Campus-based Muslim clubs are essential, for their members represent Islam more through actions than words
By Yasmeen Qadri
An Orlando, Fla., campus has an outreach program to address Islamophobia.
Muslim Ambassadors for Peace (MAP; originally known as MSA), a student club on Valencia College’s East Campus, has been instrumental in dispelling the stereotype that Islam was spread through the sword by actively engaging the larger community through dialogue, civic engagement and co-curricular collaborations. Its goal is to promote peace and make a difference.
Islam has long been presented to the West as a violent religion, and the Prophet’s (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) life is related to several battles. American campuses are the appropriate forum for addressing this and other misconceptions.
As a college professor, I believe in empowering students. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) laid part of the foundation of North America’s Muslim communities during the 1950s, when immigrant Muslim students arrived to further their education. I witnessed this when my family members Syed Mujeeb Qadri and Abdul Mateen Chida arrived as students and became actively involved with other students.
Along with Ahmed Sakr, Ahmad Totonji, Jamal Badawi, Abdalla Idris Ali, Ahmed ElKadi and others, they began to establish mosques, Islamic libraries and schools, halal food stores, as well as marriage and funeral services.
How can today’s youth continue to strengthen Islam’s future here? College campuses provide fertile ground for maintaining one’s identity. Many minority groups, including the LGBTQ community, are aggressively pushing their agenda on the larger community. The lack of faith-based student clubs on many campuses should encourage MSAs and other Islamic groups to become more active and recognized. At Valencia College, MAP continues to blossom among its 40+ counterparts.
All student clubs and organizations pass through the following developmental stages.
Survival. In this initial stage, students launch a few outreach events, distribute free Qurans and invite local imams to speak on Islam’s five pillars. Membership is usually extremely low, and the club isn’t very visible. In most universities, MSAs may be seen as working in isolation and limited to a small group of primarily international Muslim students.
In 2007, for the first time Orlando hosted the MSA National East Zone Conference at Valencia College, an event that attracted 600+ college and university students. This event was a kickoff for the MSA’s future success and earned it the Student Development Best Club of the Year award. The club’s continued growth reached its funding climax when it received $14,000 — an enormous success for such a small club!
But MSA’s challenges also multiplied as its name became popular. Internal and external opposition forces rose to the surface, and people openly resisted speakers and event participation. Fortunately, the Student Development and a couple of non-Muslim faculty supported MSA. Patience through trials has been the key to a club’s success. The intention to serve God and support Muslim youth will lead to a new dawn!
Renewal. In 2015, the director of Student Development’s recommended that MSA revise its constitution to allow all students to join. Seeing the club’s enormous potential, they encouraged it to continue promoting diversity on campus. As one of the pioneers of the Peace and Justice Institute (PJI) and a member of its advisory board, I discussed various ideas with MSA. We eventually decided to rename it “Muslim Ambassadors for Peace” (MAP). Working closely with PJI, MAP soon became active in peace events and community service. The revised constitution states that MAP is a nonpolitical organization/club whose fundamental purpose is to promote peace, diversity and harmony on campus and in the community. MAP’s main objective is to help fulfill the Student Development’s vision to “transform lives, strengthen the community and inspire individuals to excellence.”
Although faith was an integral part of the constitution, it expanded into all aspects of college life. An addendum stated that MAP will encourage its members to 1) promote the ideals of faith, service, peace and leadership; 2) create awareness of Islam through education and interaction to combat anti-Muslim racism, prejudice and stereotypes against Muslims; 3) promote mutual respect and appreciation among the Muslim community’s diverse cultures, ethnicities and languages as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims; 4) collaborate with other sister clubs to help develop a healthy and democratic campus and community; and 5) foster a sense of community that values and contributes as productive local/global citizens and peace ambassadors to the college campus, larger community and society at large.
Success. MAP, now one of the most recognized and respected campus clubs, has received several awards, like the Most Active Club, Outstanding Advisor of the Year, Outstanding Program of the Year and co-curricular awards. The executive board consists of seven to nine members. The president and vice president are preferred to be Muslim, and the remaining positions are open to other faiths.
The MAP Experience
A few initiatives have attracted a lot of attention and understanding of Islam and Muslims. These have helped lessen Islamophobia, stereotypes and prejudices at the students and faculty levels, as well as prepare officers with leadership skills, public speaking, conflict resolution, stress management, and time management. The factors that contributed to the success of MAP club are listed below:
• Role of an Advisor. An advisor’s role is crucial to a club’s success and enhancement. At the university level, most advisors aren’t expected to be actively involved with all activities or attend all meetings. But it’s important to do so and provide support, as well as empower, guide and mentor students, all the while reminding them that they’re Islam’s ambassadors and thus must show exemplary character and actions. Advisors must advise with a vision, mission and innovation, have social networking skills and work with other organizations and diverse individuals to bring the club into the mainstream.
• Member and Officer Benefits. Why should one get involved with a campus club? Most serious students don’t want to waste time in clubs or extracurricular activities. Giving them certificates of participation and recommendation letters can be encouraging, and enabling them to learn about building bridges of cross-cultural and interfaith understanding, leadership training, resume building, public speaking, scholarship opportunities, awards and recognitions will go a long way to having a successful career. MAP helps unite all Muslim students, regardless of ethnicity and language, and acts like a magnet for international students by making them feel at home. And, God gives guidance (49:13).
• Co-curricular Activities. MAP is engaged in campus goals and initiatives. The MAP advisor, along with student leaders, presented at the collegewide Global Education Week, Peace Education Week and International Education Week. War and the refugee crisis, oppression and genocide against Muslims, among other similar topics were discussed. The Peace Education Week included strategies for making peace locally and globally. Every discipline has room to discuss Islamic topics, whether it is the constitution, government, science or arts.
• The 3 C’s (Crucial Conversations on Chai). Indian Chai or International Chai is a popular drink that can be served with samosa or any finger food. MAP organizes monthly conversations around crucial topics — LGBTQ, marriage and four wives, Jesus in Islam, dress code, dating, terrorism and others — that can push Muslims out of their comfort zone. These are arranged Q&A sessions with an imam or scholar.
• Internationalizing the Curriculum: Valencia College offers several courses that give special credit to international curriculum. For example, a teacher’s training course offers a segment on, for example, “refugees are welcome in my classroom.” This topic covers children from Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Myanmar, Yemen and other Muslim lands, thus bringing awareness to the plight of Muslims around the globe. Think globally and act locally so students become connected to their local community and as well empathize with the global Muslim community.
• Islam Awareness Speaker Series. Famous speakers like Dr. Jamal Badawi, Imam Siraj Wahaj, Yasser Qadhi, Altaf Husain, Ustadh Nauman Ali Khan and Hafiz Wissam Sharief were invited to speak on “Muslim Americans Promoting Peace,” “Peace NOT Prejudice,” “Building an Inclusive Community,” “Black Muslims and Their Contributions” and other topics.
• Partner with College-wide Programs. The Peace and Justice Institute (PJI) is very instrumental in promoting peace and provides training in conflict resolution, peace practices and cultural diversity both on campus and in the community. MAP partners with PJI in its annual interfaith breakfasts, carnivals at the Coalition for the Homeless, peace retreats and service-learning activities. Of exceptional value is the 13 Principles of How We Treat Each Other, which is practiced in all aspects of life to promote peace in the family, workplace and community (https://valenciacollege.edu/students/peace-justice-institute/).
Campus Muslim clubs can continue to be instrumental in representing Islam more through action than words. They can be a strong voice for college and university Muslim students, like many other minority groups who are pushing their agendas under the name of diversity, equity and inclusion. Muslim students must not shy away from representing Islam with integrity and being totally clear on its principles when dealing with the mainstream culture. Advisors must take a lead in supporting Muslim students and become their mentors and role models, thereby empowering them to stand up for their rights, assume their responsibilities and give back to the community.
Colleges and universities can support Muslim youth’s voices even more than within their own masjids or Islamic institutions. MSAs should continue to be the beacon of change working with all students. Many of the first-generation Muslim students had intended to go home. But today there is a paradigm shift — no one is going back! We are all Americans and will live here for generations.
MSAs should strive to improve this society and not be isolated, and Muslim students must work together regardless of their faith, culture, language and so on. As Jimi Hendrix said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace” .
Dr. Yasmeen Qadri, a tenured professor in the Teacher Education Program at Valencia College, Orlando, Fla., is the advisor of Muslim Ambassadors for Peace Student Club. She is also a member of the Peace and Justice Institute’s advisory board.