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The Role of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) in Society

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What is the purpose of a Muslim student organization in the United States?

Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick visited my university in order to discuss the role that Muslim student organizations (MSAs) have in the West, specifically in  the United States. Having observed and worked with communities from all over the world, Shaykh Quick shared insight regarding two major purposes of any Muslim student group – providing a space for Muslim students on campus and serving the larger community through dawah activities. Citing a major study, he identified the top 10 problems that youth face in most societies and how Muslim students can begin to address those issues.  He challenged established notions that many have regarding dawah work and encouraged us to find more creative ways to address social issues.  Below is a summary of his talk.

We live in a young people’s world.  48% of the people in the world are 24 or younger. This is important to keep in mind as Muslim students and Muslim youth.

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There are two basic roles of an MSA, the main role being survival for its own members and a secondary role being providing dawah services to the community at large.

The most important and main role for the MSA is to promote the survival of the Muslim college student.

It is no hidden fact that the social scene in college is a major fitna for all Muslim college students.  Especially with a new found sense of independence and lack of supervision, a Muslim college student’s social life can easily go in the wrong direction.  The MSA is a place of sanctuary for Muslim students, especially on a social level.

The MSA should serve as a way for Muslim students to be able to fulfill their mandatory religious obligations, as well as grow spiritually.  Facilitating daily prayers for Muslim college students is one of the most important roles that an MSA can play.

The MSA also acts as an advocacy group for all Muslim college students on campus, effectively addressing and solving issues within the university that pertain to student life like academic issues in the classroom, campus wide problems, etc.

Since the main role that an MSA should play is to help Muslim college students survive the college environment, this should always be the goal that the MSA maintains at the highest  priority in all of its activities.   Any work or projects that the MSA pursues should be done in a way which fits with this primary goal.

The secondary role of an MSA is to give dawah.

An important question we must ask ourselves is, what does giving dawah mean? According to scholars, giving dawah can mean : encouraging people to goodness (khayr) and guidance (huda),  calling them towards good and preventing them from that which is evil in order for people to succeed and attain happiness in this life and in the next.

Based off of this definition, we now need to ask the question, what are the problems that humanity is facing today?

Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick cited a study that identifies 5 crises points, mostly for young people, and 10 areas of solutions to the points.

The 5 crises points are:

  1. Violence.  We are exposed to more violence now than ever before.
  2. Erosion of Traditional Values.  For all people, globalization has diluted traditional and cultural values to a dangerous level.  Specifically for Muslims, we are facing many trials about our religion and faith, especially concerning how to practice in a modern context.
  3. Poverty.  There is a small elite which controls most of the wealth in the world.
  4. Disease.  Diseases and epidemics threaten our health and lives.
  5. Drugs. There is a problematic categorization of drugs into “soft” drugs and “hard” drgus, along with the international and global pervasion of drug usage.

There are 10 priority areas which Muslim youth can explore with dawah efforts in order to find solutions to address the 5 crises points.  He asked us to really think outside of the box and come up with creative ways to give dawah in areas that it is needed  most.  The areas bolded are ones in which Shaykh Quick thought that MSA’s are most equipped to work in.

The 10 priority areas are:

  1. EDUCATION. Use the education you have received in order to give back and educate others in the community.  Set up a tutoring and mentoring program in a community that needs it.
  2. EMPLOYMENT.
  3. HUNGER & POVERTY.  Utilize Islamic relief groups in order to be more efficient and make a bigger impact.
  4. HEALTH ISSUES.
  5. ENVIRONMENT.
  6. DRUG ABUSE. Put the many Muslim medical students to work in order to address issues of drug abuse in the community.
  7. JUVENILE DELINQUENCY.
  8. LEISURE TIME ACTIVITIES. Organize activities for Muslim youth in the community.
  9. ACTIVITIES FOR GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN. Organize activities specifically for girls and young women, give them a space where they can feel comfortable and have fun.
  10. CIVIC ENGAGEMENT.  Have full and effective involvement in the decision making of your government.

Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick  left us with a very profound quote in order to guide  our understanding of how to balance our American culture and Islam.

Islam is a filter and culture is water.  Filter your culture through Islam, and you’ll end up with an Islamic way of life.

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Meena is a high school English teacher, DIY enthusiast, wife, and new mom. She loves working with Muslim youth and is interested in literature, arts, and culture. She studied Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California, Irvine, briefly dabbled in Classical Arabic studies in the US, and has a Master’s in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Dreamlife

    May 31, 2011 at 1:42 AM

    It’s also important for MSA members to continue the work AFTER graduation. So often – work, marriage, kids, etc all take over and the good work becomes a thing of the past. While you’re young and have time, it’s important to make this kind of work a permanent aspect of your life so that as you get older – and responsibilities grow / free time shortens – you still have the drive to be involved in this work; even if it’s to a lesser degree.

    • Cartoon M

      May 31, 2011 at 6:16 PM

      You make an amazing point dreamlife. MSA should be something that trains you for doing Islamic work in the future, rather than being the beginning and end of it.

  2. Haleh

    May 31, 2011 at 7:46 AM

    Islam is a filter and culture is water. Filter your culture through Islam, and you’ll end up with an Islamic way of life. What a beautiful quote masha’Allah to live by!

    MSA changed my life at University of Houston! It was the first time in my life to have practicing, Muslim friends. That in itself had a big impact on me. The jumma’ prayers, conferences, Q& A sessions, iftars (with ultra-spicy food) all started influencing me when I was very impressionable. I remember feeling a sense of belonging and becoming more in touch with my Islamic identity. Soon after becoming a part of the MSA I put on the hijab which acted as a catalyst towards gaining Islamic knowledge.

    I will never forget the amazing people I met at the MSA who were so much more knowledgeable and practicing, yet they were patient and encouraging. Being accepting and non-judgemental is the only way to attract both Muslims and non-Muslims to the deen. I encourage everyone in college to become a part of the MSA. Not only did I become more religious I also met my husband there and so did dozens of my friends :)

    Jazakillah khair for bringing peoples’ attention to this very essential organization.

    Haleh

  3. Amad

    May 31, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    Like Sr. Haleh above (we went to the same University of Houston), MSA is most dear to my heart… one of the best choices I ever made in my life was to get involved…

    Not only did it straighten me up a bit, I am still married to the MSA sister-in-Islam 15 yrs going :) So, yeah it has personal benefits too :)

    • Mezba (Read with Meaning)

      June 1, 2011 at 2:05 PM

      We used to call MSA the Matrimonial Students Association! It’s pretty statistically high the number of ‘brothers’ who got married to ‘sisters’ at our MSA.

      • Amad

        June 2, 2011 at 4:25 AM

        I think thats a great way to get married.

      • Humble Muslim

        June 2, 2011 at 12:26 PM

        Salam

        Yeah, that’s what I keep telling my soon-to-start-college daughter. And then my wife gets angry at me for giving her the impression that her knight in shining armor is just round the corner… :-)

    • h

      June 4, 2011 at 11:10 AM

      a lot of people say this..but then again even nonmuslims who go to the same college also end up getting married

      • Meena

        June 4, 2011 at 3:21 PM

        I don’t know, you guys think that the MSA should be a place for people to get married…..? Can’t that create awkward tension if everyone is always trying to find the person they’re trying to marry or couldn’t it affect someone’s intentions about doing work for the MSA?

        At my school there are only a few couples that have come out of the MSU. Everyone knows (and has accepted) that people just don’t get married through our MSU. And I kind of like it that way.

        • A Sister's Thoughts

          June 10, 2011 at 2:45 AM

          I agree. I think the MSA at my school is more like FAMILY. It would be VERY weird if a brother and sister from our MSA got married. Really weird actually.

          But then again, it is a great way of getting married as long as people don’t come to MSA events looking to get hitched or something. That would be odd.

          • MW_M

            June 10, 2011 at 7:30 AM

            It’s thinking like that which leads to serious problems. If they’re not related to you by blood directly, (i.e. not your mahram), they’re NOT like family. Maybe some really naive sister out there thinks otherwise, but trust me, no Muslim male and female who are not mahram are like family.

  4. Cari Crabtree

    May 31, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    Although I have been interested in Islam for over a year, only after seeking out friends from the Muslim Students’ Association did I have the courage and support to start wearing a hijab and truly consider converting to Islam. Their help is guiding me in my path to become Muslim. My experience attending prayer and becoming part of a wonderful community has been very good for me and the direction of my life. The MSAs on campus are very important for Muslims and non-Muslims in America to seek community and refuge in a place where Muslims are a disliked minority.

    • Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

      May 31, 2011 at 4:36 PM

      Great comment Cari Crabtree! I accepted Islam while I was attending school and the MSA, which was just starting at my school at that time was such a positive source of friendships that have have continued to this day.

      I also currently work as a Muslim chaplain and am happy to see that MSAs continue to be a resource for many many non-Muslims as well as Muslim students.

  5. MK

    May 31, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    I love the concept of MSA, the fact that it is a recognized effort, receiving a budget and offices on my campus like other or even more than other associations. However, in the long run this has not proven useful. The only benefit I currently receive by having an MSA at my university is prayer rooms. (Not that that should be devalued, of course any university student would know this is very valuable). The problem I have with the MSA personally is the amount of gender mixing they encourage. Not just small talk made while getting ready for an event, but lets-take-this-class-together and attend that class together, and sit next to each other in that class. I feel like there is no regard given to segregation anymore and this made me feel very uncomfortable and has resulted in my avoidance of MSA hosted events such as fundraisers, Islam awareness week, qiyyams. Additionally, the character of many of the members and organizers associated with the MSA are really nothing like they should be (i.e gossipy, favouritism, cat-fighting, alienation of others). I know the actions of a few should not reflect on the MSA as a whole but it is hard to not have this happen when these are the people who you have to deal with in order to be involved or “in” with the MSA. Which highlights another point the “clique-ish” nature of the association as well. All of this is very problematic and discouraging subhanAllah. I pray that it is not the same for future generations bi ithnillah.

    • MW_M

      May 31, 2011 at 9:18 PM

      the character of many of the members and organizers associated with the MSA are really nothing like they should be (i.e gossipy, favouritism, cat-fighting, alienation of others).

      Those aren’t the actions of a few akhi, every MSA I’ve been involved in has unfortunately had these characteristics in the leaders. Especially (and please don’t jump down my throat, it’s just an observation from my own experiences) amongst the “religious” sisters.

      • ahsun

        June 4, 2011 at 1:11 PM

        i hope you don’t mind this comment…but islam is a religion meant to help transform people regardless of their background, vices, or bad habits. it’s not realistic to think that this transformation will occur to the muslim BEFORE he/she enters the masjid or even while they are starting to attend events more regularly. we shouldn’t expect our MSAs or communities to be full of perfect robot muslims, but rather, if we have been blessed with good insight, we should show patience and GENTLY facilitate the growth of character of our brothers/sisters. you never know who will be next the Omar.

  6. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    May 31, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    May Allah (swt) reward our Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick for these thoughts and sister Meena for sharing them with us here. I think the community as a whole has to invest a lot more time and energy thinking about what we should be doing in terms of serving our college youth and then we need to devote much more resources toward this task. Alhamdulillah I think most of us will reflect on the tremendous benefits that MSA had for us. College is such an important time in terms of forming identity and taking time to ask the big questions. It is also a great time for forming relationships with a great diversity of people and figuring out one’s place in society. We see MSAs often doing a great job with this, and they will always be led by students since this is one of the great benefits, is that they train leaders, but we as a community need to invest more to support them at this time. Other communities invest millions to provide facilities and well trained staff to interact with and support college students, including both religious scholars and other leaders such as Chaplains. Muslims are just beginning to see the emergence of Chaplains, but most of these positions are supported currently by the universities and not necessarily the Musim community. While it is justified that the universities are supporting their students, we as a community should be supporting the students as well.

  7. Sidra

    May 31, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    MSA has been so influential in my college career so far. When i started out, it was my first time away from home and school had started in the middle of the month of Ramadan. As hard as it seemed to be to wake up early,early in the morning at home, it was harder at school because not everyone was fasting at school like they would be at home. MSA did dinners at fast opening time Monday-Friday and on weekends if you were here, they would reach out to you to make sure you were holding up alright.
    Then this year, I had the wonderful opportunity through MSA to meet Muslim students who had come for a study abroad from Egypt. Traditionally, we try to find the Muslim study abroad kids knowing that they are far from home and in an unfamiliar place, so they may need help and we want to reach out. Through MSA we all became like brothers and sisters to each other, Mash’Allah like a second family and Alhamdulillah I feel so blessed to have met the people through MSA that I did.
    I really think MSAs are a good and essential part to helping our iman, even though I know a lot of work needs to go in to everything that MSA does, but at the end of the day it’s not how many lectures or programs the MSA has done to measure success, it’s that we have a place on campus, a group of people that we can relate to and pray with and we can go to our Muslim brothers and sisters from MSA while being away from home to get support. Also, the MSA I am part of has done interfaith things before and not all of our members are Muslim, which can give us good feedback on what is confusing to people to also help the spread of dawah!
    All in all, being in MSA was and still is one of the best things I have done in my life! :)

  8. Shiraz

    May 31, 2011 at 7:10 PM

    It really depends on how your MSA is. Alhamdulillah our MSA was great, strong group of Muslims.

    Just like any other dawah organization, an MSA depends on its people.

  9. MW_M

    May 31, 2011 at 9:29 PM

    Perhaps another article is needed which addresses problems in MSA. For every “good” MSA, there’s at least 20-50 bad ones. Some problems I’ve seen in my own MSA:

    As someone commented earlier, a “cliquish” nature. If you don’t fit with the mold, you’re made to feel uncomfortable.

    Gossip….in my experience, as big a problem with brothers as with sisters.

    Nepotism: don’t even get me started on this. Goes with the whole cliquish thing. If you belong to the inner circle, you’re in regardless of your position in the organization. If not, good luck doing something even if you get into a leadership position.

    Focus on PR, appearance, relation with non-Muslims leading to no emphasis on building Muslims, making them comfortable, building bonds.

    People who can’t take criticism constructively. Leaders who consider any criticism no matter how sincere to be an insult and insinuation that they are bad people.

    Those are just from my own MSA’s, but from my friends, I can safely guess it’s very common. Perhaps someone from an MSA which doesn’t have these problems, or better yet, has overcome them, can write an article addressing these points.

    • Meena

      June 2, 2011 at 3:13 AM

      Jzk for the idea for a follow up article :)
      I will get on that after finals iA, make dua for all of us going thru our exams right now!

      • Mona

        August 6, 2017 at 12:14 PM

        Its been like 6 years lol can someone do a response on how to get rid of the pettiness and the other issues mentioned and make the MSA a place of sanctuary its supposed to be. Especially because I’m sick of MSA members being known as a bunch of hypocrites who are just petty and mean. Because I still believe a lot of the individuals are good but together it’s a very toxic environment. Like the problem is not the sins people commit cause that’s at least something everyone commits and it will not get better until people are in a less judgemental toxic environment. So my question is how do I go about helping facilitate the change.

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