Penn’s Muslim Students Association is celebrating half a century on campus this year. Founded in 1963, the MSA is one of the oldest chapters of its kind in the country.
According to Interfaith Fellow and Muslim Chaplain Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad, MSA originally served as an organization primarily for graduate students, many of who were international students wanting to meet, discuss and identify with other Muslims. Rashad, a 2000 College graduate, is the PennMSA Legacy Initative Coordinator.
1982 College alumna, past MSA President and renowned scholar Sherman Jackson characterized the group at the time as “made up of both indigenous American Muslims as well as foreign Muslims who are concerned with the business of safeguarding and nurturing their Islamic consciousness and sentiment.”
Throughout its years at Penn, the MSA has taken steps to create a unified and active Muslim community committed to personal development and building understanding relationships with Penn. The Daily Pennsylvanian takes a look back at some of the defining moments in the organization’s history:
Aug. 13, 1980: The MSA received a proclamation from the mayor of the City of Philadelphia acknowledging the Afghan Relief Committee and its work with Afghan refugees.
1988-1995: The Masjid Project, started in 1988, was a fundraising project to create a central meeting place of worship for Muslim students. This led to the establishment of Masjid al-Jamia, the largest mosque in Philadelphia that today also serves the Philadelphia Muslim community. Operational control of the mosque was given to a committee of local residents in 1995.
1992-1996: Over the course of these years, the MSA set up QIBLA — Quran and Islamic Books Library — the first Islamic database on the internet. This project was led by 1997 Engineering graduate Wuqaas Munir.
1997: Halal food was first introduced to Penn dining halls through the efforts of 1999 Engineering and Wharton graduate Hassan Chowdhry.
2003: The MSA held its first annual Family Fair, a carnival style event for the Philadelphia and Penn community. The Family Fair is still a highlight today.
2009: The first Muslim chaplain was hired at Penn.
2012: The MSA has also faced its share of struggles. Most recently, a 2012 report revealed that the New York Police Department had been monitoring Muslim student groups across the country, including Penn’s MSA. As presidents of various universities issued statements supporting their respective Muslim student groups, Penn Muslims were disappointed with President Amy Gutmann’s response to the situation. Amidst attacks from such outside influences, MSA has successfully forged forward to make a lasting and positive impact, not just on the Penn community, but in Philadelphia.
And this year, the MSA seeks to honor and commemorate the efforts, progress and success of their organization. “We’re doing this for our members as well as to remember and recognize our history. We want MSA’s history — this buried treasure — to be in the books,” MSA President and College senior Muhga Eltigani said.
MSA marketing chair and College junior Hanna Elmongy said, “We’re trying to put together a banquet, hopefully by December. We want to make it a big fundraiser event.” She also added that the MSA hopes to have Jackson as the keynote speaker.
In commemoration of this milestone, the MSA has started a project called the PennMSA Legacy Initiative, which seeks to chronicle the history and contribution of the MSA and its students to Penn and Philadelphia. The project has three main parts: “A Stroll Down Memory Lane” is a collection of stories and memories from Penn students and alumni. “Muslim Voices at Penn” is a documentary which will utilize genealogical research methods to create a history of Muslim life at Penn. Finally, the MSA archives will be the first comprehensive University archive that documents the history of the organization.
While celebrating and remembering the past, the MSA also looks to the future. Two future plans for the organization include the establishment of funding for a full-time chaplaincy and creating a center for Muslim life, which will serve as a permanent space on campus for the MSA.
The MSA will also be hosting its annual Islam Awareness Week from Sept. 28 to Oct. 4.