Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

A crowd of students walk near Feeny Way in September, 2021; an in-person semester has allowed PAMSA the opportunity to reconnect.

September 23, 2021

Pan-African Muslim Student Association Offers Community to Black Muslim Students in First In-Person Semester

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The Pan-African Muslim Student Association has kicked off the fall semester with a new year of on-campus reconnection — after the organization’s inaugural spring 2021 semester of virtual meetings, they plan to host educational events and build community among Black Muslim students throughout the year.

Ahmed Eltahir ’22, PAMSA’s president, and Mohammad Hussein ’22, PAMSA’s marketing chair, began drafting the club’s constitution during the winter of last year. Soon after, it launched as a space for Black Muslims at Cornell.

Eltahir said that an ideal campus community makes Black Muslims feel safe and that PAMSA aims to foster an environment where students can comfortably be themselves. PAMSA plans to host its first general-body meeting within the next three weeks, Eltahir said.

“The purpose of the Pan-African Muslim Student Association shall be to create a sense of community for Black Muslims on campus,” the constitution reads. “To create this community, PAMSA shall provide a space for the education and discussion of the cultural, political, and social landscape of the Muslim and Black Diaspora convergence.”

While organizations like the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association and Black Students United focus on one of the two identities, Hussein said PAMSA aims to explore the intersection between Black and Muslim identities.

“These two combinations kind of force us to operate differently than other people,” Hussein said. “We have to face all types of different experiences that these entities bring in the combination. There’s something special that I feel like a lot of people can relate with.”

Eltahir said that as a Black Muslim, he struggled to find a niche and build a community within Cornell’s current Muslim student organizations.

“During my time here, I noticed that in a lot of spaces, there were Black Muslims,” Eltahir said. “However, they were not engaging in a lot of traditional Muslim spaces that were available here at Cornell.”

Starting a semester with fewer COVID restrictions, PAMSA is planning more events. On Sept. 17, PAMSA hosted Mustafa Briggs, an academic in Islamic Black history, in “Beyond Bilal: Black History in Islam,” a part of his ongoing speaker series on the subject. The event took place in person on campus.

According to Nasra Ismail ’22, PAMSA’s vice president, this event helped foster a sense of pride and belonging among Black Muslims.

“He gave us an in-depth history to all the historical Black figures in Islam, our importance in the religion and emphasized our own history, because a lot of the time when it comes to Black Muslims, we oftentimes don’t feel like we’re seen as much as our Arab and South Asian counterparts,” Ismail said.

According to Ismail, the association has more events in the works, including teaching a hijab and hair care routine and hosting a networking event with Black Muslim professionals.

“All of our events are catered toward our core message of being a space that empowers Black Muslims on campus,” Ismail said.

PAMSA Treasurer Imani Rezaka ’25 said the association’s status as both a religious and cultural group makes it eligible for funding from the ALANA Intercultural Program Board and the Cornell Interfaith Council. This funding, according to Rezaka, allows the organization to invite speakers like Briggs and implement other community-building and educational initiatives.

Though PAMSA has its own organizational goals, Eltahir said that the student membership can also meld the association into what they need.

“This is an organization for Black Muslims,” Eltahir said. “At the end of the day, we do have two cardinal goals, but people here can shape the space to be whatever they want it to be.”