Ahlul-Bayt Student Association creates welcoming environment for members to discuss contemporary issues
As a Muslim organization, the Ahlul-Bayt Student Association (ABSA) represents the views and concerns of the Shia minority at Rutgers. But topics of the group's events are universally relevant, and the organization ensures that people of all backgrounds are always welcome.
Hiba Raza, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and the external affairs officer of ABSA, said that the group hosts events examining current issues that are of interest to Muslims.
“We're Muslims and before that we're humans,” Raza said. “And so that's why we try to do as much as we can for anyone we feel has not been given a voice.”
Recent events hosted by ABSA have been on subjects including the Black Lives Matter movement and the Syrian refugee crisis. Raza said that some of the speakers at these events are Muslims, but many have no ostensible religious affiliations.
She said that ABSA emphasizes the importance of charity, education and non-judgment of others. The group hosts events featuring speakers of other religious traditions and holds events with Salaam Shalom, an organization for bringing together Jewish and Muslim student groups.
ABSA's most recent event was on the subject of radical Islam, which Raza said is often incorrectly conflated with the whole of Islam.
“Islam has always been equated with radical Islam, especially lately in the media,” Raza said. “In reality, Islam started about 1,400 years ago. Radical Islam, like terrorist organizations, started about 39 years ago ... So we have a speaker discussing that, the historical aspect of it, why radical Islam has become synonymous with Islam nowadays.”
Nida Athar, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and member of ABSA's secondary board, said that most of ABSA's events are about issues of social justice. She said that the goal of these events is to raise awareness, not to convert attendees to Islam.
Athar said that ABSA's events attract attendees from different communities in the Rutgers population, as well as the larger New Brunswick community.
“We're not like, 'You have to be Muslim, or you should be Muslim to be involved,'” Athar said. “It's more like, 'Does this issue impact you in any way? Do you have any opinions?'”
ABSA members also organize community service efforts, Athar said. They have participated in blood drives, volunteered at the soup kitchen Elija's Promise and baked food for families with hospitalized children staying at the Ronald McDonald House on Somerset Street.
Raza said that what most stands out about ABSA for its members is its atmosphere of non-judgment. Although ABSA is a Shia Muslim organization, it has board members of other sects as well.
“We don't like to have that idea of, 'This person is doing this on Thursday nights and that's why we should judge them,' or 'This girl wears this or that person wears this or they're friends with this person,'” Raza said. “A really really big aspect of ABSA for me has been the fact that it's an inclusive atmosphere. I've never felt out of place or like I didn't belong.”
Athar said that with only about 100 members, ABSA is much smaller than other Muslim groups on campus. She said that this makes the group feel close-knit and friendly.
Sameen Jafri, a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences, said that ABSA is not as well known as other campus groups.
“I just say it's like MSA (Muslim Student Association) but smaller,” Jafri said. “That's the easiest way to explain it. But we're different from MSA. They focus on religion and spreading awareness of Islam.”
ABSA, she said, is ultimately concerned with the more universal issues of social justice, to the point that it actively encourages non-Muslims to attend its events.
“If you're non-Muslim you won't feel like isolated or pressured or all eyes on you,” Jafri said. “We're not trying to convert you at all. It's just that we're Muslim. We're college students who care about different things going on in the world and we just want peace.”
Max Marcus is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum.