAs around the country fail to fulfill the needs of Muslims around the country?
ALM's entrance into the college Muslim scene will not only serve brothers, members and non-members, better but will also better define the role of the MSA. Thus, the MSA's job is to cater to the general needs of the Muslims, especially things like Jummuah and Islam Awareness Week. One of ALM's purposes is to not only tap into the potential of Muslim brothers who are willing to put out the work, but also to collaborate and support regular open events with MSA for brothers.
Top 2 challenges you had to overcome in establishing it?
Formalities and paperwork have been the biggest issue. It's not fun getting all of the ideas in your head and in the heads of your colleagues into perfect formal writing. Alhamdullilah, we had no issue finding a school adviser. Our adviser is actually a non-Muslim by the name of Dr. McClain Watson who has been extremely helpful and supportive of the fraternity as well as inquisitive of our Muslim practices and traditions.
Non-profit management is quite the task, and it's definitely a learning experience. Alhamdullilah we are getting along fine with regards to finances, legal issues, and things of the like but are always open to suggestions or assistance if anyone wants to help out.
What criticisms have you gotten from other Muslims at your university?
I truly cannot think of any criticisms brought up to us from Muslims at the university. I do, however, remember an uncle walking past us and quietly asking his co-uncle what sect of Islam we were a part of because of our red kufis. We were also told that we're only allowed to wear white kufis. So there's that. The local community has been very supportive, alhamdullilah.
What are some things that your chapter members have done in their local communities?
We've done quite a few volunteer events, including helping the homeless and raising money for refugees in Dallas. We've held a College Day event for young Muslims entering college in order to introduce them to good studying habits and a healthy college Muslim lifestyle. We also hosted a very successful iftar for converts during Ramadan.
What is your response to criticisms levied?
With all due respect, the fact that this Tumblr post is the only criticism one can find on the fraternity is a testament to how well things have been going for us, Alhamdullilah. Aside from the misquotations and discussions taken out of context, the Tumblr post makes blatant illogical and contradicting conclusions (i.e. that a fraternity is discriminatory and sexist… because it only allows men. Would a sorority be sexist and discriminatory as well?).
Furthermore, this Tumblr post was written less than two months after our establishment date and makes sweeping generalizations about our organization and its policies with no basis or evidence. It also ignores the rich history and values of service fraternities as well as other minority fraternities, such as Black and Jewish fraternities, which are much more similar to Alif Laam Meem, and groups all fraternities as “white” and “elitist”, showing a lack of understanding of the historical role of fraternities. Finally, the Tumblr post openly condemns opinions held by our almost all of our prominent mainstream scholars, such as Hamza Yusuf, Dr. Sherman Jackson, and Dr. Tariq Ramadan, as “narrow religious ideology”. Let's just say the Tumblr post simply does not reflect an understanding of our fraternity the history of fraternities in this country, or a balanced discourse on Islamic values and keep it at that.
The positive support we've received far outshines any of the blind negativity or the hidden agendas, and we are very grateful for that.
Now that its been a few months since the famous domestic violence photo made its rounds on the internet, what's been the most lasting effect?
Alhamdullilah, that blessing from Allāh gave us the opportunity to get the word out about Alif Laam Meem and spread chapters all around the country. With four chapters currently incubating and many more applying through our website, many are beginning to understand the need for Alif Laam Meem, and the news of Alif Laam Meem around the world has catalyzed that. All praise and thanks are due to Allāh. We really cannot express how humbling, maturing, and blessed this experience has been.
Publicity can be a blessing and a curse. What have you personally and other chapter members struggled with given the recent media attention? What are the biggest positives and biggest challenges to come out of it?
Absolutely. We've all had our struggle of keeping our intentions and focus in check. If we forget that what we are doing is to ultimately produce well-mannered and well-rounded gentlemen to serve God, then all of our efforts are a waste. The hype has served its purpose. Allāh has given us the opportunity to clarify His religion to people. It has let people know that we exist and has given people a chance to take part in this legacy. Now, it's time to pull ourselves by our bootstraps and keep on working. If we get too entrenched in it too much, it becomes nothing but a distraction. It's quite ironic – something that people may perceive as a measure of success can very easily be the reason for your downfall.
None of this hype as defined our success. Allāh defines our success, and we are not guaranteed acceptance. The lady who cleaned the mosque was not the president of any organization nor did she guide thousands of people to Islam. Nonetheless, the Messenger SAWS personally prayed over her grave, and having a messenger of God pray over you is not something to take lightly. Each member of the fraternity has played a role in what it's become. Each person from around the world who has given us their support and prayers have made Alif Laam Meem what it is. We only pray that Allāh accepts from all of us and brings us closer to embodying his book that contains Alif Laam Meem.
I truly believe that if you work hard and have the right intention, Allāh will pave the path for you. I'm so grateful to have learned this lesson at this point in life, and I'm excited to see what else the brothers and I will learn in the coming years.
Can you please stop wearing red hats?
First of all, they're more of a burgundy, as in Ron Burgundy, whom we are completely open to offering honorary membership to. Secondly, sometimes I'm afraid to take off the hat because people like Omar Usman will put super super glue on the inside of it so that it sticks to my head like that one scene in Matilda.
Video courtesy of RadTalks.[Editor's Note] Duas from the Muslimmatters family for the ALM brothers in their endeavours for the sake of Allāh .