The George Washington University Muslim Students Association (GWMSA) seeks to “conduct social, cultural, religious, and other activities in the best interest of Islam”; “promote unity and joint action among the Muslims”; “promote friendly relations between Muslims and non-Muslims”; and “endeavor to make Islamic teachings known to interested Muslims and non-Muslims.” Toward these ends, the organization “arrange[s] and hold[s] congregational prayers and Islamic religious festivals at appropriate times.”
From late 2001 to 2002, the chaplain and "spritual guide" of GWMSA was Anwar al-Awlaki, the al Qaeda operative who was then ministering to some of the men who would eventually be among the 9/11 hijackers. During his time in Washington, DC, Awlaki delivered numerous vitriolic, anti-American sermons that were attended by three of the nineteen men who would later become 9/11 hijackers, and by Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan. In 2002 Alwaki fled the U.S. for Yemen, where he developed ties to al Qaeda. It is believed that his sermons and teachings played a role in the Fort Hood massacre of 2009, the failed Christmas Day underwear-bomber plot of 2009, and the attempted Times Square bombing of 2010.
GWMSA strongly opposed the Terrorism Awareness Project’s October 2007 Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week (IFAW) activities, whose purpose was to educate American college students about the nature of the fanatical religious movement aiming to create a global Muslim empire. In GWMSA's estimation, IFAW was an exercise in anti-Muslim bigotry.
Just prior to IFAW, fliers bearing the slogan “HATE MUSLIMS? SO DO WE!!!” suddenly appeared all over the George Washington University campus. Claiming to be “brought to you by Students for Conservativo-Fascism Awareness,” and falsely naming as a contact the Young America's Foundation (a conservative group which had helped to organize IFAW), the fliers also featured a photo of an Arab and a description of “typical Muslim” features such as a “suicide vest,” a “hidden AK-47” and a “peg-leg for smuggling children and heroin.” With the university awash in controversy, administrators and campus police swiftly launched investigations into who might have been responsible for posting the fliers. One GWMSA leader said she was "really shocked that this sort of hatred exists on our campus." Eventually, it was learned that two of the seven culprits were themselves Muslim students at GWU. The perpetrators claimed that their intent was to poke satirical fun at IFAW.
During one IFAW presentation at George Washington University, guest speaker David Horowitz publicly asked a contentious GWMSA member whether she was willing to publicly denounce the terror group Hamas. She refused, claiming not to know what Hamas was. After Horowitz's talk, a number of GWMSA members claimed that terrorism was entirely unrelated to authentic Islam; that Shari’a law was a viable form of jurisprudence; that acts of Islamic terrorism were nothing more than a series of isolated, unrelated incidents rather than part of an organized campaign; and that Christians and Jews were just as likely as Muslims to engage in terrorism. In addition, several of these GWMSA students praised the agendas of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In response to a GWMSA request for access to sex-segregated swimming facilities on campus, in 2010 George Washington University began offering a once-weekly, female-only swim hour at its Lerner Health and Wellness Center, closing the pool to men for one of its twenty hours of operation each week. The university also ensured that a female lifeguard would be on duty during that hour, and that a tarp would block the view through the glass door leading to the pool area.