Alif Laam Meem, also known by their Greek letters as the Alpha Lambda Mu fraternity, was founded this past February at the University of Texas Dallas. But now that it's fall and prime Rush season, ALM is pushing to recruit new members and start new chapters around the country. This frat news isn't notable because the fraternity is question is full of the usual drug dealing, hazing, racism or delivering of brilliant advice for women; it's worth paying attention to because ALM is America's first Muslim fraternity.
According to their website, the goals of the fraternity align with the principles of Islam, though they're open to members of all religions:
The Alpha Lambda Mu National Muslim Fraternity has been founded upon and promises to strive to promote among its members:
A stronger relationship with God and His final Messenger, Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him, as well as a stronger love for Islam.
An everlasting bond between brothers as they lead their communities in service.
Religious, academic, and extracurricular successes that benefit the individual, the family, and the community.
To build and develop integrity, honesty, respect, and the highest character among each member within the Alpha Lambda Mu National Muslim Fraternity.
In a video about the frat's origins, president Ali Mahmoud talks about how frustrated he was when he got to college and found out his best friend was planning to join a fraternity best known as FIJI. (Mahmoud's concern was unsurprising; at my college, Phi Gamma Delta was known best for its roster of football players, the fact that you could see naked people through the window of their upstairs bathroom from the dorm across the street, their annual pool party in which they filled a pit in their backyard with water and an incident where one brother stabbed another.) But soon, Mahmoud became convinced that in order for Muslims to enjoy a full college experience and garner greater respect once they graduated, they needed a frat. Organizations like a Muslim Students Association aren't as "binding" as a fraternity is, says Mahmoud. A frat is where men can make connections that last a lifetime.
The members of ALM recognize an important truth: the Old Boys' Club of fraternities are a huge part of the legacy power structures in this country. Part of the impetus for starting ALM, Mahmoud says, was so that the members of ALM could get closer to members of other more long-standing fraternities and "develop relationships that may be integral to the progress of Muslims in this country." They're trying to work within the system, not outside of it.
They also say that they want to challenge American ideals about what it means to be a Muslim man. In the spring, ALM attended a Dallas Men Against Domestic Violence rally because they felt like "we need to represent human beings, we need to be there to show that this is a human issue, that Muslims care about this," explained Mahmoud after the fact. It also seems like they hoped the event would get them lots of press – which it eventually did, a goal they were criticized for by Cornell student Adam Abboud who has blogged extensively about ALM, writing that the frat's formation had "dangerous implications":
I questioned why any religious organization would strive to be modeled after a gendered institution with roots in white supremacy and elitism. I am all for Muslim unity and coalition, but we need to revolutionize what that looks like, rather than adopting discriminatory structures. What has been most troubling for me has been the amount of media and applause these young men have gathered.
Abboud eloquently explains that the attention ALM has gotten has largely been because they are seen as allies of the women's rights movement, interesting because it is seen as surprising that they would support such a cause:
We should not be applauding men who superficially claim to be pro “women’s rights” just because they take a good picture. ALM has not only showed little understanding of true allyship in terms of domestic violence, but has also exploited the suffering of women for the purposes of publicity and appearing gender progressive. Muslim leaders and students need to truly reevaluate what it means to stand up against gendered violence, and need to realize that photo-opts, flash-mobs and other sensational ways of combating violence is never enough or worthy of applause. Furthermore, the recent publicity of ALM points to the underlying sexism and double standard that exists within Muslim and most other communities. The virality of ALM’s efforts speaks to the fact that broader society values male activism more so than that of women’s. This phenomenon also exists in many other contexts; white, male, straight, allyship is typically praised and celebrated more so than the activism of people of color, queers and other marginalized individuals.
Mahmoud told The Independent that he felt like any criticism against the frat was coming too early. "It’s difficult to have this conversation when we’re constantly telling people what Islam isn’t instead of what it is due to pre-emptive attacks with hidden agendas," he said. "I think it’s time to calm down and have intelligent, open-minded conversations if we want to make any progress. We’re taking what’s good from the fraternity model and leaving what’s bad.”
According to ALM, Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania, University of California, San Diego, and University of Central Florida are all in the process of starting their own potential chapters. While their future is uncertain, if they stay away from partying like they plan to, they have a better chance than their brethren of avoiding becoming the breeding ground for some of the worst Americans.
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