605 Frank Porter Graham Student Union
UNC Chapel Hill
Campus Box 5210
Chapel Hill, NC
See also: Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada
The University of North Carolina's Muslim Students Association (MSA-UNC) is a self-described “religious, social and outreach student organization that aims to network the Muslim students on campus and to serve as their voice in the student community.” It also “reaches out to the larger student body in interfaith cooperation and works with other organizations to bring about positive change on the UNC campus.”
Outside of an active organizational agenda that includes Ramadan dinners, prayer-room services, and weekly educational meetings, MSA-UNC hosts annual events such as a Sportsfest (each January), a Muslim-Jewish Artsfest (each Spring), and a “Ramadan Fast-a-Thon” where students eat nothing from sunrise to sundown on one designated day each year. The purpose of the Fast-a-thon -- which was initiated shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks -- is twofold: to "raise money for the hungry and poor," and to help Americans "increase" their "understanding" of Muslims' good intentions. Such notables as Sheikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah, Sheikh Abdullah Idris Ali, Imam Zaid Shakir, and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf have endorsed the Fast-a-Thon.
In the “About Islam” section of its website, MSA-UNC offers a positive depiction of Islam as a religion whose name “is derived from the root word salam, meaning peace.” Most notably, readers are informed that Islam consists of “Five Pillars” that essentially define the obligations of the faithful: to declare that "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is [Prophet]"; to recite obligatory prayers (Salat) five times per day; to fast (Saum) during the daylight hours in the month of Ramadan; to make charitable contributions (Zakat) to needy Muslims each year; and to make pilgrimage (Hajj) to the holy city of Mecca at least once in their lifetime, if health and finances permit. No other aspects of Islamic beliefs or traditions are discussed on the website.
On October 12, 2005, MSA-UNC hosted a campus event titled “The Future of Democracy in the Muslim World.” The keynote speaker was Radwan Masmoudi, founder and president of the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID). The CSID was created by leaders from the American Muslim Council, a group that has publicly pledged its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. It was under Masmoudi’s leadership that Kamran Bokhari, the U.S. representative for Al-Muhajiroun, was made a fellow at CSID.
In September 2005, MSA-UNC successfully pressured the editor of the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel (DTH), to fire columnist Jillian Bandes, for having written that:
"[Arab travelers should be] stripped naked and cavity-searched if they get within 100 yards of an airport. I don’t care if they’re being inconvenienced. I don’t care if it seems as though their rights are being violated. I care about my life. I care about the lives of my family and friends. And I care about the lives of the Arabs and Arab-Americans I’m privileged to know and study with. They’re some of the brightest, kindest people I’ve ever met."
MSA-UNC again came into conflict with the Daily Tar Heel in February 2006, when the publication reprinted one of the infamous cartoons (lampooning the Prophet Muhammad) which had appeared recently in a Danish newspaper and had sparked violent Islamic riots throughout Europe. Demanding an apology from the DTH, MSA-UNC expressed “shock” that the editor, with a clear “intention of bigotry,” had chosen to publish an item whose “derogatory” message was bound to “incit[e] hate in the current political and social context.”
In response to DTH's publication of the offending cartoon, MSA-UNC and university administrators quickly organized an “Extinguishing Ignorance with Knowledge” vigil to emphasize “the messages of peace and toleration” which the Prophet Muhammad purportedly taught. Just days later, on March 3, a 22-year-old, Iranian-born UNC graduate named Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, who had been involved with MSA-UNC during his student days, intentionally drove a rented SUV into a crowd of students at a popular spot on the campus, injuring nine people.
Subsequently arrested and charged with nine counts each of attempted first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon, Taheri-azar candidly acknowledged that his intention had been to kill people – so as to “punish the government of the United States” and “avenge the deaths or murders of Muslims around the world.”
After the incident, MSA-UNC quickly issued a press release stressing that Taheri-azar had never been an official member of the MSA, though he had made a “few appearances” in an on-campus “prayer room” reserved by the organization. Yet MSA-UNC's own website contradicted this information. Under the heading “Quick Facts [FAQ],” was a link to the question, “Where is the [MSA-UNC] prayer room located?” The link did not lead to information about an on-campus entity, but instead to the homepage of the nearby Islamic Center of Raleigh (ICR), which had been established in 1985 by members of the MSA and the Islamic Association of North Carolina, with seed money from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. ICR's longtime Imam, a Syrian-born teacher named Mohammed Bajanonie, is known for preaching that Muslims should “take not the Jews and the Christians as [friends]” because the latter are “the dwellers of Hell fire,” and that martyred jihadists who slay such infidels “will be adjudicated [positively] on the Day of Judgment.”
In late February 2006, MSA-UNC held an event keynoted by Mohamed Rida Beshir, an advisor for the website Islam Online, which showcases live interviews with leaders of Hamas. Beshir has served in various capacities with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim American Society (MAS); has written for ISNA’s bi-monthly publication, Islamic Horizons, and for the Islamic Circle of North America's Message International; and was an editorial-board member with MAS’s magazine, The American Muslim, which has called suicide bombings against Israelis “justifiable”.
Also in February 2006, the notorious anti-Semite Amir-Abdel Malik-Ali spoke at an MSA-UNC event.