Step 1: Make Your Decision
Before you start forming your MSA, you must first be firm in your decision to start one. An MSA is a very useful club to have at your high school and can benefit people of all faiths. You must also be willing to complete the task once it’s started.
Step 2: Survey for Interested Members
After you’ve made your decision to start an MSA, you should survey people in your high school to see if they are interested. Don’t worry if you only have one or two interested people. It’s completely okay to start an MSA with a small number. Once you get started and are successful, more people will join.
Make sure you emphasize that your MSA is an academic group and not a religious one. You are not trying to convert people to Islam; you are trying to educate people and correct stereotypes. Refer to the section titled “Purpose of your group” for more information.
Try to reach every single person interested in learning about Islam at your school. Keep in mind that an MSA is as much for Muslims as it is to educate people of other faiths about Islam.
Step 3: Make a List
Make a list of every person who is interested in an MSA. On that list you should include as much of the following information as possible:
- Graduating Year/Class
- Phone numbers (home & cell)
- Email address
- School activities that they’ve already committed to and the times of those activities.
- Talents applicable to the MSA (Qur'an recitation, artistic skill, writing, communication, etc.)
Step 4: Create a Core Group
Some of the people that you will recruit will probably fall under this core group. The core group is a team of individuals (from 2 to 7 members) who are dedicated to making an MSA work. It’s difficult for one person to manage all the things necessary to achieve a successful MSA. Choose a core group of diverse people to help you organize and market your MSA. When choosing these people, think of the following:
- Persistence: You may experience some reluctance from the faculty and the administration when starting your MSA. That’s why your core group should be persistent. They shouldn’t quit after the first bump in the road. If you come up against any reluctance, emphasize that your MSA is for anyone interested in learning and clearing up misconceptions about Islam. This may facilitate school approval.
- Organization and Balance: One of the most important things your core group should have is organization. Balance is also very important. Your core group should be able to balance MSA with other activities that they are involved with.
Step 5: Creating A Plan
Once you’ve decided on your core group and before you can look for a teacher sponsor, you must have a set plan for the year. Your plan must include the following list:
- Purpose of your group. Examples can be:
- A place where students can freely talk about their religion and discuss common problems
- Clear up stereotypical misconceptions about Islam in your high school
- Carry out social and cultural activities.
- **Provide an educational outlook on Islam and clear stereotypical misconceptions. We recommend that whatever your other goals, this particular purpose/goal should be listed in your plan and constitution. This is the most important goal for an MSA: to educate all people regardless of their beliefs, race, gender, etc. about Islam.
- Timetable: Your plan should include a timetable. The timetable should have a list of actions and an estimated time of completion. Examples of tasks to be accomplished in your timetable are:
- Creating an Executive Board that includes at least a President, Secretary and Treasurer. This can happen before the group has started or you can hold elections once you have formed your group. If you choose to hold elections, you should have a temporary President who will be the main contact until a new President has been elected. Refer to the section below titled “Executive Board and Elections” for more information.
- Finding a sponsor
- Time of first meeting
- Finalization of Constitution
- First event planned. Your group’s first event can be a MIST meeting. This can be a reason why your participants will want to meet weekly.
- End of year elections
- Audience of your Group: Although it is one of the most important parts of your group plan, most people forget to identify their audience. This section should state who can be members of the MSA. It is important that everyone involved in your group, especially if your MSA is formed in a public school, understands that MSA is open to anyone, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Atheist, etc, who is interested in learning about Islam. This is a great way to attract sponsors and students alike. When writing your plan, make sure to put the previous statement under the heading of “Types of Members.”
Step 6: Creating a Constitution
Get together with your core group and finalize a constitution. If you’re the only Muslim, that’s ok. The key aspect of this constitution is the purpose we stated, which was to provide an educational outlook on Islam and clear stereotypical misconceptions. Remember that this club is open to everyone, and that it should not be exclusive to a certain group of Muslims. Your constitution should have a set plan for the year so all future leaders will always know what to do, even if you’re not there to advise them. Feel free to use the sample constitution we’ve provided.
Step 7: Talk to your Principal/Vice Principal
To ensure that you are following protocol, set up a meeting with your school's Principal or Vice Principal. Typically, the Vice Principal is the individual to approach in order to form a club of this nature. Clubs in some of the larger high schools are handled by the activities director who is sometimes part of the sports department. If you’re unsure who to go to, ask the school secretary.
Once you’ve made an appointment with the school official, make sure you are professional during the meeting. Wear professional clothes and bring your Plan and Constitution with you. Also, bring a signed list of students who want to join your group. Ask the principal if there are any specific guidelines that you have to follow in order to form a club in your school. Make sure you communicate to your principal that the purpose of your group is educational and not religious. Your purpose is to provide an educational outlook on Islam and clear stereotypical misconceptions. You may also explain that you are trying to provide a place for students to express their culture to others who share the same background or to those who are interested in learning about different cultures.
Some school officials might be reluctant to allow the formation of your MSA. Make sure to be persistent. Follow up with your school officials to inquire on the status of your paperwork and formation. Make sure your entire core group is keeping up with the inquiries. Remember always to be cordial and respectful.
If you have any problems during this step, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be able to help you further.
Step 8: Find a Sponsor
Finding a sponsor might come after you’ve spoken to your administrator or before it. It all depends on what your school requires before you present your idea to your school official. Some schools require that you find a sponsor first, others require that you get permission to start an organization and then go on to find a sponsor. Whatever may be the case at your school, finding a sponsor is a big step and requires a lot of persistence because most faculty do not want to dedicate their free time to meetings.
Make sure your core group asks every teacher they can to sponsor them. It is better to have a willing sponsor than a reluctant one, so do not hound a potential sponsor if another teacher can be found who is happy to fill the position. The following techniques should help you find a sponsor for your MSA:
- Remind the sponsor that teachers are, above all, educators who believe in the institution of education. In this post 9/11 climate, intolerance and aggression are bred from ignorance. As an educator, it is important to sustain a welcoming environment to promote education, prevent intolerance, clear stereotypes, and lessen aggression due to misunderstanding. Tell your sponsor that these same goals are what your MSA is dedicated to working towards.
Your MSA’s purpose is to provide leadership and education to both its members and the community. Tell your teacher that by sponsoring the MSA, he/she is creating an environment for Muslims to learn about their religion and for people of other faiths to become educated about Islam. Stress the point that education on Islam is needed by both Muslims and non-Muslims to help ease intolerance and unite people.
- Show the sponsor how professional you are and how much work you’ve already put into starting this group. Show her/him your constitution and your plan of action. Show her/him the list of students interested and remind her/him that although she/he must be present during a meeting, you are not expecting them to do any work other than simply advise you when you really need it. Show them that you are responsible and that you have a group of responsible students who will be sharing the work. It might convince the sponsor when she/he sees that you have taken care of most of the work
Some sponsors might use some common excuses not to sponsor your MSA. The following pointers will help you convince your potential sponsor:
- Religion in public school: Some faculty members are concerned because they are afraid of having religion in public schools. If your sponsor mentions this point to you, remind them that allowing an MSA is not an incorporation of religion in public schools, but rather, it is a facilitation of an educational extracurricular club, established for the purpose of promoting the understanding of Islam. Because of that purpose, MSA is an academic club because it promotes the education of others. Also, if you use MIST as your main activity, your purpose for forming an MSA is to join an interscholastic tournament.
- Not enough time: This is the biggest reason most teachers are reluctant to sponsor an MSA. Most high schools require the sponsor be present at all meetings, and teachers are reluctant to give their free time to a club. There are a few techniques to help:
- Foot-in-the-door: Get them to commit to one meeting a week, which is perfectly reasonable. As you expand your activities, request more of their time, or ask for more meeting time without her or his presence. Start with a small commitment and build on it.
- Parental involvement: Remind them that the parents of the core group will be involved and more than willing to help.
- Above Arguments: If this is the only thing holding your potential sponsor back, use some of the arguments listed above to convince them to make time for the MSA.
- Multiple Sponsors: Some sponsors are reluctant to accept the entire responsibility for the club, however they are still interested in helping out. In this situation, it might be beneficial to seek out two sponsors: a primary sponsor whose name will be appended to the paperwork, and a secondary sponsor, who will assume responsibility when the first is unable to. Forging an agreement of this kind between two teachers helps both feel relieved of the time commitment to the club. However, it is better organizationally to have one sponsor if you can find one. So endeavor to find one who is willing to take the full sponsorship.
- I’m not Muslim: Often times, teachers may be uncomfortable with assisting a group that practices another religion than his or her own. They may feel unable to provide the MSA with guidance. Regardless of whether or not this is true, they can provide the type of guidance necessary to run an organized club, and that is all you’ll need to start an MSA. Remind them they are only needed as a facilitator, not as a spiritual advisor, especially since the MSA is an academic organization. Also remind them that the main objective of the MSA is to be educational and since they are educators, they are more than qualified to sponsor the MSA.
As you look for a sponsor, the most important thing you need to ensure is that the teacher you ask understands the purpose of the group you are forming. Just keep in mind that the club is one in which ANYONE can come and learn about Islam. It is NOT exclusive.
Step 5: Forming the MSA
Now that you have your school’s approval, all the paperwork is in order, and you have a sponsor, you will now start forming your MSA:
Who will be the leader?
As with anything else, you need to decide who will lead your MSA. One of the most popular ways is to hold elections where people get nominated, they speak about what they are going to do for the MSA, and then the members vote. Another way is for the core group to elect someone to lead the MSA.
Depending on the size of your school and your MSA, you might need more than just an MSA President. Here is a list of possible officials for your MSA. These positions are electable:
- President: The president is responsible for overseeing everything that goes on within the organization. He/she should delegate responsibilities and check on the progress of activities. He/she should act as the public face of the organization (with the help of any public relations representatives).
- Vice President:The vice president assists the president to oversee operations. The vice presidency will be granted to the individual who receives the second-largest amount of votes in the election. When the president can’t attend a meeting or is unavailable, the Vice President takes over.
- Treasurer: The treasurer is responsible for creating a budget for all anticipated projects and should coordinate all fundraising activities and record-keeping procedures. The treasurer is responsible for allocating funds and handling all financial transactions.
- Secretary: The secretary keeps minutes, makes note of ideas, policy changes, and action items, and sees to the archiving of that information, or dissemination of that information accordingly. The Secretary is one of the most important positions in an MSA.
- Activities Coordinator: The activities coordinator comes up with various activities within the MSA. He/she plans with the help of others and coordinates the day to day affairs of activities. For larger MSAs, you might want to split this position into two, one for sisters and one for brothers. Most high school MSAs, however, will have one person running all the activities.
- Public Relations Director: The public relations director will take care of advertising MSA activities in the community and in the school. He/she will be responsible for creating flyers and getting them approved by your high school for posting. He/she will also be responsible for any marketing material created for your MSA such as an MSA newsletter/newspaper, MSA mailing list, etc.
Step 6: Holding Your First Meeting
Ok, so at this point, you have a sponsor. Time to plan the first meeting! MAKE SURE your meeting date and time is on the school’s daily bulletin. Make sure it is announced in the morning announcements at LEAST a week prior to the meeting, the day before the meeting, and the morning of the meeting. In the announcement, be sure to mention the purpose of the club. Put up posters around the school to advertise as well, tying the purpose into them, as with everything else. During the first meeting, emphasize the goals for the club, have everyone introduce themselves and say what they hope to attain from the club, give out the tentative agenda, and delegate! =) Announce the date/time of the next meeting/activity at the end.
When you have your first meeting, it’s best to have a few ice breakers to allow people to get comfortable. Ice breakers also allow members to meet one another. You should also have some refreshments such as pizza and drinks. Make sure you get other people from your core group to help out with refreshments.
Sample Projects and Activities for Your MSA
The one thing that will make members want to come back to your MSA and attend meetings is if your MSA takes part in an event. Since you’re still young and your MSA is just new, concentrate on one activity from the following list:
Muslim Interscholastic Tournament:
MIST has revived many MSAs who have had membership problems. It has also helped new MSAs keep high meeting attendance. High school students can get very excited about MIST. If you want to have a team join MIST, the first thing you should do is print registration and competition information. You should also contact us if you want a MIST representative to come out and give your MSA a presentation. Forming a MIST team and getting involved with MIST can keep your MSA busy for months. If you do decide to have a MIST team, make sure you meet with your team regularly. MSA meetings are perfect for this purpose. Make sure you go through the explanation of the theme, as well as registration and competition rules with your team as a whole. This will help them get excited.
Also, if you have more than two people interested in a particular competition, you should have a mini competition within your MSA to determine the best two people who should join the regional tournament for that competition.
One of the other ways to get your students excited about MIST is to establish Lettering Criteria. It is duly noted that MIST takes a lot of time and commitment on behalf of those who choose to participate. It is also noteworthy that you will need a point submitting process for your lettering criteria and a person who is responsible for keeping track of the points.
However much work MIST may take, the testimonials make it clear that it is certainly worth it. It is a year-round goal for members that will keep the students involved, in attendance, and yearning to learn more about Islam.
Most high schools host a multicultural day, where the various foods, dances, and festivities from the ethnicities of the members of the student body are represented. MSAs have found great success in educating their school about Islam and other cultures through this activity.
There is no better way to exemplify the diversity contained in Islam than through a sampling of the various foods Muslims create. Try to set up a table and get someone from each ethnicity to bring food to serve. Whether you are selling the food to raise funds for your MSA, or passing out samples, include informational guides about Islam and Muslims to distribute. Consider also allowing other ethnic of other groups of diverse faiths to join your multicultural day. You can join with other cultural clubs such as the Asian Club, the International Club, etc. This way, not only will other students learn about members of your club, but you also learn about members of their groups.
It might also be productive to have visual aids at each culture’s table. Wear the native dress of your culture on that day. Make a display of the table, by including illustrations of the various countries from which your members may originate, from America to possibly across the globe.
Another suggestion for your multicultural day is to have a Henna Handpainting Booth. Not only is this a very popular way of attracting attention to your MSA, it is also a great way to raise funds. Pick two or three members of your school who can do henna painting. Decide on a price range such as: easy designs: $5, whole hand designs: $10. Make sure to print your price sheet and make it available for people to see. Also have some designs printed on some paper or on a tablet or smartphone so people can get ideas for what they want to do.
A good way to raise funds and promote awareness and education is through a dinner hosted by your MSA at the school, where all the parents of the student body are invited. If you are intent on raising funds at this dinner, please select an appropriate cause for those funds to go towards such as sponsoring the trip to MIST regionals/nationals, Islamic Relief, Red Cross Society, and so on. Consider having a fundraising dinner for a cause such as helping hurricane relief efforts or other natural disaster relief efforts. This is a great way to educate your high school about Islam’s mercy and how Muslims care about others who are in distress.
You’ll want a speaker who can talk to a non-Muslim crowd about Islam, Muslims and the history of Muslims, but at the same time keep the Muslims parents who are bound to show up engaged. Here are some possible topics:
- Women and Islam: Have the speaker talk about the rights of women in Islam. The speaker should also address some of the common stereotypes that peole have about women in Islam. Other topics to cover include Hijab and the history of women in Islam.
- Islam, Christianity, & Judaism: This dinner can concentrate on commonalities found between the world’s three Abrahamic religions of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Stay away from anything controversial. Make sure to address only commonalities. Perhaps you can get your school’s Jewish group and Christian groups to co-sponsor the event and bring their own speakers.
- Islamic Rituals: This topic can concentrate on the basics of Islam. Many people don’t know about Islam. Your speaker should talk about Islamic basics such as Prayer, Ramadan, Eid, Hajj, etc.
A speaker’s bureau is available through MSA National. Once a speaker has been arranged for a set date in which your school can provide the cafeteria or some sort of hall, you can begin sending out invitations.
Directories are typically offered by the school, and contain all the names, numbers and mailing addresses of the students. You’ll want to make an invitation letter and mail it “to the parents of” the students listed. In the letter, provide a method through which the parents can order tickets to the event. They can pay in advance or at the door.
You’ll want to choose a Muslim caterer who serves an ethnic food that is not too spicy. Make sure no nuts or fish are included, in consideration of those with allergies. MSAs have had good success with Lebanese and Afghan food in the past.
As always, visual aids are wonderful to have in addition to the speech. If your MSA can afford it, Discover Islam offers an excellent poster set for exhibition.
A good way to raise funds and awareness without a large overhead is a bake sale. Typical box mixes are very inexpensive and easy to make. Brownies and cookies sell well. If you have some ambitious cooks, try preparing some type of ethnic sweet. Make sure to give out informational brochures with each sweet sold, and keep a supply on the table for those who are interested but don’t want to buy anything.
You can reserve a space in the entrance lobby with your school administrator. Try to arrange for a fold up table to be borrowed from the lunch hall through your sponsor. The best time to hold a bake sale is after school, as most students board the buses. Make sure to get school approval to sell food first.
Yet another good way to raise awareness is through an exhibition. An exhibition can take place in conjunction with numerous other activities, such as Multicultural day and a speaker’s dinner. Exhibitions can consist of informative posters and displays, Islamic art and photography, and videos relating to Muslims. One such example is the Discover Islam poster set, consisting of 20 posters about Islam and Muslims. Discover Islam also offers a 10 poster set of “Islam and Women” posters, which can be presented in conjunction with Women’s History Month. You can also ask your local mosque to see if they have purchased a copy and if you can borrow it.
Movie Night: The screening of films is also an attractive exhibition. Several films are available such as: The Message (Al-Risala), The Lion of the Desert, The Hajj: One American’s Pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam: Empire of Faith (PBS), Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet (PBS). These films are available through Astrolabe. Make sure you do not charge to see the films, because piracy issues come into play if you do. To have a charged screening, you must contact the proprietor of the films.
Eid and Ramadan:
Most people in the United States have no idea what Eid and Ramadan are. Try to organize an educational lecture on Ramadan and Eid, perhaps in conjunction with a multicultural day or an exhibition. Ask your social studies or homeroom teacher to allow a speaker to come in during that time and talk about the two events.
Food and clothing drives are a really great way to get into the spirit of Ramadan, and show non-Muslims the generosity of Islam. “The Ramadan Fast-A-Thon” is also another helpful event to help educate people.
For Eid, try to garner some space in the school display cases. Bring lanterns and pictures of worldwide Eid celebrations. Make display boards with explanations of Eid, and decorate the case. Cover the display boards with pictures of masajid and celebrations.
Eid may also be a good time to have an Islamic Awareness Week.
If there are mountains, oceans, or even just a park near by, take the MSA for a visit. Take a trip and have a mountain’s peak halaqa; cite the many references to natural wonders in the Qur'an. Traveling through the earth is an excellent way to keep an open perspective and makes us better appreciate the wonder of God's creation.
Contributors to this document are from both MSA National and MIST