It was the year 1963 when the first Muslim Student Association (MSA) was founded at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a safe
Decades later, MSAs have doubled in numbers, becoming an important safe haven for Muslim youth and activists to express themselves and their thoughts, Chicago Monitor reported.
“Our MSA serves as an organization that facilitate[s] a community for the Muslim students through social and spiritual events,” says Ummesalmah Abdulbaseer, former MSA President at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
“We’re just a student organization like the many others…[but] we’re also a representative body of all the Muslim students on campus. Thus, we advocate for the needs of 15% of the university. So, in addition to planning events and dinners to ensure people get to meet new people and celebrate their Muslim identity, we try to improve accommodations for Muslim students on campus as well as see what causes in the community we can help advocate for,” he explained.
UIC’s MSA is currently the largest in the country, with more than 1,000 members. It is known for its dedication to activism in the community. The group holds annual events that include ‘Discover Islam Week’.
During this week, a couple of events take place like charity, fundraising, and panel discussions to introduce Islam to new audiences and conquer existing misconceptions, as well as semesterly banquets and dinners to bring together Muslim students on campus and offer a space for them to connect and build relationships.
“So much of the world is hurting and it’s important to recognize that and increase awareness, and do our part to help, whether it’s trying to raise funds, passing out flyers, or posting on social media. It’s our duty as Muslims and as Americans to stay involved and do justice for our communities,” explains Abdulbaseer.
Other MSAs in the US have similar ideals but approach them differently.
The MSA at Illinois Institute of Technology, for example, is smaller than UIC’s but it’s more engaged in promoting student-oriented activism.
Historically, MSAs have spawned their fair share of movements and campaigns.
The year 1982 saw the founding of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an organization that leads interfaith dialogues, coordinates with mosques across the USA, and hosts a yearly convention for American Muslims.
ISNA has since branched off into several subsidiary organizations, each with clearly defined goals to promote activism and community growth.
The MSAs across America strive to make a place for American Muslims to face increasing tension and polarizing ideas. Such effective student groups find and develop the identities of its members within an ever-growing and diverse community.