UT Austin’s first Muslim sorority seeks to redefine Muslim womanhood after one year on campus

Sol Chase

Mu Delta Alpha, the first Muslim sorority in the state, has come a long way in a very short time.

In its first year at UT Austin, the sorority saw more than 20 women apply, of which they accepted 10 new members. The sorority was founded at UT-Dallas in 2016 by Samira Maddox and opened its Beta chapter at UT-Austin in the fall of 2017. The organization seeks to empower Muslim women through professional development.

Sociology junior Nisa Sheikh, the chapter’s financial officer, said she and her sisters are attempting to break down traditional images of Muslim women.

“The narrative right now is that Muslim women are oppressed and can’t pursue careers,” Sheikh said. “When you have a professional Muslim sorority come up, it breaks that stereotype and people have to reconsider what they believe.”

Eileen Flynn DeLaO, a journalism lecturer specializing in religion, said the sorority allows Muslim women to take part in a culture that has traditionally excluded them.

“Greek life serves a lot of people very well,” DeLaO said. “What the sorority is doing is saying, ‘We’re normal, we’re part of the scene.’”

Since 2016, MDA has received a lot of media attention. Organizations such as CNN, the Texas Tribune and NPR have covered the sorority’s founding.

DeLaO said the extensive media coverage is part of a nationwide trend.

“There’s a sense that young people can and should be heard,” DeLaO said, citing the March For Our Lives and Me Too movements as additional examples. “They’re claiming their space in the public square.”

Sheikh said the media coverage furthered the sorority’s goal of dismantling stereotypes.

“When people see it in the open, maybe they research Muslim women,” Sheikh said. “(It will) break down their previous ideas.”

While the sorority is the first of its kind, it exists within a wide community of Muslim organizations on campus, many of which have a long history at UT.

“All the communities are really intermingled,” said ­­­Sarah Youssef, vice president of the Muslim Students’ Association, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017.

Youssef said while the MSA seeks to appeal to the broader Muslim community, the sorority’s relatively small size will allow them to focus on close-knit community and vital interpersonal relationships.

“As a minority, I think it’s really important to be around people who have similar experiences to you,” Youssef said. “They’re building a sisterhood.”