UNC student Sara Khan is the chairperson of publicity and public relations for the UNC Muslim Students Association. This student organization acts as a voice for Muslim students to the rest of the community and provides a safe place for students to practice and learn more about the Muslim faith, as well as collaborate with other organizations on and off campus.
Staff writer Megan Royer spoke with Khan about the Muslim Students Association and her experience growing up Muslim.
The Daily Tar Heel: How and when did you get involved in the Muslim Students Organization?
Sara Ali Khan: I got involved in MSA my freshman year. I gained a leadership position pretty early on. People who were not part of executive board but still part of leadership were referred to as ambassadors, but now we refer to them as project leads. As an ambassador, I completely redid the website and changed our platform, and I also did flyers. So I was basically an ambassador for the publicity committee my freshman year. I was an ambassador for three years before I became the chair.
DTH: Can you give me an overview of what the Muslim Students Organization does?
SAK: We have a general body meeting every week, which is either a lecture, a discussion, a social, a community service event or a benefit night. Every week we switch it up so there’s one of each every month. We are one of the few student organizations that has a general body meeting every week. Besides that, we also have prayer five times a day at the Union. We have a prayer room in the Union that is open to people of all religious traditions, but we have a lot of Muslims who go there. On Fridays, we hold Jummah, which is a special Friday prayer we do every week. Our weekly activities are detailed in our newsletter, which goes out on Monday, which I make.
DTH: What is your favorite part of the Muslim Students Organization?
SAK: I’m kind of a nerd, so I really like lectures that are very academic. My very favorite moments at MSA are when we bring local faculty — UNC faculty — to lectures, talking about critical issues. I always really enjoy those. We have often invited Michael Muhammad Knight and Juliane Hammer. I also really enjoy lectures discussing intersectionality and identity. And I just really like hanging out with my friends, honestly. I also like how we provide all these spaces for people on campus where they not only find space but they also feel like they can find people they relate to in a safe environment.
DTH: Why do you believe in Islam?
SAK: I am a Pakistani-American so I do come from a predominantly Muslim country. I come from a predominantly Muslim family and Muslim community, so it was a very natural choice for me. But after careful study both in college and outside of college, I realized it was a faith path and a spiritual journey that aligned with my values.
DTH: What was life like growing up as a Muslim? Did you feel you were ever treated differently?
SAK: I was one of possibly four Muslims in my school, and I went to private school my entire life — and the other four people were my family members. I don’t know if I ever felt different, because I had my family members there, but it wasn’t something I had to navigate very often because I went to a very progressive school. I’m not saying that I don’t have to navigate it on a daily basis, but as a child I had the privilege of not having to deal it every single day — maybe once a month.
DTH: What is one thing you would tell students and the community about the Muslim faith or MSA they may not know?
SAK: That we are people with humanity, with fears, with happiness, with family members, with pets. That’s basically it.
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