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February 08, 2017 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017 // The Statement

From Page 5B

myself), that the true rebellion, rath-

er, is in forcing them to accept you. They
want you to join the Indian American
Students Association, I tell myself; of
course he’s part of the Muslim Student
Association, they’ll say about me.

Of course now I’m second-guessing


I make the journey to North Quad

on a Sunday, when the MSA is hosting
a brunch for people to “de-stress” and
I figure this would be a useful exercise
in familiarization: I haven’t seen the
MSA function in a strictly social setting
yet. Unfortunately, it’s a goddamn bliz-
zard out there, and as I trudge through
blistering winds my hair is ruined and
I begin to worry about how I’m going
to appear, I feel a burgeoning sense of

But once I’m there I begin to feel a

sense of comfort. I greet a friend from
the newspaper upon arrival and accept
ed a generous plate of food and coffee
upon arrival.

Within the looming modernity of

North Quad, at the top floor of its tall-
est tower, sits the Bowman Room (nick-
named the “Tower Room”). It’s a large
yet cozy space, complete with a small
kitchen, a working piano, and an assort-
ment of plush furniture.

There’s a considerable turnout, prob-

ably because of the free brunch. The sis-
ters are setting up the table full of food
as the brothers pack themselves into
the kitchen and cook. It’s a spread of

pancakes, scrambled eggs, donuts, and
other assorted treats — I spot a plate
stacked with za’atar-filled pita bread,
so I can safely report to my parents that
our friends at the MSA have not entire-
ly lost their roots. My friend from the
Daily is painstakingly setting up a “hot
chocolate station,” replete with candy
canes and whipped cream. The guys in
the kitchen shout Future lyrics while
weirdly specific Arabic music plays
from some kid’s speakers. They look like
they’re having fun.

I’m introduced to Mazen Oweiss.

He’s a director, a junior like me, and
this year he’s become significantly more
involved in the MSA. He’s also of Egyp-
tian background, and he has a distinctly
Egyptian-American way of speaking —
along with a quintessentially Egyptian
thicket of dense, curly hair — that viv-
idly evokes the kids I grew up with, the
friends I used to spend my weekends
cutting Sunday school with to go to
Walgreens, the people whom I have all
but lost my once-robust connection to.

Mazen and I talk for a while as a

steady stream of MSA members file in
and I’m introduced to each one with a
hearty “Assalam-u-Alaikum” and shake
hands. As we sit among the brothers on
couches, and the sisters mill about the
table of food, Mazen talks about how
this year’s cohort of the MSA is much
closer, increasingly relaxed and heart-
eningly unified.

My sister, who was an active mem-

ber of her university’s MSA, always told
me about the troubles that plagued her
organization: religious condescension,
jealousy, pettiness, people actually getting
married, and other hurdles that prevented
the group from getting things done. But as
I’ve learned — and as Mazen points out —
this MSA has accomplished a lot. They’ve
done countless outreach programs, hosted
successful events, and fully embraced
their role as campus activists. Their big-
gest issue now continuing the trend into
next year.

I’m surprised at how forthcoming

Mazen is; he knows I’m here to write a
story, and that I’m not really a part of
MSA. But at this point, I’m a bit confused,
too: What am I doing here? I’m an outsid-
er: A journalist and on top of that a Mus-
lim who isn’t in the MSA. At some point
during this whole endeavor, they looked
past that double whammy of alien remove,
and let me in.

The food is a welcome treat, the atmo-

sphere is warm, the people are friendly.
But I’m shook. As I have done for years, as I
always do, I tell them I have to get going (I
don’t). I quickly throw on my jacket while
Mazen tells me to come out more often,
while another kid smiles at me, while the
rest of this organization is enjoying the
company of each other’s presence. I see
them in their social setting, and I realize,
then, how difficult the past month must
have been. For the sisters, for Muslims, for
anyone feeling without a community — I
understand, finally, the burden that has

been placed on these people who didn’t
ask for it. It is not the politics of activism
I’m searching for, and I guess it never was.

I grab my stuff and head out the door,

but not before my old friend Humza grabs
me by the arm and asks for my number. I
hesitate, imagining the nightmare barrage
of texts I’m bound to receive (“Salaam
brother! We’re all going to fast today just
for fun, care to join us?”; “Salaam broth-
er! The brothers and I are going to Pin-
ball Pete’s tonight. You should come!”;
“Salaam brother! Why weren’t you at
jumuah today?”)

But then, the word jihad crosses my

mind. I had been taught, years ago on a
Sunday, that this word does not mean
what the news tells us it means, that it is
a term not to be co-opted by the terror-
ists who seek to ruin us, that we all have
our personal jihad: it means “struggle.” I
see a family, proud and brave, boarding
a plane to seek refuge. I see the physical
manifestation of bigotry and hatred, a
padlocked gate at the entry of acceptance,
forcing them back. I see love, acceptance,
humanity and a profound, aching empa-
thy denied their chances to shine; instead,
I see a people humiliated in the streets
they had hoped would accept them with
open arms. I see, now, why those before us
struggled, why we must struggle — and, if
only I struggled — why those to come may
not have to.

I grab Humza’s phone and tap “Create



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