By: Marina Ali, contributing writer
The new fall semester is upon us. Some of you are just freshmen, learning the ropes of college, or you’re a fourth year getting ready for graduation or maybe even another year. Regardless of how long you’ve experienced higher education, you’ll never fail to see the great diversity of most colleges and universities. It’s a great thing to know people from various backgrounds and make new friends who have totally different experiences than you. For kids who’ve been raised Muslim in a Christian-centric country, many of us share similar experiences and it’s easier to connect with our fellow Muslims. Here’s some of the colorful characters in the crayon box of Muslim people you meet when you’re in college:
The Die-Hard Muslim Student Association (MSA) Member
Every school with an MSA has its resident Die-Hard Member. You’ll see this person at every meeting, every event, every halaqa, and even every informal kickback that your MSA friends have at the library. For this person, it’s not enough to just be philanthropy chair or marketing manager. It’s all about leveling up and reaching the coveted role of MSA president. The Die-Hard Member’s passion to Islam and the organization is admirable, but this individual can get quickly annoying from the barrage of event reminders, emails, and Facebook event invitations he/she will send you.
The Sheltered Freshman
I think we were all Sheltered Freshmen at one point and time in our college experience. Most Muslim kids are raised in an Islamic household with varying levels of religious conservatism. However, most freshmen from a Muslim background don’t know much about alcohol, sex, or even the fine art of squeezing in prayer times in between classes at the library or in some damp corner of the physics building. I can clearly remember asking my roommate why people were moving furniture at 2 a.m. one night when I was a freshman. My roommate just gave me a smug look and replied, “don’t you know what sex is?” You can imagine how awkward it got it from there…
The Secret Liberal
To some degree, we’re all the Secret Liberal. We may not always agree with everything our parents told us about Islam or what we read in the Quran. I know I’ve really had inner conflict on certain Islamic practices, because I didn’t quite see their importance or agree with their existence. The Secret Liberal may think the code of physical modesty is oppressive, because you think it limits your freedom of personal expression. He/she may wear clothing that doesn’t fit within Islamic guidelines of modesty when he/she is away in college, but will revert back to his/her extremely covered up self back home. This isn’t inherently wrong; however, I think it’s important to understand why there are certain rules in place in Islam. No one has to agree with everything in the Quran, because it’s a vague religious text, just like the Bible and Torah. But it’s worth taking time to figure out why we as Muslims do certain things different from non-Muslims. I think the Secret Liberal is just a really good Muslim going through the regular trials and tribulations that occur when one is a young adult who is trying to find deeper meaning in his/her religion.
The Extremely Conservative Brother/Sister
We all need a really Islamic-oriented, Imam-in-training friend to keep us on the straight path, or even just help us keep it together during a time when our freedom is infinite. I love my friends who are Extremely Conservative Sisters. They remind me to pray Fajr on the days I start my classes in the afternoon. They make sure I’m eating halal, not just for my body, but for my soul. They always take extra notes during halaqas and share their learned wisdom. Yet, we all know there are times when we may just roll our eyes every time we get a mini lecture from this person. It can feel like you have a second set of parents with the Extremely Conservative Brother/Sister. I know it’s annoying to hear this person nag, but you know what? He/she cares and that’s why you’re hearing the nagging. You just have to learn to gently remind this person that sometimes, you have to figure out certain things yourself.
The Sports Fanatic
Is it already football season? You bet, because the Sports Fanatic is up to his/her neck with stats and facts on every single team in every league, from professional to college. You think you’re ready to tailgate? The Sports Fanatic has halal hotdogs for days, and a 30-inch flat screen (because Southerners really know how to get hype for a football game). Come Spring, this person is the first to talk about his/her bracket during MSA meetings. This person may even start an MSA fantasy sports team, which he/she will take way too seriously. However, if you’re clueless at most sports like me, you’ll adore this person. If you need to know what an inning is or a rebound, the Sports Fanatic is always there to gently explain and then explain some more until you finally figure out how to “sport.”
The Fashion Blogger
You may see this person out and about campus, rocking clothes that you thought were impossible to afford on a college student budget. It’s amazing to see how the Fashion Blogger can turn an old bed sheet in a stylish hijab or take the Palestinian keffiyeh to the next level by wearing it as a belt. Just being around this person can plummet your self-conscious, because while you’re in your 8 a.m. class wearing sweatpants and an Easy Mac stained t-shirt, the Fashion Blogger has head-to-toe Marc Jacobs. However, it’s always fun to scroll through his/her freakishly popular Tumblr, rife with hundreds of adoring fans, to get inspiration for your next outfit. After all, the Fashion Blogger is who he/she is because this person can slay.
The Outspoken Social Justice Warrior (SJW)
Usually a humanities major or someone with humanities major tendencies, the Outspoken SJW is the embodiment of today’s modern push for social media activism with the philosophical foundation of revolutionaries, like Che Guevara, Martin Luther King, and Gloria Steinem. You see his/her multi-page Facebook and Tumblr rants. His/her Twitter arguments make for great entertainment during boring lectures. Sometimes, if feels like this person just loves to complain for the sake of complaining. However, once you get over the initial pretentiousness of the Outspoken SJW and his/her often brusque manner of fighting for positive change, you begin to actually listen. You might even begin to follow the Outspoken SJW’s ideas and become “woke” on social and political issues. There’s nothing wrong with acting upon the issues that really move you. So, even people who used to be nonchalant get really into things like reading the news and actual books on the problems that mean the most to them from the influence of the Outspoken SJW. Even though he/she can’t completely eliminate the poor, totally end racism and Homophobia, or completely save the world, the Outspoken SJW may just end up changing a few viewpoints.