MSA 101

BismillahC

Alhamdulilah, the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) has done wonders for me. I grew up in a household that always encouraged Islamic Education, so up until high school, I attended an Islamic school. During high school, I, like many youth, struggled to understand who I was; it was at the end of high school that I realized how important Islam was in my life. When I graduated high school and became a university student, I was blessed with a feeling of community. The MSA was a community of fellow young Muslims who either had an appreciation for an Islamic lifestyle, or were trying to find that appreciation.

Now that I am going into my second term as President of my university’s MSA, I realize that I should be providing you all with some articles regarding MSA. I have experienced a lot through MSA. As the President, I have experienced a lot of challenges as a leader; when I was Secretary, I experienced a lot of challenges as an executive board member; when I was just a regular MSA member, I experienced a lot of challenges fitting in, but also I enjoyed many memories.  Bi idhinillah, in the near future I will share various articles on my experiences. Moreover, I have many friends around the country who may want to share their thoughts on MSA. Today though, I would like to discuss the overall concept of an MSA, and explore the opinions of the supporters and opponents of the MSA. Hopefully with this knowledge, we can all walk out feeling a little more enlightened on the matter.

What is MSA

During one of my most stressful experiences as President, I asked one of my mentors, who was the former President of our MSA, for advice. Her response was extremely beneficial for me because it helped me understand my role, but also defined the reasoning behind MSA. She taught me that there are two defining opinions on what MSA is:

  1. “An organization where Muslim students get together to meet each other and have fun and socialize.”
  2. “An organization that will maintain Islamic values and will help Muslim Students to continue practicing the way they would back when they were home.”

Her advice for me was balance — to incorporate both these definitions into my policy as President and as an executive board member. At the end of the day, it is the “Muslim” Students’ Association, meaning that inherently it should be maintaining Islamic values of a masjid, or a mainstream Muslim community. On the other hand, we have Muslims that are local to the university, but also Muslims that are far from home. MSA is meant to become their second homes. Therefore, it is mandatory for the MSA to be a social space for these students as well – meaning, provide Muslim students with fellow colleagues that they can relate to and support as they travel the university journey!

The MSA being an organization run by young Muslims, it is a given that different groups of people have different opinions on MSAs on campus, which is totally expected and fine for anybody to have. There is a large crowd that supports the MSA, and at the same time, there is a diverse crowd that opposes or criticizes the MSA. In my observation, the opposition’s demographics are quite diverse. On the other hand, the MSA does have a diverse crowd of supporters as well. Here are some general sub-groups within the anti and pro-MSA population.

Opponents

The Islamophobes: Generally, they tend to fear the MSA’s very existence, perceiving it to be a youth-wing of political Islamic organizations on Western campuses. I’ve even heard the MSA being referred to as “Hamas on Campus”, which is based on the general humanitarian efforts that active MSAs nationwide promote (usually regarding the raising funds for humanitarian aid in oppressed regions such as Palestine). To this specific group, we give the “cool story, bro” treatment.

The Aunties and Uncles: May Allah preserve our elders, ameen! They are the very people who established our Muslim communities in this country. They tell us stories of how the masjid used to be Uncle so and so’s basement. Therefore, we truly are grateful for their ground-breaking contributions. Nevertheless, some of our elders oppose the Muslim Students’ Association but not their very existence. Rather, they criticize the MSA based on their understanding of the culture of Muslim youth on campuses. They generalize the youth to be involved in irresponsible acts such as smoking hookah, interacting inappropriately with the opposite gender and being unproductive students.

Others: Other groups have their criticisms of  MSA, including other students on campus. A common criticism I tend to hear from students is that MSA is the “righteous/pious brother and sister club” where all members are judgmental and nosy towards each other. Other students feel like the MSA is exclusive, cliquey and simply unwelcoming – they point out how the social culture of MSA can be problematic. A general consequence of cliquey environments is gossip and drama. Consequences like these can socially make MSA a very undesirable environment for students, whether they just joined MSA this year or are MSA veterans!

Supporters

The Zealous MSA member: May Allah preserve our young, energetic, active youth community members, ameen ya rabb! Those who dedicate their time and money on the Muslim community. This is that handful of young brothers and sisters that you see always at the masjid, promoting events, and just making the greatest effort to serve their people. You tend to see them more often at the halaqas and conference road trips, but less often at the banquets and game nights. They tend to be perceived as the good crowd, in the sense that they empower those who spend time with them (see the Perfume Seller for further elaboration). Anyways, they tend to support the MSA with their ideas, and volunteering. They view the MSA as an opportunity to gain rewards, and they don’t take that lightly. They’re the type of brothers and sisters that make last minute pick-ups for an event, or help gathering the people to clean up after one. Nevertheless, these are the MSA’s gems and we pray that Allah ﷻ continues to shower them in blessings even after college is over, ameen!

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The Overzealous MSA member: Generally, they take MSA far too seriously. Ma shaa Allah, they “love” MSA so much that tend to entitle themselves who is worthy and who is not worthy of being part of the MSA. The overzealous MSA member really feeds off that sense of self-entitlement. For example, looking to police members in the MSA before they police themselves. Sometimes, do not get me wrong, the members mean well. For example, asking someone who has not been attending events often why they have not participated recently. But understand that in actuality, it’s actions like that, if done the wrong way, pushes the person even further away from MSA. We all want to help our peers, but we must make sure we are sensible and aware of the etiquettes that come with sincere advice. We always have to think to ourselves: “am I the right person to give this reminder?”

Others: Then there are the normal group of students that have expressed gratitude towards the MSA for benefits they received through their involvement in the organization. Some students give credit to the MSA for gaining a newfound appreciation for their faith, while others appreciate the programs they provide students on campus. Some just feel like without MSA they would not have a solid, positive group of friends on campus.

Addressing the Criticism and Praise

After explaining most of the general views regarding MSA, did any of them raise important points of critique? Some of these opinions, to be frank, are definitely on extreme sides of the spectrum. For example, to believe that the MSA is some sort of youth-wing from political Islamic organizations is quite a reach. In addition, when your evidence for such a claim is that the MSA loves to raise money for starving orphans in Gaza, it is certainly hard to take seriously. The elders who think MSA is basically a social club where one commits all the harams (just in the company of fellow Muslims) are also probably extreme in their criticism. Nevertheless, there are some genuine critiques that need to be addressed.

‘The Righteous Brothers and Sisters’ Club’

 

First off, the mentality that the MSA is this exclusive, self-proclaiming, religious brothers and sisters’ club is a real mindset that students perceive. Students feel this way because of how other students treat them when they err in public. For example, sisters who spend a lot of time with brothers in a friendly manner are often alienated from the sisters’ side, and labeled all sorts of things. Brothers as well: when they see that one brother that’s not as outwardly practicing as them, they push them away. This is a major disservice towards the MSA, and this is not what the MSA is about. The MSA was established to unify Muslims on campus and to be a support network for Muslim students in this country. If Muslims on campus were truly a community, they would hold on to these brothers and sisters outwardly making mistakes and encourage them to do better. No one is perfect.

Ibn Al-Jawzi (may Allah be pleased with him) once said, “Know that if people are impressed with you, in reality they are impressed with the beauty of Allah’s covering of your sins.” Do not forget that if you are in a position where the people view you as “righteous,” that you and Allah ﷻ both know what you really do behind closed doors. Be someone who uplifts people. When you see your Muslim brother or sister doing something you do not believe is right, show them a better way of living, and do not exclude them from better company.

‘Too much drama in MSA, and too many cliques in MSA’

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In addition, a similar and common grievance that Muslim students share about MSA is how exclusive the MSA is in a social sense – how members are involved in clingy social circles that do not want to reach out to new members, which eventually makes new members feel left out. It is definitely understandable that when you see people you are more familiar with, you feel more comfortable with them and you want to stick by their side. Nevertheless, especially to members of the executive board: you cannot just leave new members out of all the plans you and your friends have. Make the new members feel like they are part of your MSA, and include them when you are going for pizza or trying to play basketball. Sticking to your regular social circle and leaving the new kid out is extremely insensitive. If you have never moved out of your community and had to start your social life all over again, this can be hard to understand. I have had friends who moved to different regions of the country, and if it were not for good people that reached out and included them in everything, they would have been left out as well. MSA members: please keep that in mind as you go into your school year! Specifically, local MSA members have a major responsibility to make the non-local MSA members feel welcome in your community. They are far from home, they miss their families, and they do not have the same bond to the imam and masjid of your city like they did back home – be considerate and reach out to them.

Moreover, when there are cliques, there is disunity. Brother so-and-so does not like brother so-and-so because of this. Sister so-and-so does not like sister so-and-so because of that. It may not be apparent to the members in these childish feuds, but it makes the MSA looks dysfunctional when members are fighting with one another – especially when executive members are involved. Why would Muslim students want to join an MSA that is run by people who lack maturity? Why would Muslim students want to enter an environment where brothers/sisters are turning on one another? A solution to this problem is to refrain from speaking ill of others, and to be more sensitive to one another’s feelings. If you do not like what someone is doing, rather than speaking of them behind their back, reach out to them in private. Show them a better way of living through your own actions!

‘The MSA is the most important part about college, we must support it with all our time and efforts’

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This is false. A proper education is the most important part of a college experience. Every MSA member should be active in the MSA, but never to the point that it hurts your education. School comes first, MSA comes after in shaa Allah. Often times, really bright Muslim students get pressured to sacrifice valuable time of studying in order to volunteer their services to their MSA. This is not right. Ma shaa Allah, I continue to pray for these bright students that work so hard for MSA, but if everyone does their part as members, no student will feel like they are carrying the MSA. After leaders graduate, there will be more members that know the responsibilities of running the organization. Never sacrifice your future, for a 4-year experience. You want to help the Muslims? Great: do well in school – get a job, and raise money for the many initiatives that Muslims need. And do not pursue a profession for the salary, pursue it because you feel like you can be of assistance to your community with this career! Muslims are low in numbers when it comes to fields such as social work and law. Nevertheless, sacrificing your academics for MSA is counterproductive! I hope I’ve made that clear.

The Conclusion: MSA to me

I have traveled around and analyzed many MSAs. I’ve realized that we all have similar problems, but also unique ones as well. I have met people who think that the MSA must be a musallah, and then I have met people who think that the MSA must be simply a social club for Muslims. In my opinion, it would be a great injustice to make MSA simply a place for prayer alone. In addition, I think it would be a great injustice to make MSA simply a place for Muslims to hang out and have fun. MSA to me is a place where you can pray your daily five salawat, but also find out who in your MSA shares your major and study with them! MSA to me is an organization you can go to for self-improvement reasons. You do not like the way you are living your life? Alhamdulilah, brother so-and-so is basically a quasi-imam. Spend time with him, and bond with people who have an understanding of the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah. Let them be a means to your guidance in shaa Allah. Even though I was a local student, I was a very anti-social and awkward kid during high school and freshman year of college. How did I change my demeanor? Nice brothers and sisters from out of town reached out to me, and included me in their events. “Hey Khalafalla, want to play basketball?” That’s how it all started, and subhanAllah, it was by the wisdom of Allah ﷻ that now I am going into my second-term as President of the University at Albany’s MSA, the biggest MSA in our city. How did a quiet, awkward kid like myself reach such a status? Inclusion. Respect. As the years went by, I find myself being that very brother talking to someone who resembles that very quiet, awkward kid I used to be and I realized that it is all a cycle. Love people unconditionally, include them, and they will change themselves. Then, they will love people just like you did, they will include people just like you did, and furthermore, they will change their environment.

May Allah ﷻ make us a people that try to emulate His Beloved Messenger ﷺ, and may He rectify our affairs, ameen.

And Allah knows best. JazakAllahu Khair.

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A Reminder to the Young in Positions of Leadership

**This is less formal of an article — just something I want to get off my chest in shaa Allah. It’s probably going to be short compared to the other articles I wrote, just had to get this off my chest though. Also, this will help you all get a better understanding of who I am since I will be the author of most of these articles at Your Muslim Bro!  This is a reminder to myself first, before anyone else.**

Ever since I’ve become more  involved in the community, I’ve received the love and the praise that comes with being more involved. It’s things like fame and praise that attract people to pursue these types of roles. Don’t get it twisted – I ain’t getting carried away and saying I finally made it or nothing. But what I want y’all to understand is that there are some REAL, SERIOUS things to consider on when you’re in a position of power in your community.

The main thing one needs to really reflect on is : how is this position affecting my heart? Am I the type to love being in the spotlight? Am I the type to do nothing for the community, but stand in front of the camera looking like I’m doing something? Depending on the answers, one needs to purify their intentions, and perhaps, in extreme cases,  step down and really reevaluate their priorities. You see, back in the time of the Salaf, one didn’t simply seek leadership positions or influence/power — it was the wise and righteous people that sought the leaders out. Rasulullah ﷺ even said that “We do not assign the authority of ruling to those who ask for it, nor to those who are keen to have it (Sahih Bukhari).” Please keep that in mind.

Another thing to reflect on:  you did not get to the position you have single-handedly. Allah ﷻ guided you, family and Masajid raised you, Imams/teachers taught you, and friends encouraged you. It’s not only delusional to think you got to your status on your own, but it is also highly ungrateful and immoral. Humble yourself.

In closing, I just want to clarify to anyone that thinks way too highly of me – I ain’t jack. If the work you see me doing is good, remember that Allah ﷻ is simply shielding my flaws from the public. For He is As-Sattar, the One who curtains our sins. And if you see me doing things wrong: bro, I am human, and I will make mistakes. I pray Allah ﷻ finds me amongst the repentant – Ameen. Also, all the good things that may have seemed to come out of my work – well, they didn’t. As I always try to say, there’s so much behind the scenes work in our communities; those who do it get forgotten and under-appreciated. Whether you’re as big as an imam or as small as an MSA President – you’ve got a team that does things for you and makes all your visions a reality. So keep that in mind, and appreciate them – publicly. May Allah guide us all and keep our intentions pure, and keep us doing what’s right for His sake alone. Ameen ya rabb al alameen.

The Perfume Seller

In the name of Allah, the Lord and Giver of Mercy.

First and foremost, I pray that this article reaches you in the best state of affairs, ameen! To begin, a reminder that life is temporary — and the best reminder to that fact is death. When all is said and done, your worldly possessions won’t accompany you in your graves, neither will the friends and followers on your social media pages; the only thing that will accompany you is your deeds, and if you’re a wise believer you will also have a righteous legacy that’s profit will continue to provide you with ease even when you’ve departed. So how are we living our lives? The best of us are those who think and prepare for death. The best of us are those who pray salah like it may be our last time praying. The best of us are those who remind one another of these matters with genuine concern for our communities. May Allah (SWT) guide us to that one and only straight path of guidance, ameen.

I would like to mention two key sayings of our beloved Prophet (ﷺ) that set the scene on the rest of the article.

Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “The example of a good companion (who sits with you) in comparison with a bad one, is like that of the musk (perfume) seller and the blacksmith’s bellows (or furnace); from the first you would either buy musk or enjoy its good smell while the bellows would either burn your clothes or your house, or you get a bad nasty smell thereof.” (Sahih Bukhari, Narrated by Abu Musa [R])
I heard the Prophet (ﷺ) saying, “Man follows his friend’s religion, you should be careful who you take for friends”.
(At-Tirmidhi & Abu Dawud, Narrated by Abu Hurairah [R])

There’s not a lot of things that are better than a good friend. Over the years, by definition of a “good friend” has become very simple — a good friend is an individual that accompanies you and looks for your best interest at all times. Good friends are gems in social circles. But to break it down further for Muslim youth, a good friend is someone who keeps you in the remembrance of Allah (SWT) at all times. Even when you are doing something entertaining such as sports, video games, or shopping — they even make those activities beneficial. They’re not necessarily randomly lecturing you about Islam, but they’re just enlightened young individuals that make shukr (gratitude for Allah) contagious, ma shaa Allah. That is what Rasulullah (ﷺ) was talking about, when introducing the concept of the perfume seller. That special brother or sister in your friend circle that brings the conversation back to the remembrance of Allah (SWT) without being all “self-righteous” about it.

Growing up at the masjid, I spent my time with fellow young brothers that remind one another about Allah (SWT) and the important things in life. And honestly, that’s really a true gift from Allah (SWT). When fellow colleagues see eye to eye with us on religious matters, and as a group, we both desire solely what’s best for one another — that’s brotherhood. On the other side of things, we also have brothers and sisters in our communities acting recklessly, and we fall into a common yet incorrect mentality of looking down upon them. Can I be real with you all? There was most definitely a time where most of us started out as good kids doing positive things — it is the environment and society that we live in that nurtures us but inherently — we are moral beings alhamdulilah! Anyways, we look down upon these young brothers and sisters, with no sense of empathy. We don’t know what made them the way they are, nor do we know the good that they do in private. Therefore, rather than focusing on their current *apparent* situation — if you think you have what it takes, try and help them be better! Maybe they’re with the wrong crowd, and need to be around people that remind them of Allah (SWT) — be that reminding friend!

Believe it or not, something I am beginning to notice is, a lot of us are not inclusive. When we see young brothers and sisters that annoy us, we instantly alienate them in unison. Just imagine that for a second, one individual annoys you and all of a sudden your whole group of like 8 friends push away the individual — imagine that impact. As Muslims we need to think comprehensively — rather than avoid people who act in manners we do not appreciate, we should think about working on one another and transforming them into better individuals. People make mistakes, and the good friend doesn’t exclude these people but rather allow them to walk out of a conversation with them with a beneficial lesson to reflect on. My dear Imam always tells me, “I love it when I see you make mistakes, because I can discipline you then and there.” Another teacher of mine refers to mistakes as “learning experiences”, he reminds me all the time that a mistake is an unsuccessful experience you didn’t learn from. So, if you see someone who’s walking towards a trivial path — take that step and do something about it — with ikhlas (sincerity) and empathy!

I don’t know if this is a phenomena in every Muslim community in America but, where I am from — the young Muslim brothers are basketball fanatics ma shaa Allah. Literally, all we do here is play basketball, even during Ramadan. Alhamdulilah, playing sports with the right intentions can become a form of worship! If you play basketball, to stay in shape because Allah (SWT) provided us all with a trust which is our bodies — that’s a form of worship, Allahu Akbar. But on the other hand, if we’re playing basketball but missing Isha and Taraweeh and Salaatul Witr — maybe there needs to be a moment of re-evaluation. Our masajid, our Muslim institutions provide us with these facilities to accommodate young Muslims to enjoy themselves while being accompanied by the blessing of the masjid. The masjid is not simply a place of worship, but a place of community. Let us not abuse our community’s generosity by neglecting our prayers for basketball! Anyways, these youth that play basketball but neglect their prayers tend to be the target of judging by other youth who think they’re more righteous than them. What we don’t realize is, when ridiculing people who are struggling with their worship and faith — we are not helping the situation. On the contrary, we are pushing them away from the masajid, and causing them to develop resentment for those who practice. These are the matters we need to reflect on and work towards rectifying!

I would like to wrap things up by quoting Allah the Most High in Surah Al-Hashr when He says,

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“There is no comparison between the inhabitants of the Fire and the inhabitants of Paradise— and the inhabitants of Paradise are the successful ones (59:20).”

I would like us to really reflect on this verse of the Qur’an. Allah (SWT) is reminding us all that there is a profound and distinct difference between those who go to Hell versus those who go to Paradise — they are not equals, at all. Most definitely their ways of living are not the same. Sure, the inhabitants of Paradise sinned, they may have erred but you know what makes them different from those who are the ultimate failures? They repented from their ways, they humbled themselves and relied solely upon God.

This Ramadan, change yourself — and once you change yourself, naturally you will cause positive change in others. Stay in constant remembrance in God this Ramadan!

#ThePerfumeSeller Initiative

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said,
“Whoever is not grateful to the people, he is not grateful to Allah.” (At-Tirmidhi, Narrated by Abu Hurairah [R])

Celebrate that good companion(s) in your friend circle! Here are the steps:

  1. Follow (@YourMuslimBro) via Instagram / Like (Your Muslim Bro) on Facebook!
  2. Make a status; post a picture with a caption; or make a video shouting out that great friend in your life.
  3. Make sure to make it public (so we can share the good ones on our page), provided with the hashtag #ThePerfumeSeller! Don’t forget to tag Your Muslim Bro on Instagram or Facebook!

DISCLAIMER: Please, celebrate your friends in real life, show them your appreciation in person! The purpose of #ThePerfumeSeller is to take some time and show people the exemplary individuals in our lives. Humankind learns best by example ma shaa Allah! Nevertheless, be someone that appreciates people without a keyboard as well — we need to be better with that!

The Fog of War (2014)

In the name of Allah, the Lord and Giver of Mercy.

The fog of war,

Flashbacks of snapbacks on the heads of the cool kids in my high school
The War known as the “Class of 2012”
Many lost their souls, I knew few individuals with great goals,
Lose their identities in lunch tables and classrooms,
In basketball gyms and bathrooms, I ask you to ponder.
 
Graduated from Islamic School, first day of high school was an interesting one
I still remember the gasp I made in 9th grade when that classmate yelled a profane word,
My head turned, hand covered my mouth as I thought
Authobillah! This is unbelievable!
Then the kid that was being cursed at said it back, putting arrest in my cardiac
Organs like wow this place is trash…
And here’s where something profane led to a realization that was profound
Few weeks went down and even I… became desensitized by the sound… Ponder
 
I saw a brother in the halls that I knew from the mosque
When I tried to say salaam, he ignored me and ran across
If you saw how fast he left… you’d think he played lacrosse,
To my football fans, he ran like Randy Moss subhanAllah…
 
The fog of war,
Memories of teachers teaching Islamic history wrong
And when I rose my hand to correct them they try to argue that I’m wrong
The fight’s on, arguments in classrooms
Kids in the class stay quiet,
Watching the slander
Making my people look violent
I remember having to talk after class with teachers,
They used to ask why do I always incite riots
“Be a good student, please remain silent.”
 
These are the memoirs of my high school experiences…
Taught me a lot, this environment taught people to act like something they’re not
Young teens can’t handle adversity with ease so they drink or smoke pot
They call themselves cool but really it’s less fact and more thought.
 
Islam, the lifestyle of the Muslim has protected me from the temptations
Because I understand that we’re all headed to another destination
And we need to act accordingly but our young generation is in a world
Where we worship man-made creations, ponder…
 
We know more about celebrity biographies, discographies, filmographies,
But don’t know much about the prophets and companions and their philosophies.
And honestly, our people are either acute, obtuse, or Isosceles
Some have a lot of knowledge, but not a lot of patience or akhlaq you see
 
The fog of war, life has its good and its bad
But I take notes, when I mess up, the pen hits the pad
When I mess up, I sit down, reflect and feel sad
But it’s back to standing up and being a strong Muslim man
 
I had a dream, maybe not like Martin Luther King
Here’s the story, I had a dream of a young man who was missing his pair of wings
He was sitting all alone at the college, he was thinking of many things
Then he met a polite brother, and asked if he could accompany him
In dreams, time goes quick, a few months went by
And that young man met the whole MSA group of guys
And then when they went to go pray, the brother wept, he cried
And the brothers consoled him, what’s wrong they replied
And he said, “I can’t lie! I haven’t prayed since I was 9!”
I woke up, his confession echoing in my mind
I got out of bed, because the azaan came. It was Fajr time
A few days later at school, I was about to go pray with the guys
And one of the new brothers pulled me to the side, and said
I wanted to say this for the longest time.
I don’t remember the last time I prayed, Felt like my heart died
Watching you all made me realize that in Allah I rely
If it weren’t for your examples though, I would have probably sat at that table and sighed
And then I interrupted him and said only Allah can guide
And as the day ended, I saw the fog clearing up
The battlefield just paused, as my eyes began tearing up
If you place your forehead to the ground, know that Allah is hearing us
So pray and make supplication, pray that Allah is steering us.
 
So to the brothers and sisters struggling with their faith,
Y’all are constantly in my thoughts
It’s hard out here, the shaytan on our blocks
It’s never too late to change, if you’re alive you’re not lost
We’re here for you, the first step is coming back to the mosque
My request is for all of us to ponder…
 

© 2015 Khalafalla Osman