- Alif Laam Meem has been set up at the University of Texas, Dallas
- Student Ali Mahmoud founded frat as a way to participate in campus social life without compromising his Muslim identity
- The group has joined anti-violence protests and helped the homeless
Fraternities are often used as an excuse to hold wild parties, where the alcohol flows freely and no behaviour is too outrageous.
But at America’s first Muslim frat house, such debauchery is strictly forbidden – with the emphasis instead on charity work, self-improvement and mutual support.
Alif Laam Meem has been founded at the University of Texas, Dallas, as a way for Muslim students to socialise together and enjoy college life without the drinking culture which is integral to most frats.
Instead of partying, the frat brothers get together to discuss their faith, and drive around the local area handing out sandwiches to the homeless.
Their initiation ceremony does not involve drinking from a keg of beer, but handing over $100 to be donated to charity.
And rather than chugging drinks from red cups, they can be recognised by their bright red kufi caps.
The fraternity – whose name is Alpha Lambda Mu in the traditional Greek letters, or Alif Laam Meem in Arabic – was founded by Ali Mahmoud shortly after he arrived as an undergraduate at UT Dallas.
When a Muslim friend told him that he was considering joining a fraternity to share in its social life and alumni connections, he began to think about how Muslims were excluded from many traditional ‘Greek’ activities.
‘The idea of a Muslim fraternity seemed heretical,’ he told the Independent – but he realised that he could bring pious young men together in a format which was already familiar on campus.
Some Muslim groups have criticised Mr Mahmoud for joining a tradition which is often associated with excessive drinking and sexual promiscuity, but he insists it is important show that frats do not have to be decadent environments.
‘Muslims have been having a hard time recently trying to understand what their role in society is, so to embrace this very traditional American organisation is a symbolic move,’ he told the New York Daily News.
However, the student has rejected any suggestion that the frat might be designed to help Muslims integrate with mainstream U.S. culture, pointing out that most members are in fact natural-born Americans.
‘I personally grew up in Plano, Texas,’ he said. ‘I went to public school, I played Xbox Live all the time with my friends who weren’t Muslim, and I regrettably ate too much fast food.
‘I’m a proud American Muslim, and I see no contradiction of those two titles. Islam is my moral compass that guides every aspect of my life, but it also leaves room for our cultural experiences.’
While many college students cannot imagine the frat experience without drinking and partying, Mr Mahmoud is adamant that he and his friends are not missing out on anything.
‘Most of us have grown up in families where that atmosphere of partying and drinking is not the norm,’ he said. ‘And we think that behaviour of womanising and excessive drinking is ungentlemanlike.’
Activities carried out by Alif Laam Meem so far include protesting against domestic violence, and raising money for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
As the new academic year began, the fraternity began a recruitment drive – and despite its religious foundation, non-Muslims are welcome to apply.