By: Mishaa Khan
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) is a club at SFU which aims to provide Muslims with a voice, a place to pray, resources, and a sense of community. The MSA was created in the early 1970s, and it’s one of the oldest clubs at SFU.
Even though the club attracts primarily Muslims, its activities give all SFU students a chance to learn more about the religion of Islam, interact with Muslims, affirm or debunk any passing information about Islam they might have heard from third parties, and have a good time. SFU needs the MSA because the current political climate, which has become increasingly hostile for people who identify as Muslims since 9/11, has resulted in an immense number of misconceptions surrounding Islam and a lot of backlash for Muslims.
In an email interview, MSA president Ahmed Khan talked about how he has faced Islamophobia on campus, and recounted one encounter where other students “stated vile remarks which I took offense to, which left me feeling bitter afterward. But this is why we speak openly about Islam so people can dispel their misconceptions about the faith.”
Despite the accepting atmosphere towards people of all backgrounds in the Lower Mainland, there have been occasions where Muslims have been mistreated. For example, when Noor Fadel was assaulted in a SkyTrain station in 2018, only one man came to her aid. Other cases across North America include the Quebec mosque shooting, another mosque bombing in Minnesota, and another shooting in Chapel Hill where the aggressor entered the homes of his neighbors and shot them.
Being brought up in a predominantly Muslim country, I felt lost when I arrived in Canada in the fall of 2017, and I ended up joining the MSA in January 2018. Now, I am a club executive.
Since joining, MSA has provided me with a sense of community that I was lacking, and a place where I could share my struggles and learn how to navigate them with advice from other MSA members, like where I could buy halal food or new hijabs. I was able to celebrate important religious events like Eid and Ramadan with the other members, making my homesickness a little less painful. It has also helped me stay grounded in my faith at a time where Islam is constantly critiqued and when I get weird stares from strangers whenever I’m out and about.
Since SFU has a large international community, it is important for Muslims who are away from home to be able to find a sense of community here. It is also even more important for international students who may have never heard of Islam or have heard of it only in a negative light to get a chance to learn more to prevent misunderstandings and create a place of peace and understanding.
To dispel misconceptions surrounding Islam, the MSA hosted United Islam Awareness Week (UIAW) from January 21–25. Club executives invited four prominent Muslim North American speakers to speak about Islam in public lectures, on one evening from Tuesday to Friday. There was also a booth in the North AQ which operated from 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. everyday with resources about Islam, Islamic trivia, henna, free snacks, tea, and friendly volunteers who were present to talk about Islam. As a club executive who was present, I thought that the event turned out be a great success, with the last lecture having around 150 attendees.
“Personally, I had an amazing experience,” Khan wrote. “It was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
He also saw the impact that UIAW had on other students. He recounted that an individual converted to Islam after one of the lectures, and another individual became more confident about his faith once a question that had been concerning him for over a year was answered by U.K. speaker Hamza Tzortzis.
Saiyora Imamkulova, a first-time volunteer with the MSA, expressed that taking part in the event gave her the opportunity to strengthen her relationship with Allah (the Arabic word Muslims use for God). Her experience with UIAW made her want to be more involved in the Muslim community and she has now decided to volunteer with other events that the MSA holds.
“I believe it is a good platform for students to practice their religion Islam and stay connected to it, as MSA has and offers a variety of events, lectures and gatherings for students to enrich their knowledge on Islam and outside of it as well,” she wrote in an email interview.
While UIAW was a one-time mega event, MSA runs other events. One regular event is Sister’s Speak, which is all about empowering Muslim women by bringing in role models from the local community to present a certain topic, facilitate a workshop, and create a sense of community. In previous sessions, they have ranged from being informative lecture-style topics, such as hearing about a PhD student’s work on Bangladeshi sweatshops, finding a work-life-school balance, or sharing biographies of some of the greatest women in Islam. Others have been more social-oriented, intended for Muslim women to come together and find fun company with each other, through activities like henna and learning how to decorate cupcakes.
If you’re more interested in learning about Muslim individuals from the past, Knowledge Circle is the event for you! It is a series of lectures where Muslim intellectuals are covered, such as the four greatest imaams in Sunni Muslim history. On February 28, the MSA will be discussing Malcolm X.
While there are many other events, one big event that only happens once a year is called Ramadan iftaars. Ramadan is a month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims fast from before dawn to dusk, and the meal during which they have to break their fast at dusk is called iftaar. Multiple MSA volunteers get together after their fast to clean the area, get food ready for everyone, and welcome all the attendees. This event has also seen a significant amount of non-Muslim attendees who want to celebrate the breaking of the fast with Muslims, learn more about Ramadan, or just want to hang out and socialize!
Additionally, one of the pillars of Islam is praying five times a day, and this can be difficult to do when you’re out and about. Fortunately, the MSA provides Muslims with a prayer area that is found in the Interfaith Centre (AQ 3200). There, Muslims can perform wudhu (a mandatory washing of hands, feet, arms and face before performing prayers), a place to pray and a set of prayer mats, hijabs, and Qur’ans that people can borrow.
They also have weekly Jumu’ah prayers (Friday congregational prayers). These prayers currently start at 1 p.m. (the time changes with the seasons) where an individual will give a khutbah, a reminder or lecture about different aspects of Islam. The khutbah can include topics like giving to charity, controlling your speech, the importance of remembering Alla Prophetic stories, etc. The khutbah is then followed by the prayer. There have been several occasions where non-Muslims have attended the Friday congregational prayer to see what it is like.
Currently, the organization is also working with the BCIT MSA to create a page called Muslims on Campus, similar to Humans of New York. The goal of the page is to showcase Muslims on campus by sharing their stories in hopes to breakdown the stigma surrounding Muslims in the lower mainland and across the world.
Whenever you enter any SFU MSA event, you will hear people saying an Islamic greeting asalam alaikaum (may peace be upon you), with smiles to whoever that enters. I believe that that in itself is enough of an indicator that you will encounter friendly Muslims at the event who will welcome you with open arms (and maybe some food too).
If you want to get in touch, the MSA can be reached at the following links:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facebook: facebook/com/sfumsa
- Instagram: @sfu_msa
- Twitter: @sfu_msa