Muslim Student Association returns to campus


Christopher Hyunjin Lee

Kamal Hammouda, the College’s interim Imam, helped establish the Muslim Student Association this year.

Molly Wilcoxson, Staff Writer

After a break due to the pandemic, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) has been re- established. In the past, the MSA has hosted Islamic events on campus, and Ahmad Ayyeh `25, Nazma Noray `23 and Amani Alqaisi `25 said they plan to continue this legacy.

The MSA shut down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the organization existed during the 2021-22 school year, they hosted no events. Instead, the Center for Religion, Spirituality and Social Justice (CRSSJ) was predominantly in charge of organizing Islamic events during that year, with the Dean of Religious Life, Deanna Shorb, overseeing these activities. These events included prayer groups and support during Ramadan, a month-long Islamic holiday.

However, Kamal Hammouda, the College’s interim Imam and former 2021 Grinnell mayoral candidate, said that the CRSSJ wanted to place the organization of Islamic activities into the hands of students during the 2022-23 school year. As a result, Shorb reached out to Ayyeh, Noray and Alqaisi to establish the MSA this academic year.

Hammouda recalled hosting the MSA in the back of his restaurant, Relish, during the 1991-92 school year.

“I have seen many iterations of the MSA,” Hammouda said. The MSA was active throughout the 2000s, and it maintained a social media presence from 2014-2018, prior to it being shut down.

Acknowledging this history, Hammouda said he plans to collaborate with the MSA this coming school year to build a strong Muslim community on campus by providing a spiritual voice to the activities of the MSA.

In the past, the MSA has worked with the CRSSJ to host events during Ramadan and Eid — a celebration which marks the end of Ramadan. In 2018, the MSA hosted Islamic Awareness Week, featuring movie screenings and panels elevating Muslim voices in the United States during a time of increased islamophobia.

Noray said that the MSA is looking forward to hosting a variety of events catered toward Muslim students on campus as well as those interested in Islamic culture. In addition to hosting events during Ramadan and Eid, the MSA hosts weekly Jamaat prayers every Friday in the CRSSJ from 1-3 p.m..

For other events throughout the school year, the MSA leaders plan on bringing guest speakers, hosting meals and celebrations for Islamic holidays and possibly even traveling to mosques in Des Moines or Iowa City for worship. Hammouda has reached out to the Des Moines Islamic community to see if they are interested in a collaboration with the MSA.

“We want to empower the Muslim community and have us be more visible,” said Noray.

Although all MSA gatherings are open to any students interested in attending, the main goal of the Muslim Student Association this year is to create a community for practicing Muslims to feel comfortable with themselves.

“I think it’s important for us to have a space where Muslim people can gather,” said Noray. “And then, once we have that community established, we can work on educating the rest of the campus.”

“I hope we can gather the community more,” said Alqaisi, referring to Muslim students on campus. “I do think we see each other around, but we don’t get to have many events together.”

Hammouda agreed with Alqaisi, noting that the Muslim student body on campus is relatively small. Although there are more Muslims on campus, he only has a list of roughly 20 students that he is in contact with. One of the goals for the MSA is to identify more Muslim students and get them involved.

“I want them to recognize the importance of being an integral part of the community in all aspects, and not to be isolated into themselves, like how some ethnic identities can feel,” he said.

Ultimately, Hammouda said the MSA wants to ensure that Muslim students feel seen and heard — that they are not forgotten as a part of Grinnell’s community. “Muslim students shouldn’t be afraid of asking questions, and I don’t think they should feel that being Muslim restricts them in any shape or form,” he said.