After the Duke Muslim Students Association's new leadership was announced, The Chronicle's Grace Mok sat down with incoming president and first-year Sajidur Rahman-Kader and incoming vice president and first-year Usamah Chaudhary to discuss their plans for MSA. Their conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
The Chronicle: How do you think that being current first-years will affect your leadership?
SRK: As freshmen, we will be here for a longer time than a senior would. A senior or junior president or vice-president won't be thinking about the long term like three years from now. They'll be thinking about this year or next year, whereas we'll be thinking in terms of three years or even longer. We'll be leading as freshmen for other freshmen. We've been through it very recently. We know how we felt and I think that's easier for freshmen to do.
UC: Over this last year we were close friends with the current outgoing president and vice-president, so we've come to know all of the ins and outs of running MSA.
SRK: We have been working closely with Kiah Glenn, the program coordinator for the Center for Muslim Life. She has been helping us get accustomed and also planning lots of social justice workshops in order to help not just us, but also the executive committee, transition.
TC: How political will your leadership be?
SRK: We will be as political as we need to be in order to get what we want, be that representation or social justice. We are currently working on forming a student coalition of minority groups, which first-year Maram Elnagheeb is running. We plan on working with them for advocacy and administration work, social justice and whatever it may be. We think that will be important next year.
UC: Given the political climate, it's difficult for us not to be political. To get the kind of representation and the basic religious openness that we need, we may need to be political.
TC: What are your goals for the next year?
SRK: First and foremost, we are going to work on community building. The Muslim community is pretty small here at Duke, so we are going to go outside of Duke—different colleges. We are going to work to form a Southern summit for next year. That's our biggest plan actually. We are going to reach out to colleges like UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Elon University and any other colleges in the driving distance who are willing to come here and work with us in order to make the Muslim community stronger. We do not have that right now, and we need it more than ever.
UC: In the Spring semester, we have a month dedicated to Islamic awareness. Islamophobia is very rampant in the current Trump presidency, and a lot of it is rooted in a lack of knowledge about what Islam really is. During this month, we hold events that are open to the public for people to come and learn about what Islam is really about. Educating people about Islam is one of our main goals for the year.
TC: What does representation mean to you?
SRK: By representation, we mean representing every Muslim on campus. Currently, our group has a huge population of South Asians. We don't want other groups to be marginalized because of that. We are going to work towards that and reach out to other races that are in the MSA. That's an issue that we're currently beginning to deal with. We hope to gear our events toward that in order to address it.
UC: For representation outside of MSA, for example, we had our jumu'ah prayer on the Chapel quad. We want to have a presence in the community. It was Blue Devil Days, so we wanted to make sure that we were represented. We want prospective Muslim students to see that Muslims are respected and have their space here at Duke.
SRK: I also wanted to mention that we don't have a clear-cut Muslim identity in the MSA. We are a diverse group, and we accept people from different races, intellectual beliefs, sexual identities, gender identities... MSAs usually have a very biased view, but the Duke MSA is not like that. We do not tolerate or condone anything that goes against our diversity.
TC: What challenges do you envision in the next year?
UC: We work with administration often. We expect to be treated with proper respect and dignity. We really want to see some transparency on their part. We really haven't seen that, especially this year. We have faced a lot of issues with administration. Moving forward, we hope that they can be fully open with us.
SRK: In terms of lack of transparency, we recently launched a Muslim chaplain search. As we were getting applications and having people come onto campus for interviews, we realized that there have been lots of things that weren't fair. We don't think that students were 100 percent on the administration's minds when they were making decisions in choosing candidates. In terms of how we will reach out to them, we will go to their offices. We actually have emailed a list of demands that the MSA wants on campus: we want Muslim spaces, we want more representation and we emailed and met with Dr. [Zoila] Airall and Dr. [Li-Chen] Chin.
TC: What are you looking forward to in your leadership roles?
SRK: I'm looking forward to the beautiful community that's forming. We are having issues, but these issues are bringing the community together. Throughout my years here, I want to see the Muslim community grow. I want to see the Muslim community flourish. I want Muslim representation to be similar to what the other large groups on campus have. I think we will be able to do that. It won't happen in just a year. It is going to take multiple years. But getting the ball rolling is important, and that's what we're planning on doing.
UC: One thing I'm looking forward to, like Saj said, is seeing our community really grow. I think we have a special community. We have a great amount of diversity, people from all over the world, different sects of Islam. Another thing we want to see our community do is get involved with different interfaith projects, the other religious life groups, and I really look forward to seeing the community grow.