As the Muslim Students Association made final preparations for the Muslims Excelling Today event on March 25, the Great Hall in the Student Union buzzed with activity.
Attendees, dressed in black-tie attire, made their way down a red carpet as cameras flashed. Dozens of tables were adorned with dinnerware. Ornate silver centerpieces were set up near the stage.
Attendees chatted amongst themselves at the tables, visiting the photo booth as they waited for the program to start.
The event aimed to highlight Muslim excellence by featuring student and alumni accomplishments, detailing ways in which the community has excelled over the last year. In addition, the Muslim Students Association introduced the board that will take office next year.
MSA Vice President Dalal Azzam said the event is the first of its kind.
“We are focusing on current members of MSA, alumni and also expanding Muslim excellence — not only to the UNC community but also beyond," Azzam said.
After detailing some of MSA's accomplishments and events over the last year, such as their weekly Quran reading nights, executive members introduced keynote speakers Lena Sarsour and Akram Abdallah, who co-founded Nominal jewelry company in 2018.
Sarsour and Abdallah co-founded the company as a way of connecting with their cultural identity. Nominal customers can purchase jewelry with Arabic inscriptions or minimalist designs.
During their speech, Sarsour shared how they've been able to see people share who they were "without saying a word."
“They show off which pieces they chose and why it resonated with them," she said during the speech. "That right there has been one of the most rewarding aspects of our business.”
They also shared how they hope Nominal can serve to empower their three-month-old daughter.
"Nominal is our love letter for our daughter," Sarsour added. "We hope she always remains proud of who she is."
Attendees received a free necklace from Nominal.
Following the speech, attendees were invited to dinner and evening prayer.
MSA leaders highlighted the accomplishments of community members through alumni and student features, such as Merve Rida Bayraktar, who founded Pink Stream, an organization that creates educational works to empower young women in STREAM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts and Math).
"We are providing young girls STEM exposure at a young age so that they have confidence and passion to move on in these fields," she said during her speech.
The event later concluded with the introduction of the new MSA board for the 2022-2023 academic year.
Former MSA Outreach Chairperson Osamah Atieh said the MET was an important social and community-building event.
"A lot of people like to dress up — they like to enjoy social time with their friends — but it’s also very key for us to lift up those students who are trying to get their name known, and also to network,” Atieh said in an interview with the DTH.
Azzam said that coordinating the MET event was particularly special for MSA members this year.
“Just because you are acknowledging a community doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re celebrating it,” she said. “And so seeing us be the focus of this event — Muslims, excellence and all these positive terms associated with our community can be very emotional.”
The MSA runs many events for members throughout the school year, from ice cream socials and cookouts. The goal of the organization is to provide a safe space for all Muslim community members in both a social and faith-oriented way, Atieh said.
Additionally, long-term MSA projects aim to increase recognition of the Muslim community at UNC through communication with higher-level administrators, like the chancellor and other administrators, Azzam said.
Former MSA Diversity and Inclusion Officer Haleemah Abdul-Malik, who will serve as events coordinator on the 2022-2023 MSA board, said she hopes to recreate the event in the future.
“It’s really honestly exciting and beautiful to be able to see Muslims in all of these different sectors, you know, be able to speak out,” Abdul-Malik said. “Muslims in business, Muslims in STEM. And just to have all this excellence be able to culminate in this one event.”
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