Before I started college, it seemed everyone had some advice to give me. Much of it was contradictory but one piece of advice remained constant no matter who it came from. “Join the Muslim Students Association in your college. It’ll foster your iman and give you a good group of people to hang around with.” I took that advice to heart and joined MSA. I was active my freshman year and elected to the executive board at the end of the academic year. One semester into my sophomore year, I resigned from the organization and have never looked back.

MSA’s have a special place in the cultural psyche of American Muslims. So much so that this often becomes a very emotional topic for people to discuss. However, if you want to be successful in college from both a spiritual and academic perspective, you need to evaluate your MSA on its own merits and decide how much of your time and energy you can allocate to the organization. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Do not let MSA’s set your perception of Islamic behavior

One of the biggest issues I had with my MSA is how it normalized un-Islamic behavior. For those who already know what Islamic behavior should look like, it is easy to tell when the MSA has veered off the path. For those who are new to Islam or who are beginning to take Islam seriously for the first time, it can be hard to determine what actually is proper Islamic behavior. Don’t assume that just because MSA members behave in a certain way, it is the Islamic norm. In this article, we covered proper gender interaction for Muslims. When I was growing up, the guidelines discussed in that article were the norm in my community. When I got to college, however, I saw some of the people I grew up with becoming more and more lax in their interaction with the opposite gender. In a feedback loop, other Muslims saw this behavior and began loosening their own interactions. The net result was an MSA culture where gender interactions were far outside the Islamic norm.

Have you own moral compass and use that to judge MSA events

Some of the examples of events hosted by my college MSA include a mixed gender bonfire at night in one of the board member’s apartment building, a group date at a midnight premiere of a rated R movie, a post-Diwali party, a mixed gender road trip to ISNA (i.e. in one van), and board meetings over dinner at a restaurant. Tying in to the previous paragraph, use your own moral compass and don’t blindly accept that since MSA is an Islamic organization, its events are “Islamic”. Use your own moral compass to judge each event and whether it’s an event that is in line with Islam. If you’re struggling with this, refer to a scholar that you trust and ask his input.

Regardless of your involvement in MSA, remember to put your local masjid first

I had a frank discussion with the MSA president at my college after people raised concerns about the direction in which the MSA was heading. He told me very bluntly, with these exact words, “I’m trying to distance our MSA from the masjid.” This is always a red flag for an MSA. The ideal MSA should be very much involved in the local masjid. Organizations which seek to make masajid look like dusty places that only old people frequent do not have the same long term vision as you. Whether or not you’re active in MSA, always be active in your masjid.

Don’t let MSA become all consuming

Remember, you are not in college for MSA. You need to focus on building the tools and skills you need to be successful in life and beyond. MSA is not your religion, Islam is. Neglecting MSA is not neglecting your deen. Never ever sacrifice your academic success for the sake of MSA.

Don’t write off everything to do with MSA because of its issues

Many MSA’s have problems. Even with those problems, however, there is often some good. Take advantage of speakers the MSA invites to campus, attend halaqahs delivered by people you trust, and volunteer at da’wah events when they fit into your schedule (and are appropriately organized). Consider running for office if you feel you can make a positive impact—but don’t hesitate in leaving the organization if you feel it’s no longer beneficial for you.

Oh Allah suffice us with the halal over the haram and make us independent by virtue of Your favors of all others beside you. 

Oh Allah we ask you for provision that is pure, knowledge which is beneficial, and deeds which are accepted. 

Oh Allah teach us that which will benefit us and benefit us from that which you have taught us and increase us in knowledge and understanding of this deen.

End of the series on succeeding in college.

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part I: Get in the right mindset

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part II: Testing out

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part III: Choosing a college

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part IV: Choosing a major

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part V: Mapping your journey

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part VI: Creating a calendar

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part VII: Going beyond the classroom

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part VIII: How to study

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part IX: Dealing with failure

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part X: To MSA or not to MSA?

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