The six of them – three women and three men – sat around a small white foldup table in N.C. Central University’s New Student Center. The women are wearing their worship in the form of a hijab. The men are dressed like your typical college students. Behind them, a whiteboard collage of multicolored ideas and wavelike, flowing Arabic verses. They are the Muslim Student Association and they greeted this Campus Echo reporter with the phrase As-salamu Alaikum.
According to one of members, junior Munira Adan, the Muslim Student Association, or MSA, was established at NCCU back in 2019. Adan serves as the Publicity Chair for the MSA. Fellow Eagle and current student president for the association is sophomore Samen Qadri. She was happy but a little nervous to engage the media.
“I think a lot of people have misinterpretations.” said Qadri. “So it’s good to explain what we hope to achieve and what we hope becomes of the MSA in the future.”
Misinterpretations is right. The MSA members say that America looks at Islam with fear. Admittedly, 9/11 left a massive scar on the American psyche, and for over 20 years, many thought Muslim equaled terrorist.
Many are still healing from that scar, and some still look at Islam with suspicion. The MSA wants to address that fear and show that Islam is actually a religion of peace. Islamophobia makes that goal an uphill battle, but it’s one the MSA isn’t afraid of.
“In America, Islam is portrayed in a bad light, especially by the media,” said MSA vice president Jabrin Polni, a sophomore.
“We are trying to portray that Islam is not what the media says it’s like. It’s a very peaceful religion, you can see that with how we interact with each other and how we interact with other people.”
The organization’s other vice president, Sana Azher, agrees with Polni. “The message we’re trying to send is that we are open and welcome. If you have questions, come ask. We are also normal people and we want to get to know everyone.”
Though their faith may still get a side-eyed glance from some, the MSA Eagles are just normal students trying find their place in the world … and try to pass their classes. For some members of the MSA, they are also looking to combine their faith with political activism. This is not strange to the Muslim world.
Malcom X and Mohamad Ali were relying on Islam to help address Civil Rights issues back in the 60’s. Much like the Bible, the Quran encourages Allah’s followers to be kind to those around them. Junior Andres Ishmael converted to Islam, after reading the Quran, personal reflection, and personal interaction with what could be called an activist Islam.
Ishamel said he often operates in activist spaces with black Muslim friends. The way they spoke of Islam, the way they would use it in their activism, made them disciplined. They showed Ishmael that Islam was a religion of liberation, one striving for a better world. The entire concept spoke to him.
“I also read the biography of Malcom X. Seeing his transformation from prison, to the Nation of Islam to Suni Islam, it was like night and day,” said Ishmael.
“Malcom explained Islam and something clicked in my head, like ‘yeah, this makes sense.’ I started reading the Quran and started talking to my Muslim friends, and I thought that this was the right religion for me. So I converted.”
Since his conversion, Ishmael has become the association’s secretary. He has also entered a learning period in his faith. There are two main denominations of Islam, Sunni and Shiite. The MSA consider themselves Sunni, but they are open to all.
“For me, I don’t consider myself a standard Sunni,” said Ishamel. “Then again I don’t know enough. I’m still very new to this.”