Organizations, clubs and communities can help enrich the everyday lives of students, and are especially valuable programs for expanding diversity and cultural acceptance within a college community. For almost 40 years, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) of Ohio University has been a warm and welcoming community for many Muslim and international students on campus.
The Islamic Center of Athens, which has housed the MSA since 1986, is located at 13 Stewart St. on East Green across from Gamertsfelder Hall. It includes different facilities that offer various religious and social activities for Muslim students. The MSA strives to provide education about Islam through outreach programs and events. With integration and coexistence in mind, the group has held several events in the past year, including a celebration of Eid al-Fitr at the end of the month of Ramadan, which brought many community members from the surrounding area together to celebrate the holiday. For that event, the MSA also invited those outside of the religion into traditionally Muslim spaces to educate the attendees about their Eid al-Fitr practices and celebrations.
On Fridays, inside the main room of the mosque of the Islamic Center, the student group meets to share a weekly meal and pray. Around the border of the room lie several low couches for members to gather on together. The rest of the space is used for prayer and group discussion. The events typically bring together many members of the Muslim community and last late into the night, with food and tea fueling friendship and brotherhood. Hospitality abounds, and visitors are treated as guests.
Abdulwahab Alsulami, graduate student and president of the MSA, says the group has been thoroughly accepted in the area. Many members of the MSA voice the same sentiments and say they feel grateful for the Athens community and its unconditional respect of their religion.
“You find yourself in not such an American city, but one more diverse,” Alsulami says.
The religious aspects of the organization are an immense resource for its members. The mosque at the association’s center is the only one in Athens, and it comes as a relief to many Muslims at Ohio University. Muslims typically pray five times a day, as specified by their religious texts, and the mosque provides a comfortable space for many to pray throughout their days. The use of the mosque has created a close community of friends and colleagues among the devout, and many find the bond between MSA members to be an invaluable gift.
“The center’s mosque is not different from the one I attend in Turkey,” says Muharrem Tunel, a graduate student and member of the MSA. “It reminds me of home.”
Back on campus, many international Muslim students feel accepted in the university community because of the variety of services the MSA provides to help those new to the United States and Ohio navigate aspects of their daily lives.
Learning about the various quirks of American society can often be difficult for international students. The MSA helps ease students’ transitions into campus life by picking them up from the airport, helping them find apartments and teaching them the general practices and norms of American society.
The other resources at the center include an English and Arabic library, a kitchen and rooms available for new students and visiting scholars. The center also has a separate room for women and children to gather and pray.
“When you come to a city where [you] didn’t know anyone, you need something to trust,” Alusaimi says. “Here, [the MSA] is that for many.”
That feeling of acceptance that many of the MSA members express is coupled with an incredible amount of gratitude toward the university and its attached community.
“I love it because of the respectfulness of the people, the programs [at Ohio] available to improve my English and the studying spaces open to me,” Tunel says.
The MSA has become a strong religious and social resource for Muslim students on campus, and its members are grateful for the continual support from the organization and the university. Alperen Korkmoz, a member of the MSA, put it simply.
“The social group brings different groups together,” he says. “There aren’t any divisions in us, and we find happiness in being with one another.