Muslim Student Association: Exponentially Growing

Muslim Student Association: Exponentially Growing

Colgate University’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) has been reinvigorated over the past few years, largely due to the efforts of the current co-president, junior Mohamed Esmail. 

Esmail hails from Denver, CO, where he was deeply immersed in his local mosque’s community. He described wanting to find something to emulate this when he first got to campus. At that time, not only did he experience culture shock when beginning to settle into a new home in small-town Central New York, but he also was cooped up for quarantine in Fall 2020. His roommate didn’t end up attending school in-person that semester, so he felt a real need to search for connection and community. 

He recalled attending Jummah, a prayer ritual traditionally held on Fridays, at the Chapel. He brought his own prayer rug because he wasn’t sure of the extent of what the community already provided. Since then, though, Esmail has grown much more comfortable within the organization. 

“I would say that the MSA has single-handedly enhanced my Colgate experience. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I like coming back to Colgate every year — it’s because of the community that we’ve built and what we’re trying to build in the future. My first year, the MSA was just a group of senior friends all on their way out with no Imam, with no real community,” Esmail said. 

Also contributing to MSA’s growth was the recent hiring of an Imam, Ahmet Çelik, on Colgate’s campus — which coincided with Esmail’s first year on campus. After most of MSA graduated at the end of that same year, he described working with Çelik to entirely revamp the community — tapping into diversity in participation. 

“It was basically just me and the Imam just trying to figure out how to navigate [Colgate] and build a community. Thankfully, now we’ve been able to build a community that comes to Iftars, that comes to Jummahs. Now that we have an Imam our female population has grown. There were some female members of the MSA that maybe weren’t too comfortable coming to a friend group and instead just wanted an outlet to be able to come to a Jummah with an actual Imam,” Esmail explained. “Our board is mostly all female, which was not always the case. So now there’s more female representation, which is good. We’ve been able to have Itars every Thursday and Friday all of Ramadan, there’s a new Muslim prayer room too, so it’s just been exponential growth.”

Çelik also plays a central role in helping organize around religious events, like Iftars, Eid and Ramadan, and is especially important as these celebrations used to take place back at home in the summer.  

“For Ramadan, he would just come and pray with us because Ramadan is a very big part of our Muslim experience. The people that were here like in the past were all international students so obviously they felt the effects more than me, but it’s a very religious month [because] you’re having dinners with your family 30 times a month [and] you’re constantly praying together,” Esmail said. “Because [Ramadan follows the] lunar calendar, it gets earlier and earlier every year so now all of it’s in the school year, even Eid. Obviously some people won’t be seeing their families, so what we try to do is have Iftar, which is basically dinner where we break our fast, and have them every Friday during Ramadan.”

In the same way that students felt a positive shift with the new Imam, Ahmet Çelik felt the motivation and energy from the students which led him to taking a position as an advisor for MSA and the general Muslim community at Colgate. 

“Since the very first day I had started working here, I have been welcomed by all people in the office of chaplain along with other people from the faculty and administration. I think Colgate makes me feel like I became a member of a large community here,” Çelik said. “I think one of the most important roles a chaplain can play to support college students is [through] true leadership. By leadership I mean something different. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said in a prophetic tradition that ‘the leader of a community is the one who serves them.’ I am here at Colgate to serve our students and larger Colgate community. There is immense energy of youth, which can be channeled to do many useful works for them and other students.”

Sophomore member Hadeel Al Qoronz was quick to sing the praises of the board in their efforts to grow MSA. 

“I don’t think the current co-presidents, Mohamed Esmail and Suado Mohamed, and the social chair, Lara Shqair, get enough credit for their work with MSA. I truly believe that the MSA has transformed into a lively and active community because of their efforts. It is through their diligence and dedication that MSA has grown so much and formed a place for the Muslim Students on this campus,” Al Qoronz said. 

Through their collective efforts, last year marked the first official Eid celebration on Colgate’s campus, according to Çelik. He recalled the touching and emotional responses from both students and faculty who attended the event. MSA is also excited to announce the upcoming Eid celebration as well which will have food, fireworks and prayer. 

“As Muslim Chaplain and MSA, we would like to invite everyone to the Eid Celebration Event on Tuesday, April 25. It is the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. It is a day of meeting, sharing, talking, listening, religious music, dinner, joy and spirituality,” Çelik said.