Hamna Ahmad ‘20
Kareem Ramadan ‘20
When we came to Grounds last fall, the Muslim Law Students Association (MLSA) did not exist. Similar to a number of affinity groups at the Law School, the events of August 2017 served as a rallying cry to come together in order to show solidarity with the community and with affected minority groups. For the both of us, it made it easy to give our support to reinvigorating an organization for people that needed a voice within the law school. Thanks to the effort of a number of then-1Ls and 2Ls, we were able to get MLSA off the ground and running after a ten-year hiatus from the Law School. While the events of last August added a sense of urgency to restarting MLSA, the ultimate mission of this group is a simple one: To create and foster an environment for Muslims and allies of all backgrounds to come together as a community, while also functioning as a vehicle to ignite conversation with regard to Islam-centric and minority-focused issues. We both got involved to help future Muslim students find a place they felt comfortable in when they arrived on Grounds, whether that is finding a spot to pray or recommendations for halal food.
Aside from being a space where Muslim students and allies can come together and engage one another with difficult topics, MLSA has served as an excellent way to make new friends and connect with people throughout the school. From game nights to lunchtime discussions, this group has given us the chance to learn about people from all sorts of backgrounds that we may not otherwise have had a chance to otherwise. Most Muslim Student Associations on campuses tend to be ethnically homogenous, but we are lucky to have a Muslim population that has a mix of South Asian, Arab and Middle Eastern, African American, East Asian, North African, and European American students! This allows us to be exposed to Muslim traditions from all over the world, even ones that we may not have known about previously. One of the best experiences of this year was observing an Ashura fast, the first time for both of us. Ashura is a traditional holiday mostly observed in Shia communities throughout the world, and it was great to observe it in our own small group in Charlottesville.
Furthermore, we realized that there is a need for a cohesive network of Muslim attorneys across the public and private sectors. We want to ensure that Muslim students have the same access as other students to career opportunities in the future, even though many of our members tend to come from families with no connection to the legal world. This summer, both of us struggled to find Muslim attorneys at firm receptions in our respective markets. To make Big Law a more diverse experience in the future, it’s vital to create this sort of network starting from the ground up—in law school. As our members start to graduate and enter the legal profession, we hope that they will create a foundation of alumni for future Muslim law students.
We are lucky to have an established Muslim community in Charlottesville. The Islamic Society of Central Virginia is a great mosque that our members attend in town, and we encourage all interested students to stop by Friday services if they are interested in learning about our prayers. Furthermore, the undergraduate Muslim Students Association puts on excellent programming that MLSA members are always invited to, including Quran studies and service events. This year, we hope to forge closer relationships with the Medical School and Darden’s Muslim Student Associations as well.
Although we are primarily a faith-based organization, we realize that the Muslim-American identity has been highly politicized; we, as Muslim law students, do not have the privilege of opting out of the contentious politics of our time. According to the Pew Research Center, assaults and crimes against Muslims reached new heights in 2016, surpassing 2001, the year of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Last semester, the University released a statement condemning “Punish a Muslim Day,” a hateful event originating in Europe that spread to the US. In July of this year, our MLSA signed on to an open letter with Muslim law student associations across the country to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision in Trump v. Hawaii. It was an amazing experience to see the collective power of young, engaged Muslims speaking out against a legal ruling that has affected and will affect our own community and families. Our members are Muslims who grew up in America during the turn of the century, and we have seen our religion twisted by both those who claim to follow it and those who claim to hate it. For many of us, this was a motivation to attend law school: to learn about our rights and privileges as Americans, and to ensure that our faith was treated with as much dignity and respect as all faith groups in this country.
Next semester, we are hosting an event with the Jewish Law Students Association (JLSA) about minorities in faith in Big Law, and how to stay steadfast with your faith while meeting the demands of the workplace. We are also partnering with the Virginia Law and Business Society to host a panel event on Islamic Finance in the U.S. and abroad. We invite all students to attend our advertised events and to ask engaged questions about Islam and allyship.
Note from the Co-Presidents: Although we are only in our first year of being a registered student organization, we are indebted to so many individuals at this law school. First, thank you to Muskan Mumtaz, ’19, for creating this group and getting us organized. Thank you to JLSA for helping us through the certification process and for exhibiting the truest form of sisterhood. Thank you to everyone in the Office of Student Affairs for making us feel welcome and for organizing prayer spaces for our members. Thank you to Professor Thomas Nachbar for reaching out to us and wanting us to feel welcome. Thank you to the Office of Admissions for being mindful on how we can grow our representation on Grounds. May God bless our efforts, and allow this group to be a light to all members of the Virginia Law School community.