Muslim students convene at Yale

Muslim students from across the Ivy League gathered at Yale this weekend to network and share spiritual and cultural experiences.

Approximately 130 students participated in the third annual Ivy Muslim Conference, which is co-sponsored by the Chaplain’s Office and the Muslim Students Association. The conference was designed to connect Muslim students with their Ivy League peers, and attendees heard from keynote speaker Ingrid Mattson, attended preprofessional panels and learned about community and campus activism. Though the conference is not yet an official University event, Yale coordinator for Muslim life Omer Bajwa said he hopes it will become a fixture of Yale’s religious programming.

“This is an opportunity for fellow Muslim Ivy students to engage intellectually, socially and spiritually,” Bajwa said. “We want to build a sense of community across different campuses.”

The conference began in spring 2010 after Bajwa, who was the interim Muslim chaplain at Cornell until 2008, decided he wanted to organize an event that would integrate Muslim students from different schools. He worked with fellow Muslim chaplains to make the concept a reality.

Though the first conference was small and did not include all the Ivy League schools, Bajwa said those who attended considered it a great success and asked Yale to host the event again in 2011. Attendance doubled that year, and remained high this semester, Bajwa said. The conference was initially supposed to rotate among the Ivies, Bajwa said, but has been held at Yale for the past three years because the University is centrally located between the Ivy League schools and had enthusiastic support from its students.

While most attendees were undergraduates, Bajwa said graduate students and alumni were also invited because they could offer perspectives on living as American Muslims after college and also give students career advice.

Mostafa Al-alusi ’13, president of the Yale Muslim Students Association, said the conference aimed to help people connect their academic or professional lives with their spiritual lives, adding that many Muslim students struggle with the intersection between the two. In her keynote address, Mattson, the first female president of the Islamic Society of North America, discussed what it means to be both a spiritual Muslim and a leader in today’s society.

At various points in the conference, the students broke into smaller discussion groups that Bajwa said were intended to encourage discussion about the challenges Muslim students face, such as how to approach their faith in a secular world, and about possible solutions to those problems.

The event was not solely religious, though the spiritual aspect of the conference was important, said Nooreen Reza ’15, a member of the Yale Muslim Student Association who helped organize the conference. Reza said the conference primarily focused on fostering communication and relations between students in Muslim student associations at different schools. She added that networking events such as career panels and campus and community activism workshops were particularly important in helping students form connections.

Nine student attendees, all of whom identified as Muslim, said they appreciated the sense of community the conference developed.

“The real power is having a collective of smart kids together in once place really trying to focus energies on a certain goal,” Shihan Khan MED ’17 said. “This is a medium for the whole Ivy circuit to come together and grapple with tough issues.”

Dartmouth undergraduates Amir Khan and Tasneem Khalid said they gained ideas for strengthening their college’s Muslim Student Association — which only has about 15 active members ­— by talking with students from other institutions.”

“We can learn from bigger MSAs,” said Amir Khan, a sophomore. “The hardest thing is getting everyone together in the same room to talk about it.”

Abdul Rafay Hanif, a sophomore at Columbia, said his favorite part of the conference was when students got food, played sports and socialized together on Friday night, which he said was helpful in connecting with his peers.

The Yale Chaplain’s office and the Yale Muslim Students Association will co-sponsor the Critical Islamic Reflections Conference on April 14.

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