This past year I ran and consequently obtained a position on the Muslim Student Association (MSA) Executive Committee at MIT. I came in with lots of lofty plans on how I was going to make CHANGE. I may have had a slight Obama complex in retrospect.
I ran. I won. I rejoiced. I became an officer on the Events Committee. Little did I know that was going to be the least of my trials…
By default, I became the head of the committee. This was only due to the fact that someone needed to do it and if I didn’t do it, no one would. Sometimes feeling responsible it’s downfalls. Next, I realized what I wanted to accomplish and what Exec thought needed to be accomplished varied. A lot.
One, they already had events scheduled for the Spring before the exec was even elected. I went with because I assumed they knew what they were doing and that in the Fall we would have more creative freedom so to speak. We were in charge of the Spring Dinner.
We threw ideas speech topics around till we settled on Racism in Islam. We managed to find a speaker through the Iman and ordered food. Mind you, I was having a heart attack during the whole entire process. Luckily, the Event coordinators are sane and productive. A lot more than the publicity chairs. Don’t get me started on the publicity chairs.
Spring Dinner came and went without a hitch logistically. But reaction was debatable. First of all, while we had a decent attendance, no one thought to mention that the South Asian Association of Students (SAAS) was having their annual event that night, while we we’re choosing date. Normally this would be a problem, if the majority of MSA wasn’t South Asian. But it is. Thus there was much bitching towards the Events Committee on ?WHY DIDN’T YOU CHOOSE A DIFFERENT DATE?!?!”
I’m sorry, we didn’t choose a different date. I’m also sorry you equate SAAS == the secular branch of the MSA. *smiles*
Then they were mild rants about the speakers comments. So, he introduced the topic of racism in Islam from the perspective of an email he received regarding giving aid to Palestine. At the end of the email it mention “Is it not a sin to not give?”. It struck him from the perspective of–and I’m paraphrasing here–”Erm, how is giving to Palestine more valid than giving somewhere else like, Sudan or Rwanda?” Which then segued into the topic of racism in Islam. Unfortunately, some people (including the former president of the MSA) only heard the first part and were livid. Claiming that the speaker was belittling the suffering in Palestine. He wasn’t. He was merely stating the Muslims community preoccupation with Palestine (which is a very ) and noting the lack of passion towards charity in other parts of the world (including the United States). Another reaction was the opinion that the speech wasn’t very relevant towards the Muslim community at MIT.
I am one of the few African-American Muslims on campus, as well as non-foreign born. This speech was very relevant to our community n. While it’s not as bad as my mosque was back home. While my mosque is fairly integrated now. When I was a young girl, any girls my age at the mosque were most likely of South Asian descent. They looked at my skin, the fact that I was wearing Hijab, noted I didn’t speak Arabic (which I am working on), Urdu or Hindi, and was academically driven. They laughed and went the other way. Though we practiced the same religion, I was different. An outsider. This happened so frequently, that by the time I went to college I barely talked to my one of my floormates (who’s now one of my dearest friends) due to the fact that it was so ingrained that I would be shunned automatically. While the Muslim community at MIT is nowhere as judgmental as my mosque used to be back home, I still feel like an outsider at times.
Two, the MSA tendency to ignore the outside world. An event that we ran two years ago was Islam Awareness Week (IAW). It was week long event that we held to bring awareness to Islam (hence, the name). We covered different aspects like Islam and Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Women in Islam, Science and Islam, etc. It was reasonably well attended and people seemed to like it.
When I suggested it to the current exec the primary response was “What’s the point?”. Their argument was due to the fact that it’s MIT, the student population is already fairly well educated about Islam. Thus, no reason to hold the event. While I disagreed for multiple reasons, I didn’t say anything. I just smiled, nodded and internally seethed. I’m very good at this. Unfortunately, it’s my main response to conflict with anyone. I really need to work on that.
Three, food. While, this seems mildly petty I consider it somewhat important. I’m Muslim and I’m vegetarian–ok, technically I’m pesco-vegetarian, but in this case it’s not relevant. Unfortunately, that causes issues. Primarily, during events and dinners. Especially, during Ramadan. Our MSA holds iftars during Ramadan which is awesome except I never go. Why? Because after going to 6 out 7 iftars and realizing I can’t eat anything except rice (if I’m lucky) or cucumber salad after fasting all day, it’s slightly more efficient for me to stay in my dorm and cook. What’s worse is the general obliviousness of the MSA. It’s causes me bitter amusement to go to an iftar at someones insistence and then field question and answer sessions such as
Random person in MSA: *stares at plate* Why aren’t you eating (sister)??!
Me: I’m vegetarian.
This then causes either response A, which is
Random person in MSA: *remembers I’m the weird vegetarian* Ooooh. *looks sheepish*
or response B, which is when I want to strangle them,
Random person in MSA: “But sister, it’s halal!”
Mneme: I’m vegetarian.
Random person in MSA: “B-b-but, it’s halal!”
Mneme: “…Those are independent factual statements.”
Random person in MSA: *walks off confused* “…but, it’s halal”
Mneme: *internally screams and seethes over rice*
Luckily, the annual fall dinner has a wider range of food options that usually contains at least one vegetarian dish. Except for this past Fall Dinner, which may had overlapped with Ramadan and thus did not overlap did not go under the Events Committee jurisdiction since it was during Ramadan. The planners may had assumed that they only needed to have falalel as a vegetarian options. While not the best, you take what you can get sometimes. Except, they needed servers and everyone loves falafel. I’m on exec and it kind of looks bad if someone asks you to serve if you say no. Thus, I helped serve and consequently, when everyone was served, the falafel was gone. I was somewhat bitter and severely ticked off due this constantly being the status quo. Thus, I left the dinner due to the fact that the speakers message would be completely lost to me given my overwhelming rage. When my term ended in December, I was so ecstatic it wasn’t even funny.
On the brightside, the entering exec seems reasonably intelligent, interested in social issues outside of the MIT bubble and believes in EQUAL OPPORTUNITY CATERING, given from their first event at the end of last semester. So, perhaps there’s hope.