10 Things I Learned From Muslim Woman of Color in the MSA

In our final piece celebrating Women’s History month, we hear from a UM alumna and current graduate student studying Social Work, Annie Sajid, as she shares ten things she has learned from other Muslim women of color in our community.


This is more of a love letter to the women of color in the MSA who have shaped, informed, and redefined integral parts of who I am and who I would like to be rather than a self-help piece claiming to espouse some esoteric wisdom. 

This is also a love letter to all of the Muslim women of color in the MSA who I may never know.

1) You will never learn enough about yourself or the deen.
Maybe you are a borderline shaykha, one of those sisters who comes from a strong tight-knit Muslim community and has been Islamically trained by some of the best Muslim scholars around. Or maybe you are a brown girl from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who always craved a Muslim community, but didn’t know the difference between a mufti or an imam (guilty). Either way, your first two years in the MSA will grant you the opportunity to learn and unlearn everything you thought you knew about Islam and yourself. Tightly embrace this opportunity.

2) The MSA is more than a monolith.
Before you even come to campus, you will hear about University of Michigan’s MSA. you will learn it is one of the biggest and most active MSAs in the country. You will hear glowing remarks or brutal indictments about the MSA. Never make assumptions about the culture of the MSA. It is more than just “conservative” one year and then “liberal” the next. The MSA is a fluid, dynamic powerhouse organization that is waiting for you to take ownership of it.

3) Never say no to an adventure.
You will meet a sister who has a real hankering for donuts around midnight on a Monday night. Go to Dom’s (cute 24 hour donut/bakery shop in Ypsilanti) with her for the adventure. You will meet a sister who is committed to going to every single Mini Qiyam regardless of the snowpocalypse outside. Brave the weather with her. You will meet a sister who wants to review every foodie restaurant in Ann Arbor. Put on a bib and say Bismillah.

4) Don’t allow your labor for the MSA to remain unacknowledged.
As a Fresh(wo)man and Sophomore, observe and examine the power dynamics in the MSA. Why are men leaders easily accepted and revered? Why don’t men leaders face the same type or amount of scrutiny as you? Why don’t they have to qualify their contributions and ideas? Why don’t they apologize for taking up as much space as they desire? Why are they praised for being passionate for their work, while you are being deemed too emotional? This goes to say that while you should hold tremendous humility for the work you do in serving the community, it also means you should demand accountability from those who are silencing, and/or erasing your labor, worth, and voice.

5) Ghayba (gossiping) never leads to any good.
Backbiting does not facilitate solutions. It teaches us women to compete with one another in harmful and divisive ways. As much as you want to share who you saw together in the Tower Plaza lobby, please refrain from being a fitna-mongerer.

6) Your lived experiences hold truths.
There will be times when you will be gaslighted aka told that your reality is false and the reality of a mansplainer is the truth. You will be shaken to your core when people say you are overreacting or being irrational when you are demanding to be heard and respected. You will be cut off when you are speaking. Your ideas for community-building might be painted as divisive. Men might summarize everything you have been saying for an entire meeting/semester and then receive all the accolades for all your thoughts and ideas. Your leadership might be questioned every step of the way. This violent act will make you doubt yourself in detrimental ways. Release these toxins by turning to Allah (SWT) for support and to those who affirm, honor, and love you.

7) Your community will evolve as you evolve.
Your best sisterfriend freshman year might not be the sisterfriend you give a shout-out to during your Senior Halaqa speech. That is okay. If we demonstrated kindness, love, and humility in our relationships and we grow out of them, it doesn’t mean we have failed. It means we should celebrate the bravery it takes to grow up together.

8) We are not a post-racial ummah much less a post-racial MSA.
You might notice that the main MSA sister circles are dominated by Desi Sunni Muslim hijabi straight upper-middle-class women from Metro-Detroit. This means that if you hold membership in any of these communities, recognize that you hold unearned power. Interrogate your assumptions and biases as prescribed to us by our deen.

9) Strive to heal, grow, and love your whole being.
This is so much harder than it sounds, but the first step to growing intellectually, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually means uncovering what needs healing and rebuilding. Before you can begin to grow, confront what hurts. There will be times when you need to face the pain on your own, and others time you will need someone else to witness/ accompany you in the process, but either way tend to it with the help of Allah (SWT).

10) Sisterhood is paramount to your survival on this campus, in this community,
and in this world.
Sisterhood is where we thrive the most in our lives. Feed, nourish, care, and love one another deeply. This was essential to my survival, and it will be essential to yours.

Love,

Annie

Women’s History Month – A Reminder

This anonymous post is from a community member who shares her insights into women’s education and the struggles of our mothers before us in this pursuit of knowledge.

“A Reminder…

Whenever I see my tata, I can be sure of three things: my grandmother is going to ask how my sister is, I will have to eat, and she will remind me that the one thing people cannot take from a woman is her education. Alhamdulillah, the female Muslim students at the University of Michigan have received the opportunity to obtain a degree. There are many people throughout the world who continue to suffer trying to receive even the most minimal of educations. Some activists even risk their lives for the cause.

When I feel like the load and stress of college is too much to bear, I think back to my tata, and the life my grandmother endured in Lebanon. As a child, my grandmother had a great desire to learn and attend school; however, her mother was extremely traditional. She did not believe in the education of woman and believed my grandmother’s place was at home caring for her brothers. This did not stop my tata from trying. She would sneak away to the school every chance she got, but when her mother found out she would be forced back home and punished.

Today, my grandmother repeatedly vocalizes her regret of never completing any type of education. She feels a lack of education held her back and life. Because of this, she was adamant about her daughters receiving a college education. My grandmother helped her daughters against many odds to provide them an education. Today, she pushes her grandchildren to take advantage of the opportunities for education we have been given. If she could give us anything in the world, it would be an education, especially for her granddaughters.

Alhamdulillah we have all been given an opportunity to study at a university my grandmother can never even dream of. May we all seize the opportunity and pass on the value of education to our own children, and remind them and ourselves of education’s great value.”

MSA-ASB 2014 – Day 6 & Recap

As the team arrives back in Ann Arbor, Sara and Lehman share their final reflections. 

“Mirroring the experience of being a senior on campus, we all felt as Friday came that this trip had gone by so very quickly. On our last full day, we carried on the long-anticipated tradition of past UM groups by creating M block t-shirts for the kids and for ourselves. As light rays of sunlight illuminated all the smiles in the room, we signed our names, shared some lasting memories, and left strong words of encouragement.

We spent dinner at Giordano’s, speaking about various issues and experiences, notably our Jumu’ah experience at the local mosque earlier in the afternoon. The Khutbah was presented in a different style than some of us were accustomed to—entirely in Arabic, and only a few minutes in length. While we recognized this may have been convenient to a busy employee leaving their workplace to fulfill their religious duties, we discussed the crucial role this end-of-the-week congregation plays in revitalizing our faith and our relationship to Allah (swt). Instead of simply going through the motions, it is essential that we are cognizant of why we perform acts of worship, and to keep our intentions pure. It only seemed appropriate that our dinner there lasted quite a while, as the entire time was filled with conversation and discussion between everyone in the group, with knowledge that we’d all be heading back to reality the next day.

During the night’s reflection we explored our personal growth and self discovery both within our experience over the past week, and throughout our college years. The conversation then shifted towards our intentions in participating in the trip and the stark reality that our group has learned and benefited from the service much more than we could ever dream to give to the center. We asked critical questions and thought deeply about the experience as a whole. Would it have been better for us to simply donate the money we raised in going to Chicago to AYS, rather than spend our week with them and then just leave?

On our last day, we were lucky enough to go on a fieldtrip with some of the students to Outback Steakhouse, their favorite restaurant. It was great to spend time with the youth outside the facility, and really just get to speak with them and spend some last quality time. Upon returning, we had the opportunity to hear Shari’s thoughts about our work and the relationship UM has been able to sustain with AYS. She informed us that it wasn’t UM who offered to help Shari, but rather, it was Shari who personally sought us out over 10 years ago. She had asked local university students in Chicago to organize a spring break service trip at her center with no success. It was in Shari’s comforting hugs, teary eyes, and radiating smile as we said our goodbyes that we knew that our trip was worth it. We could never place a price on the love shared with them, and the relationships we built. While we wish we could have given them more, we know must use this as an enabling experience by applying what we have learned in serving our communities for many years to come. 

Thank you to everyone who followed along with our trip, we hope you were able to take away some benefit from our reflections here on the blog, and we encourage anyone who can to sign up for next year’s trip!”

MSA-ASB 2014 – Day 5

The ASB team rounds off the week with the penultimate day of working with the kids of AYS. Hawa and Noah share their insights on Thursday, the fifth day of the trip.

“Coming to the facility we had new objectives that we wanted to tackle. One of which was cleaning Shari’s desk and the surrounding area. Shari’s main focus has always been the children that come to the facility and she seems to disregard her needs selflessly. Because of this, her space was clogged and condensed with materials that needed to be sorted. Another issue we wanted to tackle was the lack of sunlight due to high shelves stacked with many boxes. We reorganized these boxes and allocated them to different areas of the room. The children were noticeably impressed with the renovations that we completed before they arrived.

Shari, the Director of AYS, gave us the honor of organizing the arts and crafts project for the day. We decided to do a project that would be very interactive between the kids and the volunteers while utilizing the materials that were already at the center. The project was making a banner consisting of children’s drawings that could be displayed in the room. It was one of the kid’s birthdays and the team wrapped gifts and bought pizza to celebrate.

As the end of the week approaches, the children and the volunteers seem to deal with this idea in different ways. We arrived knowing the experience was going to be limited but the reality of our departure was slowly sinking in. The children were already questioning about our return, which makes the situation more difficult. Despite this, the atmosphere was more relaxed and the kids were no longer apprehensive to approach us. Homework was done right away without much convincing so that we had more time to play and do arts and crafts.

We ended our day going to an MSA event at the University of Illinois – Chicago for a lecture by Sheikh Abdulkarim Yahya and dinner. Afterwards we headed out to walk around the city and get gelato. During our nightly reflection, the conversation redirected from what we were learning from the kids to how we can apply our experience back home in Ann Arbor and our lives. We also talked about how this experience affected our spirituality and how much we have grown in the past couple days.”

MSA-ASB 2014 – Day 4

Afrah and Sayf share their reflections on the fourth day of the MSA’s ASB trip to northside Chicago, working with Asian Youth Services.

“The day began with our usual commute to AYS where we spent the day cleaning and organizing the center in order to create more space for the multitude of children. The goal was to create a greater amount of floor space to better accommodate the children and their needs. Our efforts were rewarded with a neater and more spacious area for us to maneuver while tutoring and playing with the children.

The additional space encouraged the children to take advantage of available equipment that usually remains untouched, such as the foosball table. We were grateful for this additional avenue of interaction with the children, especially since we had been hitting a wall in our interactions with some of them. This new game provided an incentive for some students to complete their schoolwork and helped some of the more reserved children to open up to us.

By this point in the week, many of us were finding the children to be more comfortable around us. Some of the more quiet children became more talkative as we came to better understand their personalities. Everyday we have left more satisfied with our growing relationships with each child. Our time spent with the children has been increasingly rewarding as days have gone by.

At the end of the day, we caught a glimpse of one of the struggles that some of the children face. A few of the children were left at the center, unable to contact their parents to pick them up and they needed Shari to take them home.  Sadly, this did not appear to be the first time a situation like this had occurred. We were reminded that many of the children face difficulties in their daily lives that those of us with a more privileged upbringing did not have to contend with as children.

At the end of the day we found ourselves struggling with the issue of how to apply some of the lessons we have learned in the last few days once our trip ends. We have been reflecting on our experiences these past few days and doing our best to understand the struggles we have seen. While it is not easy to relate to such different lifestyles we are trying to learn as much as we can from Shari and the children. Although we are only here for a week, we are hoping to come away with lessons that we can use to better ourselves and our communities.”

MSA-ASB 2014 – Day 3

The third day of the MSA’s Alternative Spring Break volunteer trip to Chicago saw the team working with the kids of AYS again, as well as being part of the annual UM Alumni Association ASB dinner in downtown Chicago. Mishaal and Hussein share their reflections on the day.

“Waking up, the team was excited to start the day and head to the site to work with the kids. When we arrived, we immediately began working on the space. Even though it has only been a few days, we can see an improvement in the look of the center. The kids of AYS began filing in, as usual. As we were getting more and more familiar with it all, we jumped right in.

Today spelled something unique. It was the first time that we collectively prayed the asr salah here on site. While some of us were working with the kids, we got up in groups and started praying. There was a noticeable buzz and chatter amongst the children. Some kids turned their heads to watch, while others looked on with curiousity. They were tuned in to what was happening. The kids were really considerate, some going as far as making sure each of their tutors has performed the salah. Another even went out of his way to make sure we had room for sujood, pulling tables out of the way.

The little girls of AYS has questions of their own. One asked,

“Why do you have to wear that on your head? Why don’t the boys wear it?”

It was interesting to see grade school children asking these questions. The day went on and childlike wonder presented us with more inquiry.

What are you guys?”

“We’re all muslims.”

But you guys all look so different. How can you all be muslim?”

We loved expanding the children’s experiences and quenching their curiosity.

Organizing the site   |     Celebrations for Noah’s birthday and Sara’s acceptance into UM Pharmacy school

After this, we left northside Chicago and headed downtown to attend a yearly dinner held by the UM Alumni Association’s Chicago chapter. Three other ASB groups were in attendance as well. It was a nice experience meeting alumni from the Chicago area and conversing with them about opportunities that their association holds.

Since we were in a building that far exceeded our small-town tastes, we snuck out and took some pictures. On the 45th floor of the famed Franklin center, we were able to see a great view of the Chicago skyline.

Finally, we headed back to the YMCA for the night and discussed what we saw on our third day.

MSA-ASB 2014 – Day 2

The team’s second day saw us working with the children of Asian Youth Services for the first time. Here, Angubeen, Kawthar, and Osman, share a short reflection on the happenings of the first day.

“Coming into work on Monday morning, most of us were unsure what to expect. Once we arrived at Asian Youth Services, however, our experiences surpassed anything we could have planned for. Before the children joined us after school, we had many concerns about the space in which we were working. Initially, the space seemed relatively small in accommodating approximately 35 kids, 14 college students, parents, and Shari, the AYS Coordinator.  When the children finally arrived, it became apparent that they knew how to work within the space they had and make the best of it. That made it easier for us to focus on the work we were doing with the kids and our purpose for being there.

Each of the kids we worked with were exceptional: they were respectful of one another and of us and open to sharing their experiences and opinions. What really stood out to us were the strong bonds they had formed with Shari and their friends at Asian Youth Services, and their willingness to extend those bonds to us. Our day at AYS consisted of helping the kids with their homework, reading books they liked, and participating with them in scheduled activities, such as scrapbooking, making bracelets, eating mud-pies, and playing board games. Although we were there for 8 hours, we lost track of time because of all the fun we were having.

Our first day at AYS made us cognizant of the limited time we have, as well as the impact that the children will have on us. It also made us reflect on how the kids we met are not defined by their circumstances. Our work at Asian Youth Services may focus on addressing educational disparities, but these kids are more than that. In meeting them we saw first hand how their positive attitudes, liveliness, and constant laughter and joy captures their resilience. Upon entering similar communities, instead of going in to “fix” a situation, we hope we always remain conscious of fact that these are people like us, with backgrounds and experiences that are as diverse as our own. We are excited for the rest of the week and what lasting impact the children at Asian Youth Services are going to have on us.”

MSA-ASB 2014 – Day 1

Asalaamu alaikum everyone!

InshAllah all of your spring breaks have gotten off to great starts. Whether in the cold of Detroit or if you escaped somewhere warmer, you deserve this time to relax and recharge. This is the MSA ASB 14 crew reporting to you from Chicago, IL. For the next week, inshAllah you can stop by the MSA blog daily for updates and recaps of how we are spending our week working with Asian Youth Services (www.asianyouthservices.org).

Today was our first full day in the Windy City, and we’ve gotten off to a really great start. We headed to AYS for orientation with the amazing founder and single employee of the site, Shari Fenton. We learned some of the history of the facility, as well as all about the types of things AYS does for it’s students, and we were in awe from how much she does single-handedly to help the youth reach their full potential. We will be working with pre-k to high school youth starting Monday, tutoring for homework, playing games, doing crafts, and so much more with the youth, and we are so excited to get started.

After orientation, we had some time to relax, and decided to head downtown and spend the evening there. We went to Millennium Park where we ice skated outdoors under the night sky, and took the mandatory/cliche picture next to the bean. It was cold, but tons of fun.

The night capped with eating pizza together back at our housing, Leaning Tower YMCA, while watching the Oscars and cheering on our peer Zaineb Abdul-Nabi as she appeared on the red carpet as well as on stage. We were so excited to see her and so proud of the work she’s done and the deserved acclaim she received, congratulations Zaineb!  To end the night, we had some great reflection where we discussed things we had heard from Shari earlier, as well as personal thoughts and feelings about topics such as parenting, food accessibility, and the many aspects that contribute to academic success. Today was a great start to what should be an incredible week, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store.

Until tomorrow,
The ASB team

14 from ’14

As the class of 2014 prepares to receive their diplomas by ordering their gowns and fighting senioritis (a real disease) for their final semester, many reflect on the time they have spent at the University of Michigan. They will take with them years of experiences and knowledge, as well of years of growth and learning. The Editorial Team asked MSA upperclasswomen and men to share some pieces of advice, and then compiled the list below of the top 14 pieces of wisdom from the Class of 2014 to help other students…

“Stay busy. Stay engaged. [and] Manage their time well.”

1. Discover New Places

“Don’t get stuck in a routine. Let yourself get lost on campus– walk around, find new places to eat, study, and hang out.The best places are discovered accidentally when you explore a little. (If you need an idea to get started, go eat at Le Dog).”

2. Branch Out

“Engage in extracurriculars YOU enjoy, not ones you think will look good on a resume/application. Don’t limit yourself to one activity. Joining just one more club, organization or whatever it may be can lead you to that one opportunity that later determines your lifetime career.”

3. Enjoy Academics

“Take classes for fun. They are out there we promise. Diversify and take classes that are outside of your field (especially if you are an engineer of premed/science major) and with what you think you’d be interested in. Live a little! It’ll help you stick out in the med/engerineering/law/grad  school application process.”

4. Introspection

“Check yo self before you wreck thy self. #sheikspeare”

5. Set Standards

“No matter what you are going to meet the right people at the right time to get you where you need to go. Set the bar high for yourself each time.”

6. Be There

“If you’re friend needs you, take time out and be there for him/her. Missing one homework assignment or taking a break for people that matter won’t ruin you. People come before anything and everything (except Allah of course).”

7. Ask Around

“Ask the upperclassmen for help with any academic related issues that you have. They are a thousand times better than advisors at the University.”

8. Company Matters

“Keep positive company, they’ll help you cope with stress by taking you out for BenandJerrys or perhaps uplift you with words of wisdom. Be near and dear to them!”

9. #NoRegrets

“ALWAYS apply, so at least then you’ll actually have had a chance. #noregrets”

10. Ritualize With friends

“No matter if it’s with 1 other person, 5 other people, or 20 other people, have a tradition you do with them AT LEAST once a month on campus. It can be anything, but make sure you stick to it, even if you have an exam or something. The relationships you make and have here are important, make time for them!”

11. Socialize

“Go to social events and become friends with everyone! You’ll always be able to run into these people years later and reminisce about your college  days.”

12. Alone Time

“Go watch a movie by yourself in the Michigan Theater one day. #itbuildscharacter #dontbuythepopcorn”

13. Prioritize

“Never forget, your intention is between Allah (swt) and yourself, so never let anyone else come in the way of you and that sacred relationship.”

14. Be Open To Others

“Don’t make assumptions about people. Give people a chance. Don’t judge them. You never know what someone has gone through and what is truly in their heart until you give them a chance and listen.

May these words of wisdom help you navigate your way through your time at U of M and remind you to appreciate the small things. College only happens once; enjoy it while you can!

A semester’s welcome from the Michigan Muslim Editorial Team

The newly-formed Michigan Muslim Editorial team would like to welcome you to the Michigan Muslim Blog. Here, we post a variety of stories, including, but not limited to, journalistic, humorous, and religious articles. If you can not find a story that interest you, let us know! We want you to join the conversation. After all this a blog for students by students.

This semester, we look forward to writing about many different topics. Some include:

  • an advice piece from upperclasswomen and men to underclasswomen and men
  • a bi-weekly brief news recap on the happenings of the Muslim geo-political world
  • a political cartoons contest for our artistic community members
  • a satire piece on the stigmas placed on the Michigan Muslim community
  • a class essay “recycling” contest

If these topics interest you, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Without further ado, here are brief introductions of this semester’s team:

Yasmeen Farran is a Freshman at the college of LSA. She came into college with a plan for the next four years; however, like most Freshmen, that plan seems to continuously change. Some of her hobbies include reading, writing short stories, and being goofy with family. She recently joined the Muslim editorial staff and is excited to write and edit pieces for the blog. Yasmeen can be reached through email at yfarran@umich.edu.

Sheema Rehman is a Freshman in the college of LSA still figuring out the ins and outs to Michigan. She has many academic interests relating to the sciences and public policy. Outside of the classroom, her interests include college football, watching excessive amounts of tv dramas, entertaining cheesy jokes, and chatting it up with her friends. She is excited about what the Michigan Muslim editorial team has in stored and looks to write about a variety of different topics. Sheema can be reached through email at sfrehman@umich.edu.

Hussein Sheikh-Aden is a Junior studying Sociology. This year, he is serving as the chair of the Publications committee. His main interests include writing terrible poetry, hip-hop, non-American football, avoiding parking tickets in Ann Arbor, and self-deprecating humor. As part of this year’s Michigan Muslim editorial team, he looks to write pieces pertaining to general opinion and social commentary. He can be reached directly at sheikhad@umich.edu.

See our table at the Winter Mass Meeting tonight and sign-up to be in our mailing list to help produce content for the blog!

Thank you for reading, we look forward to writing.