A photo of fraternity members protesting domestic violence against women. Image courtesy Facebook.
Sep 4, 2013 The word â€˜fraternityâ€™ has been endlessly abused by Hollywood movies. It immediately summons up visions of drinking, partying â€˜brosâ€™ in American universities â€“ playing football, ogling women and generally having a good time. But one group is making an effort to reclaim the word â€“ as well as what Islam means in America.
Alif Laam Meem at the University of Texas is the first of its kind â€“ a Muslim fraternity. The group shot into internet and media fame when they took to the streets to protest domestic violence against women earlier this year.
â€œMembers of Alif Laam Meem, the founding chapter of the new Alpha Lambda Mu Fraternity, held signs that said â€˜Muslims Say No to Domestic Violenceâ€™ and â€˜Muslims Say Yes to Womenâ€™s Rightsâ€™ at the Menâ€™s Rally Against Domestic Violence in Dallas on March 24 to protest the abuse of women and to put a positive face on a religion they say is often misunderstood,â€ reported ABC News.
The group says that they have been living as Americans their entire life, and part of that experience has been constantly explaining what Islam is â€˜notâ€™ â€“ and theyâ€™re tired of it. â€œItâ€™s difficult to have this conversation when weâ€™re constantly telling people what Islam isnâ€™t instead of what it is due to pre-emptive attacks with hidden agendas. I think itâ€™s time to calm down and have intelligent, open-minded conversations if we want to make any progress. Weâ€™re taking whatâ€™s good from the fraternity model and leaving whatâ€™s bad,â€ said Ali Mahmoud, the president of the fraternity in an article in the Independent.
The group doesnâ€™t drink and does not believe in â€œadultery or fornication,â€ Mahmoud said, adding that the group wants to create a brotherhood focused on â€œconstructing real menâ€ in line with the teachings of Islam. They have mostly received overwhelmingly positive press.
â€œThe American Muslim community is predominantly composed of members younger than thirty five. The effect to which such young people succeed in their goals will bring great contributions to the American society at large. And most importantly, I find it very heartwarming to see young men at this critical age with goals and aspirations to bring social justice and dignity to all,â€ said an editorial in the Examiner.
But on the flip side, some are wondering whether the idea of a â€˜fraternityâ€™ â€“ an overwhelmingly male, Western institution can be adopted for such purposes. The idea has always been negatively charged â€“ can one fraternity really â€˜reclaimâ€™ it? Another problematic area is that since the fraternity aims to be in line with Islamic belief, it is exclusionary in a way that other fraternities might not be â€“ for example, with gay men.
A Tumblr site called â€˜Cornell Muslim Dissidentsâ€™ says that it has had a Facebook conversation with the president of Alif Laam Meem and interviewed Nouman Ali Khan. The Tumblr says that during the interviews it was revealed that the fraternity â€œwould typically not allow someone who is openly and shamelessly gay to join the fraternity, as it is explicitly prohibited in the religion.â€
For his part, Mahmoud denies these claims and says the comments are â€œdistorted.â€ â€The fraternity denies any claims of being homophobic,â€ he said to ABC News, and that any homophobic behavior was â€œagainst the religion.â€
A fraternity is (at least officially) supposed to be a good way for students to â€˜networkâ€™. While attending universities, the connections you make with fellow students and faculty are arguably one of the bigger gains out of the experience. These are the people who will one day become your colleagues, bosses and a contact you call to get an internship for a talented niece. But in the current form of a fraternity, if you donâ€™t drink, smoke and â€˜like to partyâ€™, youâ€™re straight out of luck.
For this reason alone, the Muslim fraternity model stands validated. Disallowing a group from a social activity (and the eventual benefits of that) is as close as it can to thoughtless religious discrimination.
And if Alif Laam Meem is a little exclusionary, what of it? They claim not to be homophobic, and itâ€™s a line they will have to tread carefully given the strong push for LGBT rights in the USA. If that is true, other methods of exclusion (members canâ€™t have a girlfriend, have to be â€˜seriousâ€™ about Islam), are no better or worse than other fraternity guidelines. â€œWe hope that after all is said and done, we will have a strong group of guys who will stand up for social justice, for the needy, and for their societies just as the religion calls them to do,â€ says Ali. As fraternities go, itâ€™s standing head and shoulders above others.