Muslim Student Groups Debate Inclusion


Amir Mertaban vividly recalls sitting at his university’s recruitment table for the Muslim Students Association a few years ago when an attractive undergraduate flounced up in a decidedly un-Islamic miniskirt, saying “Salamu aleykum,” or “Peace be upon you,” a standard Arabic greeting, and asked to sign up.

Amir Mertaban has pointed out that hypocrisy can factor into some conservative responses by association members.

Mr. Mertaban also recalls that his fellow recruiter surveyed the young woman with disdain, arguing later that she should not be admitted because her skirt clearly signaled that she would corrupt the Islamic values of the other members.

“I knew that brother, I knew him very well; he used to smoke weed on a regular basis,” said Mr. Mertaban, now 25, who was president of the Muslim student group at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, from 2003 to 2005.

Pointing out the hypocrisy, Mr. Mertaban won the argument that the group could no longer reject potential members based on rigid standards of Islamic practice.

The intense debate over whether organizations for Muslim students should be inclusive or strict is playing out on college campuses across the United States, where there are now more than 200 Muslim Students Association chapters.

Gender issues, specifically the extent to which men and women should mingle, are the most fraught topic as Muslim students wrestle with the yawning gap between American college traditions and those of Islam.

“There is this constant tension between becoming a mainstream student organization versus appealing to students who have a more conservative or stricter interpretation of Islam,” said Hadia Mubarak, the first woman to serve as president of the national association, from 2004 to 2005. (MORE)


 


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