Muslim student associations create cultural ties in the U.S.

Three young men posing and smiling with arms around each other (Courtesy of Waqas Idrees)
Waqas Idrees, center, with Mohamed Abdelsamd, left, of Sudan, and Adil Malam, right, of the U.K., oversaw the daily preparation of iftar boxes during Ramadan 2014 at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. (Courtesy of Waqas Idrees)

When Waqas Idrees came to the United States from Pakistan to study mechanical engineering, he found camaraderie and friendship at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC), a mosque and community center frequented by the Muslim Students Association of the U.S. & Canada (MSA National), a nongovernmental religious organization.

MSA National supports organizations like ISBCC to provide forums to unite Muslim students from diverse backgrounds.

“These events were spiritually rewarding because they allowed me to make a positive difference in people’s lives while making connections with people from all over,” Idrees said.

A group of Muslim students established MSA National at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1963. It has continued to grow in the decades since. There are now more than 600 MSA chapters across the two countries.

MSA National supports the spiritual, religious, social and civic growth and well-being of students. It also helps make Muslim students feel safe and included wherever they go to school.

Idrees, a student at both Northeastern University in Boston and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 2013 to 2014, recalls volunteering at an iftar event organized by the ISBCC with the Islamic Society of Northeastern University. The evening was open to people from all religious backgrounds.

“The event took place in the student center, in front of the same tapestry that had captivated me on my first day, telling everyone that no matter where you come from, no matter what your preferences and choice[s] in life are, here, we are one,” he said.

Maryam Noor also came to the U.S. from Pakistan for the spring 2019 semester to study international studies at the University of Wyoming as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Global Undergraduate Exchange Program.

Group of students standing on grass with pine trees behind them (Courtesy of Maryam Noor)
Maryam Noor, third from left, poses for a group photograph with fellow international students at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. (Courtesy of Maryam Noor)

Noor learned about the University of Wyoming’s MSA chapter through the International Students and Scholars office on campus. She quickly became involved and helped organize events, including lectures by Muslim scholars to the student body.

Less than 1% of the population of Wyoming identifies as Muslim, according to the Pew Research Center. This makes organizations like MSA National essential to a sense of community among Muslim students and promotes understanding among those who have never experienced Islam before.

“It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had,” Noor said. “I participated in many events on campus and learned a lot about American culture.”

Muslim student groups at U.S. universities are a valuable tool for building meaningful relationships and celebrating community.