Al-Madinah acts as mentor

The Muslim student group is helping smaller organizations get on their feet.

Hailey Colwell

Coming to the University of Minnesota as a Post Secondary Enrollment Options student, Muhammad Islam joined the PSEO Student Association to meet other high school students attending the University and to feel more comfortable on campus.

This fall, the computer science and mathematics freshman is working to revamp the Pakistani Student Association so Pakistani students can feel more connected on campus and teach others about their culture.

But it can be difficult to start out as a new group on campus, he said, because a lack of exposure, funding and resources can create barriers when reaching out to students for events and recruitment.

To help groups like PSA get off the ground, Al-Madinah Cultural Center, a well-established Muslim student group, is sharing office space, volunteers, advice and other resources to help the groups educate students about the specific Muslim cultures they represent.

“You see that need for something to tie these groups together,” Al-Madinah President Adnan Khan said.

Al-Madinah plans to connect with the Omani Student Union, the Saudi Student House, the Sudanese Student Union, the United Arab Emirates Students Association and others, Khan said.

In working with these groups, Al-Madinah members hope to give them a stronger identity on campus, Khan said.

Al-Madinah is making an effort this semester to help these smaller cultural groups get their name out, Khan said. Individual groups can do a better job teaching about particular cultures than Al-Madinah, which serves as an umbrella group for all Muslim cultures, he said.

The center will also encourage students to start new groups for cultures that aren’t yet represented by a campus student group, Khan said.

Al-Madinah is urging the smaller groups to get creative to solve their funding and resource shortages, Khan said.

One way Al-Madinah is sharing its office space is by hosting “Culture Vulture” events where different groups gather to educate students about their culture in whatever way they choose, Khan said.

“It’s just kind of a full immersion,” he said.

Sudanese Student Union board member Mohamed Yousif said his group has collaborated with Al-Madinah during events and plans to use the cultural center’s space for its own gatherings.

Though the SSU started three semesters ago, the group became more active this semester, Yousif said. Connecting with other groups has made it easier to get exposure as a young group, he said.

“We help out the other student groups,” Yousif said, “and that turned out to be to our advantage.”

Connecting with Al-Madinah has been helpful, too.

“We know we at least have a bigger brother to look up to,” he said.

Increasing diversity

Islam, the freshman working to revamp the Pakistani Student Association, said he was told the University campus was culturally diverse when he came to freshman orientation.

He said the University could become more visibly diverse if specific cultural groups like the Pakistani Student Association had more clout on campus.

“The best way to implement that idea of diversity is to be able to have a bunch of different cultural groups that can all bring out their respective cultures that they’re trying to represent,” he said.

It’s important to have a cultural base on a large campus like the University, Yousif said.

“It’s good to have that type of atmosphere where you can just talk with people that you know come from the same background as you and you can relate to,” he said. “It makes you feel more at home away from home.”