Photos C/O McMaster Muslim Students' Association

By: Drew Simpson

The McMaster Muslims Students’ Association recently held Finding Your Momentum, a leadership and empowerment workshop specifically curated for Muslims. Its objective was to increase youth engagement to improve community involvement.

While MacMSA maintains a busy calendar, the process of organizing this event began well before the school year started. While decisions were being made around the structure of MacMSA’s exec-director team, the team realized a recent and significant drop in engagement with the association and the community.

Typically, directorship positions with the MacMSA would attract about 50 applicants each, in recent times however, these numbers have significantly dropped to one or two applicants. The senior executives became worried about MacMSA’s future leadership and lack of engagement with younger cohorts.

MacMSA leaders also saw a lack of Muslims being represented in leadership positions in the McMaster community, such as through the Student Representative Assembly.

Feedback gained from focus groups found a common rhetoric of Muslims opting out of leadership positions to focus on academics. They also found that many individuals were under the misconception that they are not needed by the community.

 

One workshop attendee and MacMSA representative noted that a lot of students experience a lack of confidence in their abilities and felt that they aren’t equipped with the appropriate skills to take on leadership responsibilities.  

The Finding Your Momentum workshop was created in response to these concerns. The MacMSA team realized that they needed to empower their members and create a space where attendees can have open conversations about bettering themselves as Muslims and leaders in the community.

While one of the aims of the workshop was to increase attendees’ engagement with the community, the MacMSA team had to first figure out a way to increase engagement with the workshop itself.

From previous experiences, the organizers found that many people needed someone to both encourage them to participate and attend the event with them. This was often facilitated through invitations by word of mouth.

The organizers of Finding Your Momentum took advantage of this promotion strategy, and it worked. One attendee noted that in order to facilitate empowerment, individuals need someone to give them a little push of encouragement and support.  

“When you hear ‘word-of-mouth’, you think of just going and telling someone ‘hey we have an event, just come’. But it’s actually investing in the Muslim community on campus…A part of being a leader is having a community that can look up to you and support your vision,” explained Faryal Zahir, MSA Director and Finding Your Momentum organizer.

“A big part of this year has been making that vision very very clear, and then having people inspired to support that vision.”

This workshop consisted of interactive activities and discussions that focused on introspecting on attendees’ relationships with themselves and others. There was also a focus on utilizing leadership opportunities to serve the community and building connections.

At every MacMSA event, building connections is a recurring goal. The team believes that building connections enables individuals into action.

Finding Your Momentum, like other MacMSA events, aims to break down the barriers that repress interaction, and encourage attendees to have one-to-one connections, first with themselves, then with their peers and greater community.

Time will tell if the MacMSA achieved its goal of encouraging workshop attendees to take on more leadership positions, but one thing is for sure – Finding Your Momentum created a much needed space for empowerment and meaningful engagement for Muslim youth.

 

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How many times a day would you like to take the shuttle and go to Lot O, one of the most remote parts of campus? Once? Maybe three times? Certainly not five, right?

That is what faced the McMaster Muslim Students Association in March of 2013.

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Before the demolition of Wentworth House, the MSA had prayer, storage and office space in the building.

“The prior MSA office had a room for brothers and sisters, and it was connected with a door in the middle,” said Zarak Aslam, the MSA’s public relations representative.

“The Wentworth space was great—very central, and the room set up was such that you could very easily interact between brothers and sisters.”

When news of the building’s impending demolition reached the MSA and other tenants of Wentworth House, like MACycle and the Photo Club, they were told that an adequate replacement would be found.

Initially, a temporary structure near Lot O was suggested as a space for the MSA. Lot O is one of the most far-reaching points on campus—accessed via shuttle, taking passengers over the bridge behind Mary Keyes Hall. Because space can be hard to come by, this was seen to be the only option for the University.

The problem is that many Muslim students pray five times each day—a ritual made incredibly inconvenient if one needs to shuttle to prayer every time.

Once word got out about the troubles facing the MSA’s acquisition of new space, McMaster and Facility Services began to reach out and look for more feasible solutions.

“After the article was written in The Silhouette last year, things got moving… It brought attention to the problem. Not only our problem, but also the other organizations in that building,” said Aslam.

He continued: “[McMaster] was willing to do whatever it took to get our accommodations set up.”

Between April and August of 2013, while the school was less crowded, Facility Services worked to ensure that a new space would be ready for September’s arrival of students.

Now, two former classrooms in T13—the bunker-type building next to the Engineering Technology Building—are devoted to the MSA, to be used for storage, meetings and daily prayer.

The University even paid for changes to be made with the aim of accommodating the club. Carpeting was installed (necessary for men and women who spend their prayer time kneeling) and other adjustments made.

“[Facility Services] let us choose what kind of carpeting, we were able to get that in—they installed that over the summer,” said Aslam. “Since we are in two rooms now, they even offered to set up an intercom in-between. So now we have the speakers and the microphone going between rooms.”

When the Fall term of 2013 began, the room was prepared for occupancy.

Of the transition, Aslam said, “We are pretty much settled in and things are going well. Honestly, it’s been a great blessing.”

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