For many Muslim students, college is a time of self-reflection and an opportunity to explore spirituality and religion without the pressures of home. Some of the greatest struggles for Muslim students today include navigating the social scene, alcohol, substance abuse, sexual relationships, LGBTQI identity, sexual assault and Islamophobia. These struggles are not unique to Muslim Americans; however, they affect students uniquely in the context of Islam. Muslim Student Associations (MSAs) and other similar organizations have historically not engaged with pressing and taboo topics. After hearing news of the first Muslim Fraternity established at University of Texas at Dallas, I found myself similarly disappointed by their failure to address these concerns, reproduction of power and institutionalized discrimination.
When I heard about Alif Laam Meem, (Alpha Lambda Mu), I found myself entirely confused. I questioned why any religious organization would strive to be modeled after a gendered institution with roots in white supremacy and elitism. I am all for Muslim unity and coalition, but we need to revolutionize what that looks like, rather than adopting discriminatory structures. What has been most troubling for me has been the amount of media and applause these young men have gathered. News of their existence went viral after photos of these men, sporting matching red taqiyah’s, held posters that read:
- “Muslim Say Yes to Women’s Rights”
- “Muslims Say Not to Domestic Violence”
Their recent success testifies to our community’s superficial understanding of activism. We should not be applauding men who superficially claim to be pro “women’s rights” just because they take a good picture. ALM has not only showed little understanding of true allyship in terms of domestic violence, but has also exploited the suffering of women for the purposes of publicity and appearing gender progressive. Muslim leaders and students need to truly reevaluate what it means to stand up against gendered violence, and need to realize that photo-opts, flash-mobs and other sensational ways of combating violence is never enough or worthy of applause. Furthermore, the recent publicity of ALM points to the underlying sexism and double standard that exists within Muslim and most other communities. The virality of ALM’s efforts speaks to the fact that broader society values male activism more so than that of women’s. This phenomenon also exists in many other contexts; white, male, straight, allyship is typically praised and celebrated more so than the activism of people of color, queers and other marginalized individuals.
I was able to have a conversation with the President of Alif Laam Meem on facebook, I questioned his intentions, founding principles and guidelines behind the ALM fraternity. What I discovered from his answers and also a recent interview with Nouman Ali Khan was beyond troubling. Some of the things he mentioned:
- We’re pretty different from most fraternities. Absolutely no drinking, no partying, no events with a sister sorority. We’re strictly about building disciplined Muslim men. Certain characteristics such as exclusivity and certain benefits such as networking still exist.
- Fraternities are typically, by nature, exclusive to males. It’s also difficult to develop real brotherhood if sisters are around. If we opened the organization up to sisters, we would be no different from an MSA.
- We would typically not allow someone who is openly and shamelessly gay to join the fraternity, as it is explicitly prohibited in the religion.
- Similarly, we would not allow someone who openly and shamelessly drinks, parties, gambles, or has a girlfriend to join the fraternity either… But if someone is doing something that they know is against Islam and is proud of it, they need to negotiate that before joining the fraternity.
- We saw a need for brotherhood that the MSA simply couldn’t fulfill… MSA is simply too open to really build people.
ALM operates under male, heterosexual, cis-gendered, heteronormative privilege and fundamental understandings of Islam. For one to join ALM, they must buy into a narrow understanding and interpretation of religion as defined by these “Muslim” leaders. ALM ultimately reproduces privilege in the Muslim community; the fraternity maintains male-hetero power structures within the ever-changing landscape of MSA’s and Muslim populations across college campuses.
Implications of A Muslim Fraternity on College Campuses
ALM threatens the very advancement of Muslim students and organizations across the country. If ALM’s presence becomes mainstream, it will dismantle and undermine the joint efforts of men, women, and non-gender conforming individuals. ALM’s establishment as a male fraternity as oppose to a gender inclusive one operates under misguided and sexist attitudes that the presence of women disturbs comradery.
A Muslim male fraternity has broad and dangerous implications on conformity. The selection and pledging process of ALM will inherently establish a value system in regards to gender expression, Muslim masculinity and religious expression that will affect both Greek and non-Greek Muslim individuals. From the language that ALM has used, their fraternity will not accept individuals who deviate from their construction and understanding of what it means to be a man or proper Muslim. Furthermore, men who do decide to join ALM will find themselves pressured to conform and buy into a narrow religious ideology.
The issue of exclusivity within a religious setting is especially toubling since Islam preaches equality and inclusiveness. Admission into this organization requires one to be a “good” practicing Muslim and to fulfill arbitrary guidelines such as: refraining from partying, drinking and relationships. Moreover, the president of ALM stated that the fraternity will “not allow someone who is openly and shamelessly gay”. Apparently, this overt discrimination is more than acceptable at University of Texas at Dallas. I reject any Muslim organization or institution that does not acknowledge the presence or needs of LGBTQI Muslims.
The establishment of ALM seems particularly interesting in the context of changing attitudes, perceptions and interpretations within Islam. As MSA’s and other college campus organizations look in the direction of gender equity, LGBTQI inclusion and accepting of variant interpretations of Islam, the establishment of ALM symbolizes a fundamentalist reaction to maintain power and privilege in Muslim communities. I strongly caution any university in establishing any form of a Muslim fraternity founded on the principles of ALM. Furthermore, I demand ALM to re-evaluate their discriminative guidelines of exclusion.
The founding of Alif Laam Meem has real and dangerous implications that threaten to institutionalize sexism, queerphobia and religious oppression within Muslim communities at every college campus in this country.
A member of ALM has also threatened to press charges as a form of intimidation and silencing.