“Being a Muslim is a huge part of my identity, both when it comes to how I define myself, as well as how others see me.”
When Abubakar Abid BS ‘15, MEng ‘16 came to MIT he was worried that the campus religious community might not be prevalent or visible. During a time where intolerance against Muslims is a major issue in the United States it would be reasonable to think displays of faith might be cautious or muted by Muslim students. Instead, Abid was pleasantly surprised to see just the opposite from students of all belief systems.
Sadly, Abid has experienced prejudice at MIT. Abid knows that being Muslim is not a private identity but also a factor into how others view him, making assumptions and attributing potentially inaccurate characteristics to him. He has been called a “terrorist” and even received the reaction of “Is that a bomb?” when his phone rang during class.
Abid navigates incidents such as these through the community of the MIT Muslim Student’s Association (MSA). “I am blessed to have had incredible good friends from the MSA who have supported me during difficult times, who have shown me great times, and have even been there by my side probing the answers to life’s deepest questions,” said Abid. MSA attracts Muslim students from diverse backgrounds, majors, and even from other universities. Through MSA Abid has made friends, met roommates, and members with whom he began several start-ups.
Since Sr. Hoda Elsharkawi has become a chaplain at MIT Abid has felt an increase in the closeness of MSA members. Elsharkawi holds weekly “Connect” dinners with food she has cooked herself. “She is incredibly easy to talk to,” said Abid of Elsharkawi’s counsel, “and many Muslim students, myself included, have approached her to ask questions that are on our mind.” This gathering of 20-40 students serves as an opportunity for the Muslim community to discuss topics of relevance ranging from relationships to academic stress to combating Islamophobia.
Abid finds this community and his faith a respite from the fast-paced, pressured, and demanding nature of MIT. Islam stipulates regular prayer throughout the day. “Being able to pray in the Muslim prayer area in W11 brings much-needed perspective and peace of mind,” said Abid.
Being a Muslim is a major part of who Abid is and how he experiences college. Additionally, he is a typical involved, and ambitious MIT student, a Course 6-2 who has been the President of the Biomedical Engineering Society, the Aerodynamics Lead of the Solar Electric Vehicle Team and a member of the American Jiu Jitsu club.
Though Abid has experienced negative religious stereotyping by a few, he sees MIT as an overall open and receiving environment, especially from different religious groups on campus. “I’m happy and grateful to see messages of support from other religious communities at MIT.”