Imani Abdul-HaqqWhen Imani Abdul-Haqq converted to Islam in November 1999, she knew her life as a Muslim would make her an outsider. She decided that though she would have to give up some things, she would figure out a way to live an American life within her faith.

Six years later her mettle was put to the test: As a Guilford (North Carolina) College student, Abdul-Haqq was unwilling to forgo one crucial element of college--a chance at experiencing Greek life.

Her determination to meld faith with sorority life led her to co-found the first ever Greek-Muslim sorority--Gamma Gamma Chi, a haven for young women looking for sorority sisterhood minus the co-ed parties and other haram (forbidden) activities.

That first Muslim-Greek sorority was the realization of a cherished goal for Abdul-Haqq. But the story doesn’t end there. As word continues to spread of Gamma Gamma Chi, Muslim sisters in Kentucky, Maryland, Georgia, and other states are clamoring for chapters at their own universities.Abdul-Haqq’s journey to Greek life is indicative of the modern Muslim-American woman--respectful of her faith and determined to partake in halal (permissible) aspects of American life. If there’s a way to make it work, then women like Abdul-Haqq will make it happen.

In the Beginning

After converting to Islam, Abdul-Haqq’s problems began immediately. At her first college, North Carolina’s Bennett College for Women, she tried to join an established, historically Black sorority and was rejected because of the image associated with her beliefs. “Even though these girls knew who I was, I was perceived as an outsider because of my obviously Muslim appearance,” says Abdul-Haqq, referring to her hijab (headscarf) and conservative clothes.

Like other Muslim women, she realized that becoming a sorority sister could mean compromising her beliefs. “In searching for the close bond of sisterhood that a sorority offers I felt that my beliefs and lifestyle conflicted with the activities and whole pledging process of most sororities,” she says.

Althia CollinsBut Abdul-Haqq was not one to give up. She left Bennett to start a family and then returned to Guilford College in 2005. It was there, with the help of her mother Althia Collins, that the now 34-year-old founded Gamma Gamma Chi.

Founding the sorority was a matter of getting involved in the total college experience, says Abdul-Haqq. Too many young Muslims today believe “being Muslim is not cool. Being Muslim is more or less looked at as being different and excluded from the crowd,” she explains.

Inspiration came in a Friday prayer sermon encouraging Muslims to become more active in the community. Determined to reinvigorate her peers’ zeal for Islam, she recruited her mother, a Delta Sigma Theta sorority member and former president of Bennett College, to help her create Gamma Gamma Chi.

Collins, president and executive director of Gamma Gamma Chi, recognized the importance of a sorority experience and wanted to save other Muslim women from facing the problems she had: Her 25-year career in higher education came to a “screeching halt,” Collins says, when her colleagues rejected her conversion to Islam in 1998.

“I firmly believe that a woman shouldn’t have to give up her career for her religion, or her religion for her career,” Collins says. So when her daughter came to her with the idea for a Muslim-friendly Greek sorority to make a comfortable niche for Muslim college girls, Collins was eager to help.

The campus Greek community is no stranger to the growth of non-traditional and religious sororities: Christian, Jewish, Black, Asian, Hispanic, multicultural, and lesbian sororities can be found on campuses nationwide. But before Gamma Gamma Chi, many Muslim women struggled to find sororities that would mesh with their beliefs. “I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to form such an underrepresented and needed organization,” says Abdul-Haqq, now vice president and assistant director of Gamma Gamma Chi.

Arwa Abualsoud, a prospective Gamma Gamma Chi member, says she also faced exclusion from sororities because of her hijab. She was also deterred from joining by the stereotype of the “sorority party girl” that she had picked up from movies. “Sorority life was a totally different lifestyle than the one I have,” she says. But she quickly changed her mind when she and friend Sundus Elghumati heard about Gamma Gamma Chi and its alternative approach to sorority life.