For many first-year students, the trials and tribulations of finding friends on campus can be a long process and is an integral part of the college experience. Cultural clubs, classes or intramural sports are just some of the ways students go about seeking these new connections but for one group of students at UP, one thing has unified them more than any of these: their faith.
Sophomores Manar Surur and Umi Hajimohamed had this epiphany last fall when they realized that their Islamic faith was one of the things that brought their friend group together. Shortly after this, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) was formed with the intention of bringing Muslim students like themselves together at UP.
“We're all friends,” Hajimohamed said. “So, we ended up just texting each other and creating a meeting about it, then it became official.”
While Muslim students remain a religious minority on campus, the comradery and sense of belonging that MSA is creating can help make this experience less isolating. For Hajimohamed, the current vice president of MSA, having a group of friends that are Muslims has been a highlight of her college experience.
“I was one of two Muslims at my high school,” Hajimohamed said. “I knew no one else who was Muslim except like two other people, so it has been fun to have an actual group here.”
Besides being a place for Muslim students to find a sense of community, MSA is open to anyone who is interested in Islam or learning more about the faith. Surur, the current president of MSA, echoes this same sentiment.
“You can learn a lot of the basics of Islam,” Surur said. “For example, Shahada is this week of testifying that there is one God and Prophet. There are other things people might not know about, like why we pray five times a day.”
Hajimohamed emphasized that this could be a way for UP students to understand the lived experiences of Muslims outside of a textbook or classroom setting.
“I feel like people at UP are secluded from Muslim people except for what they see on the internet,” Hajimohamed said. “It's the second biggest religion in the world, they're gonna have to meet with other Muslim people in their future careers. So, having a good background of what the religion is, could really help them meet new people in the future.”
Along with this, MSA is hoping to bring more awareness to religious holidays outside of Catholicism. When they were observing Ramadan, — an Islamic holiday that involves fasting between dawn and dusk as part of one of the pillars of Islam — MSA collaborated with the Diversity & Inclusion Program (DIP) to host its first Iftar meal as a club.
However, UP’s Catholic affiliation remains a barrier for the group. While Surur and Hajimohamed both acknowledged that UP has made significant progress in making Muslim students feel more included on campus, they both feel there is more that can be done.
“It's kind of isolating when I'm the only Muslim in class,” Surur said.
For Hajimohamed, the Muslim Prayer Room is were she sees the most potential for growth.
“The prayer room is in the basement of a men's only dorm,” Hajimohamed said. “I think updating that in some kind of way would be nice for all the Muslim people on campus.”
Director of Campus Ministry Peter Walsh sees this as an opportunity to improve the relationship between Campus Ministry and Muslim students on campus through MSA.
“It'd be wonderful to help MSA sponsor some Iftar dinners,” Walsh said. “I think we can be better at accommodating. We really want students to grow in their own faith tradition and to mature in their spirituality while they're here.”
While acknowledging these shortcomings, Walsh sees UP as a place for students of other religions to coexist respectfully and peacefully.
“The church has specifically identified problems in the past with anti-semitism and hostility to Muslims and said how that is not consistent with Catholic teaching,” Walsh said. “So, it's a natural thing in some ways for a Catholic university to coexist peacefully and beneficially with faith traditions that some share our Christian tradition.”
Above all, Surur and Hajimohamed hope that MSA continues to be a hub for Muslim students. As UP’s student demographic continues to change, they hope to see the club expand in the future.
“I just hope it continues on after we leave the school,” Hajimohamed said. “When we first started [MSA], we found that there was an MSA at UP in the ‘80s, but then it dwindled away. There were only six or seven Muslims at the school at that time. Now, there's a small minority. I just want it to continue getting bigger and bigger.”
Kimberly Cortez is the Community Engagement Editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.