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.
But 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.
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.
On the Rise
Special-interest sororities like Gamma Gamma Chi are emerging, Collins says, because most traditional sororities have yet to embrace diversity and fulfill the varying needs of prospective members. “Sometimes the common ground that is found in religion and race needs a place to be nurtured, and that can only occur in special-interest organizations,” Collins adds.
Abualsoud was excited to find a place where she could share the traditions and beliefs of her peers. In Gamma Gamma Chi, she connected with “girls [who] would understand everything I do rather than putting a question mark on every move I make--like praying during the day and not eating pork,” she says.
But being a haven for Muslim women isn’t the sorority’s only goal. Gamma Gamma Chi also aims to establish common ground between Muslims and non-Muslims. “I think it’s important to remember that American Muslims are a part of the American culture. Anything that we can do to become a part of it in a meaningful way, I think we ought to,” Collins says.
With this in mind, the sorority invites Muslim and non-Muslim women--who are committed to its mission of promoting positive visibility of Muslim women and Islam--to apply for membership. Although only Muslim women have completed membership applications, a handful of non-Muslim women are considering joining the sorority, says Abdul-Haqq.
Similar to other traditional American sororities, Gamma Gamma Chi also unites women through sisterhood, scholarship, leadership, and community service.
Gamma Gamma Chi sorority members also help “the underserved, mentor the young, and help undergraduates network with alumni,” Abdul-Haqq says. The sorority also is careful to adhere to Islamic principals by following the example of other Muslim organizations, like the Muslim Student Association, Muslim American Society, and the Islamic Society of North America
“Everything that our sorority does follows the Qur'an and Sunnah,” Abdul-Haqq said. Mimicking Islam’s five pillars, the sorority has its own set of six “gold pillars”--Islamic awareness and involvement, educational development, economic development and indigent support, environmental awareness and involvement, physical and mental health, and social awareness and involvement.
Now, just a year after Abdul-Haqq founded the sorority, more than 200 women from 20 states and several foreign countries have contacted the organization with questions on joining and starting campus chapters. In November 2005, nine University of Kentucky women attended the sorority’s first “Gold Presentation” informational meeting.
Since then, the sorority has held additional presentations at the University of Maryland, Rutgers University (New Jersey), and the University of Kentucky. And in April 2006, six Georgia students--from Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Georgia Perimeter College, American Intercontinental University, and Troy State University--were inducted into Gamma Gamma Chi's second chapter..
The potential pledges, who hail from countries like Libya, Pakistan, and Jordan, represent just one type of the sorority’s diversity. Gamma Gamma Chi also attracts Sunnis, Shi’as, Moors, and members of the Nation of Islam. Collins and her daughter knew there were other women searching for a sorority experience within Islamic boundaries, but were surprised at how much interest they received.
Gamma Gamma Chi’s future looks bright. With a solid foundation in American collegiate culture, changes in the sorority scene are only strengthening women’s motivation to positively impact their communities, says Abdul-Haqq. Prospective members of Gamma Gamma Chi “are so thrilled to have the opportunity to help better our women, campuses, and communities.” Says Abdul-Haqq, the time for the modern Muslim woman is now.