For Huda Zein-Sabatto, starting the first Muslim Student Association (MSA) at her high school in Nashville provided her with a sense of belonging to a community.
Finding new friends from the first day, she was no longer the only Muslim or hijabi student.
“Since then I have loved being part of an organization that helped identify me and made me proud to be Muslim,” Zein-Sabatto said, UT Daily Beacon reported.
“I no longer felt like I was the only Muslim or only hijabi or the only one that went and performed my prayers and regardless, it always feels good to know there’s someone else like you out there and that you have people to fall back on if anything were to happen.”
Now a senior studying biochemistry and neuroscience, Zein-Sabatto is the president of University of Tennessee’s chapter of the MSA.
She took her new position amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced a complete change of plans.
“MSA forever has always been a family type of organization. We always would do practically everything and anything together,” Zein-Sabatto said.
“All the nights we would meet up at the Annoor Masjid for our nightly prayer just a few minutes away from campus, then grab some dinner or dessert after, are now something we look back at and wish we did more of. Praying together between classes at Hodges in the silent room on the fifth floor does not happen anymore.”
Anticipating a different school year under COVID-19, the MSA is critically concerned with how to welcome first-year students to a completely different campus.
“I think the hardest thing this year because of COVID might have been having our annual welcome night for the incoming freshmen and a welcome back for the [upper] classmen online,” Zein-Sabatto said.
“It just did not have the same vibe as when we did it on the HSS lawn and had a barbecue all together and connected through games and icebreakers and actually got to connect with everyone.”
Since the start of the school year, the MSA has hosted an online Q&A for incoming freshmen, as well as a welcome meeting complete.
MSA also works to educate the wider non-Muslim community about their Muslim faith.
“It’s always nice to be able to meet other Muslims and support other Muslims and become friends,” Osman said.
“But more than anything else, I would say that what excites me is whenever we have the opportunity to do outreach or whenever we’re able to communicate with people who are not Muslim and teach about Islam and what it means to be Muslim. That really excites me.”
Connecting Muslim Students
The leaders of the MSA work to make Muslim students feel less alone, whether through in-person events or online.
“There are so many people that will make amazing friends just through our events, and I think that is so lovely that we are able to create this safe comfortable space for people to connect and make a friendship of a lifetime,” Zein-Sabatto said.
“I live to continue to offer these opportunities to people and just making them feel like they are not the only ones out there.”
Islam is the third largest religion in the US after Christianity and Judaism. According to 2016 estimates, there were 3.3 million Muslims living in the US forming about 1% of the total population.
In today’s America, Muslim students have been facing rising negative attitudes, ranging from blatant Islamophobia to microaggressions.
In this atmosphere, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) “strives to facilitate networking, educating, and empowering the students of today to be citizens of tomorrow’s community” according to its website.