In the past decade, Muslim communities have grown significantly across the nation. Yale is not an exception. As the Muslim student body continues to expand, the Muslim Students Association has grown.
As the only Muslim student organization registered through the Yale Chaplain’s office, the MSA has worked to accommodate members of the University’s Muslim community and educate other students about Islam.
This week, the MSA is sponsoring Islamic Awareness Week, during which the group and co-sponsors will offer lectures and discussions, as well as a film screening and a poetry jam. The week’s theme is “Women in Islam.” Yusuf Samara ’04, president of the MSA, said the MSA hopes to inform the greater student body about Islam.
Samara said the MSA has about 50 regular members this year who attend the weekly Friday night prayer in the Bingham basement. Samara said the growth parallels a general increase in Muslim worship nation-wide.
“Mosques are growing everywhere,” Samara said.
Tammer Riad ’04, alumni relations chair for the MSA, said he attributed the significant increase to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Muslims started coming out of the woodwork and tried to identify with other Muslims at a time that was so hard for Muslim-Americans,” Riad said.
As the community has grown locally, Samara said the MSA has come to encompass a diverse group of Muslim students from countries across the world, especially since Yale started offering need-based financial aid to international students.
Due to its increase in members, in 2001 the MSA was able to secure a regular room for Muslim worship through the Chaplain’s office.
Samara said having a center where Muslim students can go to keep prayer as often as they want is essential to supporting a growing Muslim community. Samara said he thought he would be more reluctant to keep prayer without the chapel.
“I might feel more awkward if I prayed in my room,” Samara said.
As it is, Samara said it is often challenging for Muslim students to integrate their religious lives with their lives as students. He said Friday classes, as well as extracurricular activities, often conflict with prayer times.
“Meetings are often scheduled when we have prayers,” Samara said. “People find ways around it, but it does get difficult with extracurriculars.”
Nabilah Siddiquee ’05 — who is vice president of the MSA, but is currently taking a semester abroad in Cairo — said she, too, finds college to be a stress on religious life.
“I think many Muslim students sometimes find themselves conflicted in college, where much of the typical college lifestyle — seems to be entirely opposed to religion,” Siddiquee said in an e-mail.
She said the MSA has given her a place to “focus on what she wants to focus on.”
But Siddiquee said Yale and the MSA must continue to work so that needs of the Muslim student body are adequately met.
“In the future, I would hope to see a larger space above-ground that could be used for both regular prayers and Ramadan gatherings,” Siddiquee said.
Riad said he felt that the acquisition of a regular worship room was indeed important for the Muslim community, but he said he has not encountered many obstacles to his religious schedule.
“I’ve never had a problem,” Riad said. “I’ve been able to keep my prayers regularly.”
In fact, Riad said Yale is a tolerant community where he has found many people curious about Islam.
“There is a very large interest on the part of the Yale community,” Riad said.
Samara said he, too, finds Yale “really accepting” of religious freedom, but he also recalls threats made against Muslim students last spring around the time the U.S. went to war in Iraq. He said worship has become much easier since the MSA started working with the Chaplain’s office.
Samara also said the MSA has an excellent working relationship with the local mosque, Masjid al-Islam, giving Muslim students a place to go if they ever feel “frustrated” with the Yale community.
But the MSA, Samara said, is working hard to utilize educational opportunities for the Yale community as a whole. One such event was the Multifaith Ramadan Banquet this past November, which drew hundreds of students of all backgrounds.
Riad said he approved of the group’s multifaith endeavors.
“We’re building bridges to the community and that can’t possibly be bad,” Riad said.
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