By Erica Quinones
The new interest group, the Muslim Student Association (MSA), seeks to both strengthen the Muslim community and weaken ignorance on campus.
MSA had its first interest meeting on Monday, Feb. 3. The absence of an MSA was conspicuous, according to the President of MSA, sophomore Mariama Thiam.
“When I was doing my college search in general, one thing that was really important to me was whether or not a school had an MSA,” Thiam said. “I came [to Washington College] even though it did not have an MSA with the intent to start one, because as I learned coming here, there were students here who were Muslim who were concerned there was not an MSA.”
The communal aspect of an MSA is what attracted another member of the executive board, Events Manager sophomore Areej Khan.
Khan, who attended high school around a half hour from Chestertown, said it was hard being Muslim in middle and high school because of the school’s demographics as well as discrimination from other students. So, the prospect of having other Muslims to help her “grow as a Muslim” drew her to want an MSA.
“It sets a standard for people to want to come together and be a part of something. I am finding out that there are a lot of Muslim students on campus, but we do not know of them because they do not have a place to come together,” Thiam said.
They also hope the group becomes a way to advocate for Muslim students on campus, be it by requesting shuttles to a nearby mosque for Friday prayer, pushing for available halal food on campus, or having a voice if something “unfavorable” towards Muslim students happens on campus, according to Thiam, Khan, and Treasurer of MSA sophomore Ala Hussen.
However, creating a community on campus is not its only goal. The executive members are clear that MSA is not only for Muslim students.
“We do not want people to feel that it is just strictly for the Muslim students; everyone is welcome,” Khan said. “In the Muslim community, it is very diverse…so we do not exclude people out of the group.”
They hope to help alleviate ignorance surrounding Islam and answer questions about the faith through initiatives like question and answer periods, as well as Hijab Day — when “girls try on the hijab to see how it is to actually wear it,” according to Hussen.
“We want to be a resource for other people to ask questions. It is true and sad to say, but Islam is a very misunderstood and misrepresented religion; we are going to be able to be the voice for the voiceless,” Thiam said. “There is nothing wrong with asking questions as long as they are respectful, and in search of dispelling ignorance and not trying to create it.”
Other prospective events will broaden the educational focus to include culture.
Khan said they want to host Iftar dinners, the evening meal with which Muslims open their daily fast during the month of Ramadan — beginning in late April this year.
“[Iftar dinners would] have people come see what it is like and the sense of community when we open our fast, how it feels, what we eat, things that are not just part of our religion but a part of our culture,” Khan said.
Like other interest groups, they face the initial challenge of attracting consistent members. However, they are hopeful that students will come through future events and they are planning a fundraising bake sale around mid-February or early March.
While they are just beginning to grow, they look forward to creating a more knowledgeable WC community.
“We are all humans; Muslims are not aliens. We should all feel equal to each other, and we should learn from each other,” Hussen said.