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

i100'Geography can be tough'
newsVideo targets undecided voters
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Pricing Manager, Finance, Edinburgh, £250-350p/d

£250 - £350 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is cur...

SEN Tutor- Speech and Language Specialist part time

£80 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Cover Sup...

IT Teacher September strt with view to permanent post

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

Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis