Editor’s Note: This interview has been condensed from its original length.
Muslims are a part of the community here at the University of Texas at Austin. There are seven Muslim student organizations. Muslims take part in local charities, the same classes and enjoy Texas football much like the rest of the student body here at UT, but as a community that is increasingly discriminated against and underrepresented, it is important to know Muslims as your peers, friends and neighbors. The following are highlights of an interview conducted with Yousuf Kidwai, a finance and pre-med senior and president of the Muslim Students’ Association here at UT, an organization that I am also a member of.
Syed Rizvi: What is the Muslim Students’ Association?
Yousuf Kidwai: It serves as a platform for like-minded individuals, whether Muslim or non-Muslim … It’s just an open community for people to come together to appreciate Islam and the religion that it is and move forward in creating a joint community, a social community.
Rizvi: Why did you join MSA?
Kidwai: It was a place of belonging. There were so many things that MSA was doing that piqued an interest in me. For example, they did a lot to try to clear up the negative image of Islam and what’s going on around the world … they let people know that what Islam is really about helping people, being peaceful, like throwing events like Fast-a-Thon, where they [alleviate] hunger for the poor, raising money for breast cancer awareness; they are for the community.
Rizvi: What do it mean to be Muslim? What does that mean for the importance of MSA?
Kidwai: Religion plays a major role in my identity because it is my belief system … Therefore, [religion] is very important. That is why the Muslim Students’ Association is so important … because it a way to help and propagate those morals… and help create a greater understanding [of religion].
Rizvi: Does this greater understanding translate to personal, academic and professional success?
Kidwai: Yes it does because the teachings of Islam … teach people to be good people, to do good unto others, be the best person you can be … by solidifying my faith, I am solidifying my academic life … my social life … and the community at large.
Rizvi: What is the typical student life for a Muslim?
Kidwai: You can’t pigeonhole an entire group into one mold. So what I’ll explain to you is what a stereotypical Muslim who will take the rules and regulations of Islam and apply them to their life [will and won’t do] … drinking is prohibited, so a stereotypical Muslim instead of drinking … though there are many that do … will hang out, sports are big, there is a giant basketball culture among the Muslim community. People love to play FIFA and Madden … board games… [watch] TV … it’s not about what you’re doing but who you’re with.
Rizvi: It seems, besides the drinking, what you described sounds like the life of a typical student. Do you concur?
Kidwai: I do concur. We are just normal people. We’re students, working toward our degree and we are just trying to find our way in life. It’s like everyone else. We struggle with our grades … half the seniors I know are freaking out about what they are going to do next year, myself included… [We might not] tailgate before a football game, [but it] doesn’t mean we are not going to enjoy the football game. We’re just as big of fans of Texas football as anyone else.
Rizvi: Have you experienced racism on campus?
Kidwai: Yes. Yes, I have. I am not going to claim that I have experienced racism to the degree that others have; [racism experienced] has mostly been in arguments and fights … there was a discussion that I was having with a class fellow … we used to eat lunch together and he flat out told me that he believes all Muslims are terrorists.
Rizvi: [For] MSA, the organization [and] the community, is racism commonplace?
Kidwai: You don’t get outward racism, but sometimes when you’re tabling for a cause, as I mentioned before East-African Famine, or different things, people come up to us and ask and be really interested in our cause and ask us, “Who are you?”; well, “We are the Muslim Students’ Association on campus,” and you see the looks on their faces change, you can see their attitude change, they no longer want to talk to us or be a part of this greater cause … That is something the MSA has felt, and it has held us back. Sometimes we will be fighting for great causes and trying to do major things in the Austin community … and you can tell people are much less willing to partake because of the name “Muslim Students’ Association.”