Inside America's first Muslim frat house

With their hard-partying image, college fraternities are a strange place for Muslim men, yet the first all-Muslim frat - Alif Laam Meem - opened at the University of Texas early this year

When someone mentions college fraternities, a group of devout, celibate young men is not the first image that springs to mind. Thanks to endless gross-out Hollywood comedies, people are bombarded by images of privileged men drinking away their degrees at parties with the ubiquitous red and blue Solo cups, but something different is happening.

In February this year, America’s first Muslim Fraternity was established at the University of Texas; Ali Mahmoud is the President of Alpha Lambda Mu (or Alif Laam Meem) and its founder.

Although fraternities are seen as little more than glorified residential drinking clubs, it was not always that way.

Ali explains: “The primary purpose of a fraternity is to unite these men as brothers under a specific cause.” However, the reputation of fraternities changed in the 20th century, when fraternities became known for their party culture more than anything else.

If the idea of a fraternity is so negatively charged, what could have prompted the decision to establish a Muslim fraternity? Apparently, it all started out as a joke.

“The idea of a Muslim fraternity seemed heretical,” says Ali. However, as they worked on the idea they realised that many Muslim men at university felt that they either had to compromise their social life in order to live by the values of Islam, or compromise the values of Islam in order to have a social life. Ali believed a balance was achievable, and that was the path the establishment of Alpha Lambda Mu was trying to pave.

They created the fraternity, based on the principles of Islam - mercy, compassion, justice, integrity, honesty, unity, love, and sincerity - in order to prove that a modern Muslim college student could live as a dignified, respectable man and still have an organic college experience. They hope that in their fraternity, their members – ‘young, self-actualised Muslim men’ – will be servants to their families and every aspect of their greater community.

“Muslims are supposed to bring benefit and prevent harm to everyone and anything, not just Muslims.”

Alpha Lambda Mu has attracted some criticism for their appropriation of ‘exclusivist ideals’. One group, Cornell Muslim Dissents, was particularly vocal. The author of a viral post on tumblr wondered why any ‘religious organization would strive to be modelled after a gendered institution with roots in white supremacy and elitism. I am all for Muslim unity and coalition, but we need to revolutionize what that looks like, rather than adopting discriminatory structures’.

Ali’s response? “In order for us to craft this Muslim-American identity, we’re going to need to have a number of conversations along the way. It’s difficult to have this conversation when we’re constantly telling people what Islam isn’t instead of what it is due to pre-emptive attacks with hidden agendas. I think it’s time to calm down and have intelligent, open-minded conversations if we want to make any progress. We’re taking what’s good from the fraternity model and leaving what’s bad.”

Fraternity brothers of Alif Laam Meem at the Men's Rally Against Domestic Violence in Dallas in March Fraternity brothers of Alif Laam Meem at the Men's Rally Against Domestic Violence in Dallas in March (Facebook)  

The fraternity is leaving the culture of excessive partying, and the elitist mentality by choosing members based on that which is in their control. “We’re not looking for perfect Muslims. None of us is perfect. We would rather take a humble struggler who understands his faults and believes that he can overcome his challenges by joining the fraternity, than someone who is too blinded by arrogance to see any room for self-improvement. We’ll grow together, we’ll keep each other in check, and we’ll hopefully all come out as better people and better contributors to society.”

The role of Islam in America is a notoriously divisive subject; in the wake of the Boston bombings anti-Islamic sentiment was everywhere on social and traditional media even before any information was known about the perpetrator of the attack. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the predictable response of the right-wing media, the Islamic community was at the forefront of the response to the Boston attack, with Alpha Lambda Mu among those fund-raising for the victims. Yet, Islam is still often vilified in the national press.

In such a seemingly hostile environment, could it be possible that Alpha Lambda Mu was a step towards the further integration of Muslims into America?  

“Absolutely not,” says Ali. “We cannot integrate or assimilate into a society that we’re already a part of.

“I personally grew up in Plano, Texas. I went to public school, I played Xbox Live all the time with my friends who weren’t Muslim, and I regrettably ate too much fast food. I’m a proud American Muslim, and I see no contradiction of those two titles. Islam is my moral compass that guides every aspect of my life, but it also leaves room for our cultural experiences.”

Something that Ali speaks particularly eloquently on is the interesting position of being a Muslim in modern America: “One of the beautiful things about Islam is that it is a religion that is meant to fit different times and different places.

“Yes, there are core values that do not change regardless of where the religion is established, but there is room for flexibility. An exciting challenge we have as young Muslims in the United States is figuring out how Islam fits in 21st century America. We can only do this with a strong understanding of the religious tradition and a strong understanding of the cultural reality of our day. The synthesis of the two is indeed Islam itself, and lacking in either understanding calls for recalibration. The goal is balance.”

Cake in the face for Imran, one of the fraternity's first alumni Cake in the face for Imran, one of the fraternity's first alumni (Facebook)  

Texas – to the uninitiated – seems like an odd place for a Muslim fraternity to establish itself, but Ali is quick to leap to its defence: “The amount of love we’ve been getting from all around the world eclipses the negativity that Muslims have received and gives us hope for a brighter future of tolerance, understanding, peace, and love for each other.”

With identity crisis fast becoming a feature of the modern teenager, creating a safe environment for Muslims to hold onto their beliefs without becoming ostracised from the wider community seems like a positive solution to a tricky dilemma.

“We 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.”

 

Jo Barrow is editor of York Vision, a student newspaper

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Teacher

£80 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: KS1 & 2 Supply teachers ur...

Year 4 Teachers needed for day to day and long term

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

PPA Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past