Home to more than 100 organizations, UTM can proudly claim that it has plenty of different resources and extra-curricular activities to cater to the needs of the growing student population, ranging from academic societies, sports clubs, to faith-based clubs. As the diversity of incoming students increases, so does the diversity of clubs formed on campus. Last October, a group of students created a new faith-based club, UTM AhlulBayt Student Association (ASA), that aims to fulfill the spiritual needs of Shia students at the university.
Fatima Al-Ali, a third-year life sciences student ad president of the club, explains that “Shia” refers to Muslims that belong to the branch of Islam which believes in the spiritual and political authority of the Prophet’s family consisting of his daughter, her husband Ali, and her two sons Hassan and Hussain, and emulates their teachings, as well as those of the Qur’an. Al-Ali felt that Shia students needed a space to revive, preserve, and spread their faith. Along with a few other students, Al-Ali set out to form a club that would help achieve these goals.
According to Al-Ali, the Arabic term “AhlulBayt” translates to “People of the House” which encapsulates the true essence of the Shi-ism as it refers to the family of the Prophet Muhammad upon which the faith is based.
Al-Ali explains that the foundation of UTM ASA involves endowing Muslim students with an Islamic heritage and cultivating an informed and balanced Islamic understanding according to the teachings and lifestyle of the AhlulBayt.
“We hope to educate the university community on Islamic values and culture through the teachings of the AhlulBayt, and to foster a greater acceptance of Shia students in particular, and Muslim students in general, as integral members of the campus. We also aim to develop and improve relations amongst Muslims as well as with non-Muslims through engaging in intra and inter faith dialogue in order to achieve peace, harmony, mutual respect, and greater understanding,” she says.
Running the club allowed the team to gain a greater sense of appreciation for their values and beliefs. Feedback from the Shia students on campus allowed them to understand what areas they needed to focus on in-depth.
In the past year, the club has managed to host a variety of different events. “We hosted weekly prayer programs last year, and other events with scholars that allowed us all to better our understanding of our faith. This included an event focusing on preparing for the spiritual Islamic months, as well as commemorations and celebrations,” says Al-Ali. The team also hosted sessions where they gave tips for balancing extra-curriculars, and faith-based activities with the busy schedules students have.
For this year, UTM ASA hopes to add new events to their agenda. Last week, the club hosted the Ashura Awareness Campaign. Ashura refers to the Islamic day on which the Prophet’s grandson Hussain ibn Ali was killed along with the men of his family by Yazid, the ruler of that time, for standing up against the oppression, tyranny, and distortion of Islamic values promoted by his government.
“The idea behind the Ashura Awareness Campaign is to educate the greater public about the sacrifice that Hussain made 1400 years ago. He gave up his life in order to stand up for truth and justice. We want to inform people that Hussain isn’t a figure that is exclusive to Islam, and his sacrifice does not just serve as an example for Muslims, rather within this unique historical event there are timeless messages for all of humanity,” says Al-Ali. The event saw a large turn-out as many students from different races and religions stopped to discuss what values they would be willing to sacrifice for.
Although UTM ASA has been formed by Shia students, its activities are open to everyone. ASA aims to dispel myths created by the media about Shias and Muslims through the various workshops, activities, and events and wishes to promote peaceful coexistence within the university and the larger society.