Founded in 1989 “to meet the social, spiritual, cultural, and intellectual needs of Muslim students” on campus, the Brown University Muslim Students Association (BMSA) states that its mission is to “help build understanding” of Islam by means of halaqas (gatherings designed to teach theology), open lectures, inter-faith discussions, prayer services, and iftar dinners.
BMSA has participated numerous times — along with more than 250 fellow Muslim organizations (mostly chapters of the MSA) — in an annual, nationwide “Ramadan Fast-a-Thon” where students, on one designated day each year, eat nothing at all from sunrise to sundown. The stated purpose of this event — which was initiated shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — is twofold: to raise money for the hungry and poor, and to help Americans increase their understanding of Muslims’ good intentions. Such notables as Sheikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah, Sheikh Abdullah Idris Ali, Imam Zaid Shakir, and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf have endorsed the Fast-a-Thon.
In late November 2006, Brown’s campus Jewish organization, Hillel, invited Nonie Darwish — an Egyptian-born Muslim convert to Christianity — to give a lecture in defense of Israel and its excellent human rights record, relative to the poor record of the Islamic world. When Hillel announced its decision to invite Darwish to speak, BMSA, which has often condemned what it terms “Zionist imperialism,” promptly demanded that the invitation be rescinded on grounds that Darwish was “too controversial.” Hillel, citing a “desire to maintain constructive relationships” with the Muslim Students Association, complied.
Also in 2006, BMSA organized a “Palestinian Solidarity Week” — sponsored by the parents of the late Rachel Corrie — which featured exhibits of posters and pictures depicting Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israeli “aggression.” The event also featured an “apartheid” wall on the campus’s Main Green, as a symbol of protest against Israel’s then-recent construction of a security barrier in the West Bank — a structure whose very existence BMSA characterized as an assault on Palestinian human rights.
BMSA designated March 2007 as “Islam Awareness Month” (IAM), whose aim was to educate students about Islamic traditions and beliefs while dispelling negative stereotypes about the Muslim faith. A featured IAM presentation was given by Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. In a separate seminar, titled “Under Muslim Rule: A Palestinian Christian’s Perspective,” the presenter was Al-Awda founder Mazin Qumsiyeh.
Yet another presentation during BMSA’s Islam Awareness Month was a screening of the documentary film, The Road to Guantanamo: How Far Will We Go in the Name of Security? As the BMSA website noted, this production maintained that the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center was stocked with many innocent Muslims who had been apprehended without cause by U.S. military personnel. A related presentation, titled Guantanamo Exposed, was given by Captain James Yee, a former U.S. Army chaplain who was once suspected of espionage (though the charges against him were later dropped). According to Yee, most of the detainees at Guantanamo were either wholly innocent of any terrorism-related charges or, at worst, were low-level foot soldiers incapable of providing American intelligence officials with any significant information. “The people down in Guantanamo probably know as much about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda as any private in the military would know what’s going on inside the Pentagon,” said Yee.
The IAM festivities also featured “Women in Islam: Respect or Repression?” — a talk given by Hadia Mubarak, a national board member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and a former president of MSA National. On previous occasions, Mubarak had: (a) exhorted all North American MSA chapters to demand the reinstatement of Tariq Ramadan‘s visa to the United States, which had been revoked by the U.S. government because of his connections to Islamic terrorism; and (b) characterized America as a land of “religious bigotry,” “hatred,” and “intolerance” — a place where Muslims are “the closest targets for bigots and extremists.”
In 2007 as well, BMSA staged a “Palestinian Awareness Week” during which a number of guest speakers blamed Israel for 9/11, praised Hamas and Hezbollah, and articulated a host of anti-Semitic opinions.
In late 2018 and early 2019, BMSA worked with senior members of the Brown administration “to address areas in the university that could better accommodate Muslim students.” For example, the organization successfully pressured the school to “remove the $1,000 premium from the Halal Meal Plan,” “have ALL chicken served in the university be halal,” and and allow BMSA to “conduc[t] Islamophobia training for the entire Brown University Office of Residential Life paraprofessional staff.” It also pushed for the university to create an Islamic Studies degree program, and to hire more Muslim faculty members “in order to minimize Orientalist and Islamophobic biases” in the faculty. Moreover, BMSA invited Dr. Maha Hilal — an activist affiliated with the Institute for Policy Studies and the Justice for Muslims Collective — to speak at an event entitled “The Legacy of the War on Terror: Institutionalized Islamophobia From Bush to Trump.” By BMSA’s telling, Hilal’s presentation portrayed the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center as a “manifestation” of: “institutionalized Islamophobia,” “the racialization of Muslims post-9/11,” and “counterterror programs that work to criminalize Muslim American youth.”
In May 2019, BMSA’s website lamented that “the results of the 2016 election cycle” in which Donald Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton for the U.S. presidency, “were a massive blow to our Muslim community, as well as Muslim communities nationally and globally.” “In the wake of an era during which institutionalized Islamophobia has become justified and normalized in an arguably unprecedented manner,” the website added, “BMSA has been proactive in fostering a community that strives to provide a safe space for Muslim students, as well as a space that produces modalities of resistance … in light of blatant attempts to criminalize and marginalize Muslims and Islam.”
Further Reading: “About the BMSA” (Students.Brown.edu); “Keeping the faith at Brown” (The Brown Daily Herald, 11-6-2007, re: Ramadan Fast-a-Thon); “Sharia in the Ivy League” (FrontPageMag.com, 1-9-2007, re: Nonie Darwish invitation); “Campus Free-Speech Debate Rages” (SPME.org, 4-9-2007, re: Palestinian Solidarity Week); The Muslim Students Association and the Jihad Network (Terrorism Awareness Project, 2008, re: Islam Awareness Month); “Exposing the Anti-Semitic Values of the Muslim Students Association” (Islam-Watch.org, 5-4-2009, re: Palestinian Awareness Week); “Brown Muslim Students’ Association Fundraiser” (Launchgood.com, 2019, re: the various requests & demands that BMSA made to Brown University in 2018-19, and BMSA’s 2019 views about Trump and Islamophobia).