With the recent trends of internationalization and globalization, the number of students who cross national borders for education has increased. The US has traditionally attracted a large number of international students.
It is not a surprise that Muslim Americans are a diverse and growing population in the country, currently estimated at 3.45 million people. One-third of their number has a college degree and a quarter are still on their way to get a diploma.
Muslim Students College Experience
Observant Muslim students pray five times a day and may have special dietary needs. Islamic teachings prohibit debt, forcing some Muslim students to decline loans to pay for college. Besides, religious and cultural practices related to the separation of the sexes could influence where a student chooses to live.
The problem is that Islam remains a religious minority in the US, meaning that most college facilities serve students of other religions or no religion. All the mentioned factors demonstrate the necessity for establishing particular resources, studying and living conditions. This would help Muslim students be part of the community and not contradict their religious beliefs.
Challenges Muslim Students Encounter
The distinctions described usually make the rest of the community avoid excessive contact with Muslim students. Such stereotypical behavior can be either unconscious bias or apparent Muslim discrimination, though none of which is a good phenomenon. Let’s consider the most frequent issues Muslim students constantly face.
The 9/11 terrorist attack erected a huge wall in building a safe and friendly environment between Muslim students and the rest of the community. Recently, anti-Muslim sentiment has spiked, according to the ISPU annual Islamophobia index. The situation has deteriorated with Trump’s Muslim Ban issued in 2016.
Insulting people on account of their being Muslim or on account of being associated with Muslims, is common as well. About 60% of teachers witness such behavior once or several times a year. Much of the verbal abuse is aimed not at individuals but Islam and Muslims in general.
Religious identity is the most frequent reason for bullying that Muslim college students contantly experience. 53% of Muslim youth experience bullying, while 26% face cyber-bullying and 19% physical bullying; 36% of girls wearing a headscarf (hijab) were bullied just because of this (CAIR, 2017). This unwanted, aggressive behavior against Muslim students continues to grow every next year.
Performing Islamic Practices
Islam prescribes a brief prayer or ritual worship five times a day, avoiding certain foods, wearing a hijab for women. It may be challenging for some students to adhere to the rules when feeling like a dissident in the community.
The only place where a girl could take off her headscarf is a dormitory. Although many corridors/flats are single-sex, even then other students will invite home friends of either gender, sometimes to spend the night.
Many still perform the prayers five times a day, which can be a problem if there is no nondenominational chapel on the college’s territory. During classes, students can warn their teachers in advance about the right time when they’ll have to practice their religion.
Many incidents of discrimination are a result of media coverage of anti-social and criminal behavior from young people from an Islamic background. Starting from the 9/11 attack, Muslims appeared to be seen as a dangerous community. Continuous offensive remarks from high officials make ordinary people avoid and humiliate Muslims as well.
On- and Off-Campus Support
Facing the bulk of challenges in their college life, Muslims need support that their college or government can offer in the form of on- and off-campus organizations.
On-campus Muslim support is of vital importance since students spend most of the day there. You may consult the following organizations:
- Muslim students associations. Many colleges have an MSA chapter that encourages the administration to achieve Islamic holidays on campus, provide halal food, leadership training, establish a prayer room on campus, etc.
- Interfaith student centers. These centers, such as the one at the University of Virginia, aim to create a friendly, comfortable, and safe space where students of all beliefs and religious denominations can practice their faith and learn about those of others.
- Students advocacy groups. The groups have repeatedly spoken out for freedom of expression and are actively involved in promoting religious liberty. They spread the knowledge about students’ rights in the fight for a safer and more welcoming environment.
- Muslim chaplains. The number of colleges with full-time Muslim chaplains is permanently growing. They normalize Islam to non-Muslim students, help Muslim students integrate into society, find prayer spaces and provide counseling support.
- Center for spirituality. The centers of the kind (as the one at Brandeis University) host social events, and academic lectures. Besides, they help Muslim students meet their religious needs, including prayer spaces and finding Halal foods.
Some off-campus organizations that help Muslim students integrate with the community include:
- Neighborhood mosques. The mosque is a place to gather for Muslim prayers, study, and celebrate festivals. Since their members all worship together on Fridays, Muslim students can come to practice their religion and have a meal in the community of interest.
- Islamic centers. Situated usually near a mosque, Islamic centers provide vocational and life skills training, mentoring, career guidance, and assistance. They disseminate knowledge to eliminate stereotypes and misunderstandings that lead to hatred.
Ways Colleges and Other Students Can Support Muslim Students
Islamic practices require the establishment of certain facilities at college to help Muslim students better integrate into the community. Colleges can provide Muslim support in many forms:
- Dietary needs. Muslims will eat only permitted food (halal) and will not eat or drink anything that is considered forbidden. Thus, colleges can provide Halal catering daily for those students who register for it.
- Fasting during Ramadan. Observers of Ramadan abstain from food and water from dawn to sunset. Columbia University’s program allows students to take campus meals to go before iftar and suhoor time for the breaking of the fast.
- Accommodation. Providing single-sex dorms and a space for prayer is appreciated. In this way, Muslim students will not be pressed to practice their religion.
- Muslim holidays. Young Muslims across the United States are campaigning for the formal recognition of Islamic holidays. At least six U.S. school districts already close on both Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr allowing students to properly celebrate the end of Ramadan.
What is more, peers can also contribute to the creation of a peaceful and comfortable environment by contacting them without fear of discrimination and respecting their religious practices.
Financial Aid for Muslim Students: Scholarships
College tuition fees are continuously rising. Seven out of ten students receive some form of financial aid:
- scholarships (grants);
- loans to students and/or their parents;
- student part-time employment for the academic year.
Reports show that 86% of US college students take the advantage of financial aid to pay for their studies. But US student loan system can be difficult for Muslim students due to Riba – the Quran mandate which forbids taking on interest-bearing loans. Thus, the form of scholarships had been extremely popular among Muslim undergraduates and graduates.
Let’s consider 11 college scholarships available to Muslim students in the US:
- ISC-IIOC Scholarship ($5,000)
- ISF National Scholarships ($10,000)
- ISF-MCA Scholarship ($5,000, for MCA members only);
- ISF-MCC Scholarship ($5,000, for MCC members only);
- ISF-MSA West Scholarship ($3,000)
- ISF-SRVIC Scholarship ($5,000, for SRVIC members only)
The deadline for the six scholarships offered by the Islamic Scholarship Fund (ISF) is 3/21/2022.
Eligible applicants must:
- be a US citizen or permanent resident;
- be Muslim or an active member of the Muslim community;
- attend an accredited university in the U.S.;
- be an undergraduate or of graduate standing (includes Ph.D.);
- major in media, politics or another ISF supported field of study;
- have a 3.0 GPA.
Other Islamic scholarships for Muslims or involved in the Islamic community include:
- Jack G. Shaheen Mass Communications Scholarship
Eligibility: Juniors, Seniors, and Graduate School students majoring in Journalism, Television, Radio, and/or Film [...].
- Dr. Abdulmunim A. Shakir Scholarship
Eligibility: students entering their freshman year of college with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Awarded based on academic achievement, leadership experience, and volunteer service [...].
- Aziz Jamaluddin Scholarship
Eligibility: GPA of 3.5 or higher; Demonstrated financial need; A Journalism or Political Science Major at a US accredited institution; American Citizenship or Permanent Residency [...].
- Barakat International Studentship
Deadline: To be announced
Amount: Up to £20,000
Eligibility: Muslim students accepted to a Master’s program relevant to Islamic art, architecture, archaeology, and/or material culture.
- Amana Mutual Funds Scholarship
Deadline: To be announced
Eligibility: GPA of 3.5 or higher; Undergraduate status; Majoring in Finance, Economics, or Mathematics; Demonstrated financial need.
Additional Student Resources
We shall bear in mind how fragile safe students’ communities in colleges can be. Thus, Muslim students need support and counsel more than ever as they grapple with the world around them.
Here is the list of additional resources that will facilitate navigating their way through a university setting:
- StopBullying.gov – helps students in cases they suffer bullying, assault, or discrimination.
- Islamic Academy – increases Islamic knowledge to the Muslims all over the world and for those eager to get to know more about this religion.
- Islamic Networks Group – offers a variety of programs, seminars, and educational panels to promote understanding and mutual respect among Americans of diverse religious and ethical traditions.
- CAIR: Council on American-Islamic Relations – presents a range of clear explanations of civil rights, lists of relevant federal legislation, how to combat bigotry at the local level.
- MPower Change – advocates for peace, racial justice, immigration reform, and putting a stop to endless wars.
- Islamic Relief USA: Working Together for a Better World– offers education initiatives, links to information on the group’s history, mission, frequently asked questions, grants, how to volunteer, and the like.
- Muslim Students Association (MSA)– conducts special events such as Islam Awareness Day, individual chapters nationwide, a blog, multi-media, and a variety of other helpful resources.
- Islamic Horizons (journal) – focuses on educational topics, including Islamic schools, American Muslims in higher education; covers the challenges young Islamic adults face as they balance their religious beliefs with their lives in the US.
- Being Muslim in America – helps eliminate American stereotypes of Muslim Americans. It includes numerous photographs of people engaged in everyday activities and profiles of prominent Muslim Americans with their contributions to America.
- ISNA: Islamic Society of North America– conducts conferences and special events to improve the well-being of Muslim Americans, offers the translated Quran.
- Muslim Public Affairs Council: MPAC– focuses on ensuring Muslim Americans’ civil liberties and improving US sentiment towards them through programs, events, and books. It promotes such Islamic core values as the love of God and hatred of terrorism.
- Muslim Family Services – provides a variety of workshops to educate communities, anti-bullying campaigns, mental health help, community building and teamwork leadership training.
- True Islam – campaigns to convey the peaceful message of Islam, promote peace through service and act as the opportunity to meet and talk to Muslims in your neighborhood.
- The Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) – addresses a spectrum of injustices, incorporating primary, behavioral, and oral health; artistic expression; leadership development and job training
- American Islam – empowers American Muslims providing them with religious, educational, social, financial, and advocacy services.
- IslamiCity – cultivates peace, inspires action, and encourages purposeful living through the universal teachings of Islam.
Schools should be safe and welcoming for Muslim youth and all students. Each of us can work to make that happen by suppressing our own biases, combating Islamophobia, and providing resources to students and college administrations to create more inclusive spaces for all.