Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Muslim Student Network Building Foundations for Tomorrow

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Muslim Student Network Building Foundations for Tomorrow

Article excerpt

Muslim Student Network Building Foundations for Tomorrow

Laila Al-Arian, an MSN intern with the Washington Report for summer 2001, is a junior at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

Last summer, with shows like "Survivor" and "Big Brother" earning top ratings, so-called "reality TV" was at its peak. The formula was quite simple: put a group of strangers together and watch the drama slowly unfold in front of a disturbingly voyeuristic American public. This summer, I had an experience in Washington, DC quite similar to MTV's popular reality show, "The Real World" --minus the cameras and television exposure. For two months, I was involved in a program called Muslim Student Network (MSN). I had heard about MSN from a friend of mine at Georgetown who had participated in it the previous summer.

MSN's goal is to help American Muslims become more active in the political process. After watching my father rally the American Muslim community on the local and national levels in support of then-presidential candidate George W. Bush, I realized the importance of the American Muslim community's participation in politics. In that respect, I knew MSN would bring me into contact with like-minded individuals.

MSN is the brainchild of Marghoob and Iffat Quraishi, a Palo Alto, California husband-and-wife team that has been actively empowering the American-Muslim community since the 1960s. Iffat, a part-time English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teacher, was involved in the civil rights movement. She now directs her activism toward educating and encouraging young American Muslims to be proactive and involved in the American landscape, especially in public policy.

Since MSN's inception in 1994, over 100 students have participated in the program, interning in such places as Congress, the State Department, the Department of Justice, Voice of America, Market News, BET, and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Some interns choose to work in consulting firms or policy-related law firms.

Two conditions that program directors place on students are that their internships must be policy-related and that they can't be with programs that could just as easily be found locally. Additionally, working for Islamic organizations is not allowed, says Iffat Quraishi, "because we are teaching kids how to become respected within the American system."

One common problem in the American-Muslim community, she continued, is that the majority of American-Muslim organizations are reactive, not proactive--meaning they tend merely to react to anti-Muslim policies, rather than to prevent them from the beginning. She described MSN as a program that looks for a payoff in the future. "We are trying to get ahead of the curve," Iffat said.

In order to provide them with a more well-rounded experience, MSN requires students to attend classes on public policy from an Islamic perspective three to four times a week. These lectures have been beneficial and engaging for most students. Distinguished professors and authors like Georgetown University's John Esposito, George Washington's Seyyed Hossain Nasr, and Dr. Aziza Al-Hibri have been among the guest lecturers. This past summer, students were also required to attend a Tuesday-night series entitled "View from the Hill," in which they were treated to informative dialogues with Muslims working in the House or Senate. Usman Malik, a graduate of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas who interned with Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), described the lectures as "interesting and thought provoking, while maintaining a casual atmosphere. …

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