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MSA Offers Haven for Muslims

By Edward M. Grauman
In a secular society like ours, religious students may feel lost when entering the diverse and unfamiliar environment of college. This holds true for a number of Muslim students, many of whom lead active religious lives. The Muslim Students' Association is expressly devoted to bringing these students together in a religious and social context.

The MSA tries "to bring the Muslims at MIT together as a community, and to help them practice Islam if they wish," according to MSA President Hisham A. Hasanein G. The group also tries to make Islam better understood within MIT. These goals are accomplished through weekly prayer meetings, various social events, and occasional fund raisers, Hasanein said.

MSA members represent countries from around the world, including Pakistan, Egypt, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and the United States, according to Hasanein. The meetings are conducted in English, although members are free to speak among themselves in their mother tongues, he added.

"We have a very diverse background," Hasanein said. "As president of a society like this, you have to be careful not to offend people of different cultural backgrounds."

The MSA has undergone rapid growth and change in the past two years, according to Hasanein. Two years ago it changed its name from the MIT Islamic Society so it would be identified with the MSA of America, although there was no actual affiliation between the groups, Hasanein said. At that time, the MSA was a relatively small group. Since then, it has expanded to include over 100 members, he added.

The group is governed by an executive committee consisting of a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, social coordinator, public relations officer, Da'awa coordinator, and Mesjid officer, according to Hasanein. The Da'awa coordinator is involved in MIT community outreach -- he spreads the message of Islam and gets people to the meetings. The Mesjid officer takes care of the prayer room, which is located in the basement of Ashdown House.

The MSA conducts a Friday prayer in which a student member gives a sermon, Hasanein said. These meetings are open to anyone of the Muslim faith and are often attended by people outside the MIT community, he added.

The group traditionally brings the Muslim community together in the yearly celebration of Eid and the holy month of Ramadan, Hasanein said. Eid occurs at the end of hajj -- the time of the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca. Ramadan, also known as the "fasting month," will occur between mid-February and mid-March this year. During this month, no food may be consumed during daylight hours. Every day of Ramadan, the MSA holds an after-sunset meal in the prayer room.

The MSA also is involved in a number of fundraising projects each year, according to Hasanein. In previous years, it has collected humanitarian donations for Yugoslavia, Bangladesh, and Palestine.

However, "it's not a politically oriented group," Hasanein said. "Individual members may have political causes, but it's not a main objective of the group."

The MSA also sponsors conferences and seminars on Islam-related topics, Hasanein said. In addition, it maintains a library of Islamic books and journals.