The Muslim Students Association of Columbia University (MSA CU) is among the oldest of the affiliated campus chapters of the national MSA. With a membership consisting of both undergraduate and graduate students, MSA CU is dedicated "to creating a strong Muslim community on campus by creating a space for Muslims to interact with one another as well as [with] the larger Columbia University community." The organization's events and initiatives -- ranging "from interfaith community service projects to weekly Friday prayers" -- seek to promote "a greater understanding of the religion of Islam among all members of the Columbia community." MSA CU also hosts halaqas, which are gatherings designed to teach theology, each Friday. As of 2007, the group was receiving some $15,000 per year in student funds.
In February 2006, MSA CU was one of 52 Muslim organizations that signed a press release denouncing a Danish newspaper’s then-recent publication of a series of cartoons lampooning the founder of Islam as a terrorist. Asserting that "freedom of expression is not absolute," the press release "condemn[ed] strongly the continuous insults and humiliation against our Prophet Muhammad." Fellow signatories included the American Muslim Association of North America, the MSAs of several universities, and a number of Islamic societies, Muslim centers, and mosques. Notably, the petition did not condemn the wave of protests and deadly riots which Muslims across the globe had launched in reaction to the cartoons.
At the invitation of MSA CU, the Holocaust-denying professor Norman Finkelstein (of DePaul University) came to Columbia to deliver a March 2006 speech titled “Israel and Palestine: Misuse of Anti-Semitism, Abuse of History.” Co-sponsors of Finkelstein’s appearance included the Arab Students Association, the International Socialist Organization, the Organization of Pakistani Students, and the United Students of Color Council.
According to a report in the Columbia Spectator, Finkelstein characterized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a “contrived and fabricated controversy”; he declared that “regardless of intent, Israel is in effect guilty of state terrorism”; and he alleged that the “only difference between Israel terrorism and Hamas terrorism is that Israeli terrorism is three times as lethal.” Finkelstein also criticized Columbia University president Lee Bollinger for his refusal to support an anti-Israel divestment campaign or to depict Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “apartheid.” Accusing Bollinger of “intellectual terrorism,” Finkelstein declared: “I think it’s a sorry truth when the president of ... [Columbia] subordinates the pursuit of truth to the pursuit of fundraising.”
In October 2006, MSA CU members participated in a rowdy demonstration protesting a Columbia speaking appearance by Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project which opposes illegal immigration. After Gilchrist took the microphone, more than 20 students stormed the stage; two of them unfurled a banner reading, "No human being is illegal."
Following an October 2007 Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week address by guest speaker David Horowitz, MSA CU vice president Amreen Vora complained that Horowitz had wrongly suggested during his speech that the word “jihad” meant “holy war” rather than spiritual “struggle,” which Miss Vora claimed was its true definition. Horowitz, however, had not used the word “jihad” even once during his speech; Vora was merely repeating one of the talking points she had been given by MSA in advance of the event. When Horowitz asked Vora whether she would be willing to publicly denounce the terrorist group Hamas, which along with the Muslim Brotherhood had created the Muslim Students Association, she evaded the question.
At a November 2008 Columbia University event titled “From Hate to Love,” Walid Shoebat, a former Palestinian terrorist who had later renounced the ideology of jihad, spoke against Islamic terrorism. Omar Siddiqi, then-president of MSA CU, chose not to attend the Shoebat speech because “I knew what he was going to say.” “I respect his right to speak,” added Siddiqi, “but they [people like Shoebat] deprave and dehumanize groups.”
In April 2009, MSA CU co-sponsored an event hosted by KashmirCorps, a nonprofit organization whose mission is "to improve the welfare of Kashmiri society through service and research." The main sponsor and keynote speaker of the event was Farooq Kathwari, the chairman and president of Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc. Kathwari, whose son Irfan was killed in Afghanistan while waging jihad against the Russians in 1992, had previously spoken at the 2004 national conference of the Islamic Society of North America.
In April 2010, MSA CU co-sponsored an event honoring and supporting the convicted cop-killer and former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Other co-sponsors included the African Diaspora Literary Society, the Arab Student Association at SIPA, the Black and Latino Student Caucus at the School of Public Health, the Black Students Organization, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, the Intercultural House, and the Latin United Community Housing Association.
One of the guest speakers at this gathering, Princeton professor Cornel West, portrayed Mumia not only as an important figure in the “black tradition” of “emancipating democracy,” but also as a man whose foremost ideals included "justice" and "love." Another speaker, Trinity College professor Vijay Prashad, hailed Mumia as the “voice of the voiceless,” a victim of "the U.S. mass incarceration system," and a man able to "inspire us" with his noble perseverence. The third speaker, Columbia professor Jamal Joseph, drew a parallel between his own experience as a Black Panther organizer, and the practice of authentic love.
In March 2011, MSA CU co-sponsored an event featuring a speech and book-signing by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, best known for his effort to build the "Ground Zero Mosque" in New York City.