Uzair Ahmed, a sophomore, worked as the chief marketing officer for the Muslim Student Association (MSA) during 2015-2016. She helped oversee the planning of the MSA events, which aim to entertain, educate, and increase cultural awareness.
We talked with Ahmed about her experience in the MSA, and how those experiences have impacted her and others.
What is the Muslim Student Association and how are you making a difference on campus?
The Muslim Student Association strives to better accommodate and integrate Muslim identity on campus. Many Muslim students do not feel comfortable with their faith and identity, and we feel that we can provide them with a "safe-zone", where they know they can be free to express themselves. After all, the ability to express oneself is everyone's right, and can contribute to ones overall well being. Additionally, we want to help both Muslims and non-Muslims better understand the principles of Islam, in hopes of destroying the stigma that has been placed on the religion and its followers.
How does MSA stand out from other student organizations on campus?
The MSA seeks to create a sense of family. Those who are involved in the organization are not just members, they are brothers and sisters. We try to keep this family close through weekly or bi-weekly hangout sessions, which are open to all general members.
What is something that most people don’t know about MSA?
Most people aren't aware of Islam Awareness Week. Every year, the MSA dedicates an entire week, usually in the spring semester, to educating people on campus about Islam. During this week, we discuss many of the misconceptions about Muslims and host workshops to immerse students in conversations about things like racism and misogyny. This is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to learn what Islam is really all about!
Do you put on or participate in any special events throughout the school year?
One of our biggest events is the Eid dinner, celebrating our great holiday. This dinner takes place early in the fall semester, and hosts nearly 300 people.
Aside from these two big events, the MSA also hosts weekly Halaqahs, in which members discuss important topics in the Islamic world. In previous years, speakers and renowned scholars from around the country have come to deliver Halaqahs and raise awareness about certain issues.
Additionally, we host weekly meetings that are open to all! During these meetings we discuss our plans for the year. We encourage anyone who is interested in MSA to come to these meetings and give their input! While these events make up the core of MSA, spontaneous social gatherings are always waiting to happen!
What challenges has MSA faced and what is its proudest moment?
The growing discrimination against Muslims in America has been one of the toughest things for the MSA to deal with. The stigma placed on Muslims and our faith has made it difficult for some students to openly express their identity, which has made it increasingly difficult for our organization to reach out to Muslims on campus. As a result, we have made it a priority to make sure the MSA is all inclusive. We want students to know that they will not be judged in our organization.
One of our proudest moments has actually come from this hardship. In 2015, the MSA worked with UI administration to open two prayer and meditation rooms in the IMU. Praying rooms had been a need for quite some time on campus, as many students and faculty members struggled to find any small space where they could feel comfortable praying. With this development, we hope more students will feel safe enough to express their faith.
Why do you think having a diverse community on campus is important?
The mission of the University is to create prepared minds and empower students to tackle the challenges of our society. One of the challenges in our society is making sure that people of all backgrounds, races, religions, and sexuality feel welcome and at place, hence it is absolutely necessary that there be diversity on campus. Learning to thrive in a rich environment with individuals who share differing beliefs is critical to the development of future citizens.
What have you learned or how have you grown since your involvement?
I have always been an advocate for social justice and entered college with the intent of battling discrimination on campus. The MSA has proven to be a great platform for this, and I feel that because of my involvement, I am able to be in a position to really make an impact.
What do you hope your organization will accomplish in the future?
I believe that the MSA will continue to provide a platform for students to express themselves freely and will bring awareness to not only the discrimination against Muslims, but to the discrimination that threatens all minority groups. Islam places heavy emphasis on community, and I envision the MSA as a leader in the movement to create an all inclusive community on campus, where all students and faculty members can coexist and thrive from learning from each other.