It started out small: a few Muslim American students who wanted a fraternity based on shared values and common interests, a space to unwind and talk through life’s challenges.
Three years later, the group has grown into a brotherhood of nearly 25 members, and on May 15 the Cornell Interfraternity Council welcomed Alpha Lambda Mu as the council’s first Muslim-interest fraternity.
ALM’s admission to IFC capped a seven-month process that Emad Piracha ’17, former president of ALM and the architect of the IFC push, called “very long, very capital-intensive.”
“But for me, graduating knowing we made it into IFC is a very, very good feeling,” he said.
IFC membership will bolster the chapter’s presence on campus by including it in the rush process, Piracha explained. Before IFC status, ALM recruited new members only through word-of-mouth. In fact, many students are surprised to learn there is a Muslim-interest fraternity at Cornell, said Jibran Gilani ’20, vice president of ALM.
Although he quickly made friends with classmates and dorm-room neighbors in his freshman year, Gilani found himself looking for people of a similar faith.
“I didn’t really know other people of the same religion, and I wanted to get into that community and meet people because that’s one similarity we have,” he said.
Although ALM characterizes itself as a Muslim-interest fraternity, the chapter’s religious and ethnic makeup is “very diverse,” Piracha said. “I’m Muslim — I’ve been Muslim my entire life, I’ve associated myself with a lot of Muslim organizations, but I wanted to separate the religious aspect from the social aspect of things. It doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim or not — we take anyone.”
For this reason, it is not a shared religion or ethnic consistency that holds ALM together so much as a sentiment Piracha summed up as “akhuwwa” — the Arabic word for brotherhood.
“I can honestly say I know each brother very, very well — where they’re from, where they grew up, what their interests are,” Piracha said. “I don’t think there’s any difference between my biological brother and these brothers.”
Current president Rashaad Ahmad ’18 said this close community is important at a school as large as Cornell, where cavernous lecture halls and a vast campus can swallow an individual student.
“It’s easy to get drowned in classes and lectures where you’re one out of 600,” he said. “At the end of the day you can come back to a smaller, more closely-knit group, and feel welcomed. It’s an open space to express yourself and talk about anything that’s bothering you, anything you think is important.”
Many of ALM’s members are first-generation Americans, and joining a fraternity was a tough sell for some of their parents, Ahmad said, given the stigmas associated with Greek life.
“My parents had known about fraternities, but they knew them in a negative or stigmatized sense,” he said.
For Gilani’s parents, fraternities were “a big question mark.”
“They didn’t really know what a Muslim fraternity was,” he said. “And I guess most people in general don’t know what a Muslim fraternity is.”
But with ALM’s entry into IFC, the fraternity’s leadership is hopeful that will start to change. Ahmad and Gilani are pressing to put ALM on a waitlist for a house, which Ahmad conceded is a long process. “But being in IFC gives you a big leg-up,” he said.
As membership swells with the rush process, the two are confident that the chapter’s on-campus presence will grow as well, and Ahmad foresees ALM organizing service events for both the Cornell and Ithaca community.
“Hopefully, we’ll be at a point where when someone asks, ‘Oh, are you in a frat?’ and you say, ‘ALM,’ people won’t be like, ‘What’s that?’” Gilani said.
Piracha will walk in graduation this weekend, and he said ALM’s admission to IFC will be his legacy. But his most enduring memory is a simple one: a barbecue last weekend, a send-off for the seniors who saw ALM grow before their eyes.
“Seeing our brothers and Cornell community members together, all so happy and having fun, was an image I will never forget,” he said.