New York Times: Mainstream vs. Traditional MSA

February 21, 2008 § 2 Comments

The New York Times takes a look at the current controversy within the American Muslim Students Association (MSA). This time the hot button is gender issues. The debate that is discussed in this article is whether or not Islamic values and Sharia compliant codes of conduct should be applied to the standards of the MSA. I’m not sure if this debate can be presented in a proper manner on the New York Times which I have always found to contain a slight against Traditionalist Muslims but what can be done. The debate between the mainstream and traditional MSA is presented below.
clipped from
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.

Each chapter enjoys relative autonomy in setting its rules. Broadly, those at private colleges tend to be more liberal because they draw from a more geographically dispersed population, and the smaller numbers prompt Muslim students to play down their differences.

Chapters at state colleges, on the other hand, often pull from the community, attracting students from conservative families who do not want their children too far afield.

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§ 2 Responses to New York Times: Mainstream vs. Traditional MSA

  • James says:

    The good gray lady is doing the best it can. As the mouthpiece of the conventional wisdom and the establishment it is never going to please the people who are not part and parcel of traditional power structures.

    The MSA will always be a be a compromised and constrained organization. First it must follow the guidelines imposed by the College or University it is a part of. These institutions will have standards the MSA must comply with if they want the benefits of official recognition. Second they must adhere to local, state and federal guidelines.

    In the state University and colleges it gets even dicer. Exactly were does the freedom of religion clause of the 1st amendment leave off and the no establishment clause start? A public University might have to be much stricter in limiting Sharia concepts due to fears of getting in trouble with the ACLU. There could be major friction between the “conservative” or “observant” students and the unsympathetic state bureaucracy.

    Add to the fact there so many different ways of being Muslim and different interpretations even in “observant” circles. Nether the State nor private institutions have much stomach for getting in to these vagaries. The simplest solution for them is to insist on an inclusive, broad-ranging and “tolerant” mind set for any religious organization on campus. While most places of higher learning do try to let student organizations be self-governing there are limits.

    Going back to the Great Grey Lady, as firm believers in secularism and secularization they are going to be less sympathetic to more traditional forms of any religion. Yes it is a bias, but to expect any newspaper to be totally free of bias is to live in a fantasy land. It could have been a lot worse, it could have been the Washington Times. And seriously the Times did at least try to be as fair as they could; not that they could overcome your biases as how the story should be written.

  • dawudwalid says:

    As-Salaamu `Alaykum,

    Well, not only is there the issue of compliance with university rules such as there can be no overt gender separation on campuses, but MSA’s, depending on the area and size of the university, have to deal with various interpretations based upon their members.

    Hence at one local university in my area, I know that the MSA compromises of young adults that are Ja’faris, Tablighis, Ikhwaani influenced and a few mureeds of within the Shadhiliyyah. Accomodation and compromise within a group of Muslims, as long as there aren’t matters clearly haraam, should be the hallmark of MSA.

    Of course, this is far from the case on many campuses and wasn’t the case with MSA on the campus that I attended a decade ago that was Tablighi dominated, where sisters were basically excluded from totally.

    I cannot speak for other areas, but this issue that the NYT has raised has basically been reconciled in MSA’s here. NYT sells controversy just like other papers though it purports itself as a voice of liberalism and moderation.

    WALLAHU `Alim.


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