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Muslim Fraternities Finding Place on US Campuses

Members of Cornell University's Alpha Lambda Mu fraternity gather for an end-of- school year barbecue at the college's New York campus.
Members of Cornell University's Alpha Lambda Mu fraternity gather for an end-of- school year barbecue at the college's New York campus.

It might seem like an oxymoron to some: A college fraternity where drinking is not allowed.

But Alpha Lambda Mu, a fraternity active at seven U.S. universities, is comprised of Muslim members and non-Muslims who share Muslim ideals.

And that means no drinking.

“We have fun, but we don’t have the drinking and the drugs and don’t do co-ed parties,” said Bilal Ayub, president of Alpha Lambda Mu at the University of Texas at Dallas, where the first Muslim inspired fraternity started four years ago.

Fraternities, which have all male members, and sororities, all female, are described on college websites this way: places to develop friendships, loyalty and knowledge. Members are expected to provide services to their college and beyond.

Ayub said Alpha Lambda Mu follows some important traditions of other fraternities -- mainly helping members develop new friendships and providing community service on and off campus.

At Penn State University, one of America’s largest public universities, the Alpha Lambda Mu president is Zico Khayat. He is a senior and a science major.

He said it is important for Muslim students to have a place where they can socialize with fellow Muslims and others with similar values.

Reaching out to non-Muslims

But fraternity members are not looking to stay separate from non-Muslims. It is quite the opposite, Khayat said.

“We do events like free pizza Friday once a month -- open to everyone on campus,” Khayat said.

He said the fraternity, which now has 10 members, permits him and other members to explore both sides of their identity, American and Muslim. During meetings, he said, members can share their Muslim beliefs.

But relationships with non-Muslims also are important, he said. And for him, some of those relationships are formed on the school’s basketball courts and soccer fields.

But in one important way, Alpha Lambda Mu does stand out among Penn State fraternities.

Just last month, Penn State officials closed the Beta Theta Pi fraternity after 18 of its members were arrested. The fraternity members were accused of waiting 12 hours to ask for medical help for a badly injured member.

The member, according to police, fell down a flight of stairs in February after he and other new members were forced to drink many alcoholic drinks. The student, Timothy Piazza, 19, later died.

Khayat said Muslim students have not joined other fraternities, in part because of “peer pressure to drink.” But he praises the school and its administrators for reaching out to Muslim students.

“We feel at home here,” he said.

Brian Robert Calfano is an assistant political science and journalism professor at the University of Cincinnati. He is an expert on fraternities.

He noted that the addition of new Muslim-inspired fraternities comes at a time when anti-Muslim comments are on the rise.

But Calfano said Muslim students are following in the tradition of other groups, including African Americans, Catholics and Jews. Those groups all formed their own fraternities in the past -- partly because they did not feel accepted at other fraternities.

Most fraternities have Greek names, such as Pi Kappa Alpha. Sometimes, fraternity activity at colleges is described as “Greek Life.”

Brotherhood and community

Alpha Lambda Mu, which formed in 2013 at the University of Texas at Dallas, describes its purpose on its website: A young man can do a lot, but young men working together can “change society forever.”

At Cornell University in New York, an Alpha Lambda Mu chapter recently won approval from the college’s Interfraternity Council. The approval means the fraternity can join other fraternities and sororities in the applications process called rush -- a period in which fraternities sign up new members.

Rashaad Ahmad, 20, is Cornell’s Alpha Lambda Mu fraternity president.

“Cornell had a Muslim student organization, but it has limitations," Ahmad said. "The primary goal was religious and we wanted something to bond over and get to know each other socially.”

Andrew Lord is president of Cornell’s Interfraternity Council. He said the school’s 2,200 fraternity members welcomed Alpha Lambda Mu.

He said one of the reasons he likes Cornell’s fraternities is that people of all races and religions are welcome.

Besides Cornell, Penn State and the University of Texas at Dallas, there are Alpha Lambda Mu chapters at the University of California at San Diego, the University of Toledo, San Diego State University and the University of Texas at Arlington.