Friday, June 23, 2006

Muslim Sorority Opens New Doors to American University Women

New group promotes sisterhood, scholarship, leadership, service

By Steve Holgate
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- Fraternities and sororities are an important part of student life on most American university campuses. These privately run clubs organized around common interests and activities provide students with leadership experience, social outlets, support groups, community service opportunities and housing options.
They offer a home-away-from-home for the roughly half million students who seek admittance and are selected by current members. Fraternity and sorority members are often active in campus affairs and maintain a lifelong social and professional network with other former members after graduation.
In some people’s minds, the “Greek system” – so called because the houses are typically named with some combination of Greek letters – is synonymous with partying, but the system includes a huge variety of organizations, many of which encourage academic excellence and promote community service. A new national sorority founded on the principles of Islam seeks to build itself on that model.
Founded little more than a year ago, the Gamma Gamma Chi sorority has dedicated itself to giving young women the positive aspects of a sorority experience while maintaining Islamic traditions. While the group’s core principles are Islamic, it opens its membership to all women, Muslim and non-Muslim, who support its mission.
Gamma Gamma Chi is the inspiration of Imani Abdul-Haqq, a young Muslim woman who was dissatisfied with the sorority scene at her university in North Carolina. Instead of dismissing the entire system, though, Abdul-Haqq decided to form her own sorority based on Islamic values. Abdul-Haqq’s mother, Althia Collins, a former college president and sorority member, threw herself into the dual role of president and executive director. Since then she has spent more than $50,000 of her own money and in-kind assistance to launch the sorority.
One of the most challenging tasks for Gamma Gamma Chi has been raising awareness of its mission on American campuses. Collins and other supporters have visited many universities, hosting informal information sessions. Students dressed in everything from chadors to blue jeans and t-shirts have attended and taken an interest.
A student at the University of Kentucky, where a chapter of the sorority is being founded, told NPR (National Public Radio), “This is exactly what Islam is about.” Christine Ortiz, a graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Gamma Gamma Chi board member, noting the important status of sororities at American universities, told USA Today, “It will give Muslim woman a face and a voice on campus.”
Collins told NPR, “This sorority, I thought, is an opportunity to help Muslim women to be able to develop leadership skills and … to help each other through networking.”
Gamma Gamma Chi makes its commitment to Islam clear in its motto: “Striving for the pleasure of Allah through Sisterhood, Scholarship, Leadership and Community Service.” Its six goals, or Golden Pillars, include Islamic awareness, education, support for the indigent, as well as health, social and environmental awareness. Chapters will follow Muslim practices and observe Islam’s holy days. Collins says no alcohol will be served at sorority events and that while members may work together with men on specific projects, there will be no men at their social gatherings.
Other students apparently agree with the leaders of Gamma Gamma Chi that this sorority fills a void among diverse student organizations on campus. Young Muslim women in 20 states have expressed interest in forming chapters of an organization where they can enjoy the company of women like themselves and show the best face of Islam.
Members of other sororities have also welcomed the new organization. Some have noted that a number of Christian-based sororities have succeeded using similar models. Susan West, an administrator with the University of Kentucky, has championed the establishment of a Gamma Gamma Chi chapter at her campus, saying that the university welcomes women of all faiths. She told the Voice of America, “I think that GGC will give women a new opportunity… I have talked with women who are in sororities now, and they are excited to have a new group on campus that will bring something different to their sorority community.”
The sorority has already passed an important milestone, establishing its first chapter in Atlanta, where it serves women from a number of local universities and colleges. Two more chapters will open in July and chapters are forming in a number of other American cities. Given the initial interest, the sorority’s goal of establishing chapters in every region of the United States seems achievable.
Collins speaks with confidence about the prospects for the work she and her daughter have started. “I can say how pleased I am with the interest and enthusiasm we’ve received,” she told the Washington File, adding, “Imani, my daughter … and I are honored that we could be the ones to give shape and life to an idea whose time has clearly come.”
For information on student life in the United States, see
Study in the U.S. and Muslim Life in America.
Created: 20 Jun 2006 Updated: 21 Jun 2006

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