On the 5th of December 1776, somewhere in the South Atlantic state of Williamsburg, Virginia a group of men gathered together to form what would become the first fraternal organisation in the USA. Their decision was the first step in what would go on to be an established tradition in the country. In the following centuries, fraternal and sororal societies flourished, becoming an integral part of the college experience. Although these societies had recreational elements they mostly helped to promote bonds between their members and also fostered a sense of unity for members aiming to achieve shared goals.
To be clear, when we first caught wind of the existence of a ‘Muslimah Sorority’ my initial thoughts were that of bewilderment, shortly followed by caricatured images of secret societies and debaucherous antics, far-flung from what one would typically understand of Islamic values. But with a fair-minded approach, you’ll soon come to realise ‘Mu Delta Alpha’ who are based in the southern state of Texas have set the foundations for what can be an integral part of the future Muslim American story. We sat down for a chat with the head of the organisation Samira Maddox to learn more about their story, the challenges they face and the aims and objectives of their sorority.
For those not so familiar with American culture, what are fraternities and sororities?
Sororities and fraternities traditionally are something that started hundreds of years ago. It is a tradition that they’ve had in universities where people who have the same interests can be within the same club. In regards, to the women’s sorority some of the history of the women sorority; they were people who felt that they didn’t have anything that catered to them in universities. You know here in the US universities are very social, so much stuff happens involving people with different interests. For hundreds of years, they have been somewhere to hang out with your friends and with those who have the same likes as you and to develop an amazing college experience. It's not what people often show (although some are), it’s not all parties and frat houses.
How did this idea come about?
So, we wanted to join another existing Muslim sorority which was the first one in the nation and they rejected us as they said we did not fit the criteria for them. In Texas, there was no (Muslim) sorority, they had the traditional MSA’s but I felt like the MSA was not very inclusive, it’s so cliquish and so when I came to UTD (University of Texas Dallas) it felt like I wasn’t included. When that sorority rejected me and I felt as though I didn’t belong in the MSA I thought I’ve got to do something for us, we have got to start something different, something new. So, I thought about it and talked to a friend of mine and talked to a lot of other girls. I began to think every time people see Muslim women who are covered they think we are oppressed and have nothing to add to society but yet we go to universities, Muslim women are pre-med students, we are engineers, we are neuroscientists, we are teachers, doctors, and nurses but nobody knows about us in universities. We are the least represented professional women at universities.
We didn’t want to start a social sorority because we have so many of them, and we thought we should have a Muslim professional sorority which will give Muslim women the opportunity to show that Muslim women can reach their potential and that they are encouraged to educate themselves through Islam. We don’t want to lose our values of Islam because we represent Islam and we are the most visible in Islam, yes they can see a brother with a beard but James Harden has a beard too! You know what I mean? As soon as they see us with a hijab they know ‘that’s a Muslim woman’. We wanted a platform that showcased Muslim woman and so that’s why we started Mu Delta Alpha.
If you go to our university UTD (University of Texas Dallas) you will see all these banners that represent for sororities and fraternities that have been there for hundreds of years but there is no representation of Muslims. I think this year there is one banner from first Muslim fraternity in the United States which is amazing!
How many chapters do you currently have?
We have four chapters including the Alpha chapter with all of them located in Texas.
What does Mu Delta Alpha stand for?
It stands for Muslimahs for Change. The Greek lettering is an American tradition that we love.
How do members join, do you have some criteria?
Yes, we just finished our “Rush Week” that’s when we get our new members so that’s a big deal for us. It’s just like you are going to a job interview. We want to make sure that the first Muslim sorority is established. We wanted to have people who are going to care about our legacy so that they can sustain the organisation. We have a set of questions, we want to ask; why do you want to join the organisation? What are you going to give to the organisation? What does empowerment mean to you? What does professionalism mean to you? What does a non-profit organisation mean to you?
We want people who have a drive if you are flat and you are just telling me that “I want to join because my friends are there and I don’t know I think it’s cool” those answers are just not that great. This time around 32 girls came for the interview, we only took 15. We took a lot of amazing girls with drive, leadership skills and with different majors.
How does this differ from the traditional MSA or Islamic Society?
I don't feel I belonged in the MSA, I was in MSA for many years and I wanted something different. The MSA is different to us because we don’t do many religious programs, I totally understand the religious aspect of it but we leave it for the MSA. This is somewhere where you can gain professionalism, we have meetings, we help with resume writing and interview skills. We have partnered up with the career resources at school and they come once a month and do workshops. We are going to have networking events, we have a speakers series, for example, we have women who have different careers they come speak to the sorority, they talk about their career and how was their journey to get there. We also help with internships for all the girls once they join the group. We have made partnerships with organisations so for one whole semester some of the girls go to the organisation and gain some experience. So we are very different from the traditional MSA, our agenda and their agenda are totally different, but we still respect and work with them and support the events that they have.
What are some of the core values that you are looking to instil within your members?
Professionalism, supporting each other and sisterhood. One of the things that attracted me to sororities and one of the things that are amazing about sororities is that sisterhood. “Sister for life” but we are more than sisters because Islam has instilled that sisterhood in us. Reaching your full potential without jeopardising your Islamic values and encouraging Muslim girls to achieve that high level without doing what? Without leaving your identity of Islam and that you shouldn’t beshy of your Islamic identity that’s what we want to instil in our women.
What are some of the challenges that you face specifically as a Muslim sorority?
Sexism. We don't get as much support as we would like too. One of the hardest things for me to do is to raise money for our organization and to ask for support. Most people have tried to be supportive but this is a demographic that needs the most resources. Most of these girls don't go to the masjid often for many reasons. So they need to be supported in the work they do and that which is getting done for them.
How has the reaction been from fellow students or other fraternities and sororities?
A lady emailed me once and said “Can a Catholic join your sorority” and I said yes, of course, you can. So she responded and said, “you know that’s really good because some of our girls are interested in this because sororities do not want you to bring your religious values with you – thank you for starting this”. Somebody also commented on our Facebook and said: “I’m so proud of you guys you have finally got something for Muslim women”.
What are some of the events you have held?
We have had our annual banquets, our initiation dinner, conferences, young Muslimah summit and ‘The Ask A Muslim’ event. So those are some of the things we have done, we have done some awesome work for being such a young organisation and with such minimal resources.
Looking forward what are some of the things you are hoping to achieve with the sorority?
We’re looking to expand and increase our colonies, ‘colonies’ mean that before you become a fully-fledged beta or gamma chapter you are given a one year period to try and be successful. So, we are hoping to be across the US Insha’Allah. We are going to leave our beautiful Texas and go to other universities which is something we are looking forward to.
We are hoping to continue with our philanthropic programme in Africa. We want to open up a library/computer lab in a school in Africa Insha’Allah. We hope that our philanthropic work grows and also that our young Muslimah summit gets bigger and better. The biggest dream would be to have our own sorority house because all of these other organisations have had them for hundreds of years it's an amazing tradition. But, we want to do it with Islamic values, we don’t want to leave that value it’s a very important value.
Special thanks to Samira for taking the time out to speak to Bahath. If you would like to stay up to date with all the fantastic work Mu Delta Alpha is doing you can follow them on social media.
You can help support the organisation financially by checking out their Go Fund Me campaign.
Author: Muhammad Shuwekh