Toga parties and keg stands have become stereotypes of college fraternities. But Ali Mahmoud had something else in mind when he founded Alpha Lambda Mu, the first social Muslim fraternity in the country.
"I realized that there was this void for Muslims on campus," says Mahmoud, a junior at the University of Texas at Dallas.
"A lot of us come from immigrant families and so, growing up in America, a lot of us have to live a double life ... where we try to please our family, in terms of our Islamic upbringing, and then we go to school ... and we're just trying to fit in. We're just trying to be cool."
So in 2013, Mahmoud founded the first chapter of Alpha Lambda Mu — named for three letters of significance in the Quran: Alif Laam Meem. The fraternity now has two additional chapters at Cornell University and the University of California, San Diego, and Mahmoud hopes to expand to more universities in the coming year.
Mahmoud tells NPR's Arun Rath that he didn't intend to start a movement; he just wanted to provide Muslim American men with a place to have fun and be themselves.
On the image of the alcohol-obsessed fraternity
For the most part, because there is that stereotype, many Muslims who ... observe their religion kind of turn off the fraternity scene. They're not into the drinking, they're not into the hookup culture. And so providing this alternative, it allows us to engage in what we want to and embrace what we want to. ...
We're pretty crazy on our own. I'd be afraid if you tried to hang around us if we were intoxicated.
On whether having a Muslim frat is isolating
I don't really see how this could be [keeping] us from assimilating into American culture because we have nothing to assimilate to. We are American. We are American Muslims. Those two don't contradict each other at all. And so we're not hiding away ourselves, we're just living with people who have the same beliefs that we do.
On bridging different beliefs within the organization
We have this group of guys who are on both sides of the spectrum and everywhere in between of what it means to be a "good Muslim." And it forces the people who are less practicing, or less externally practicing of their religion — it kind of puts them in an environment more conducive to reaching the goals that they want to.
And then it takes the kids who have been fostered their entire life and been isolated from "lesser Muslims" and it puts them in a position where they have to tolerate them and they have to understand them. So really, everybody's benefiting and we meet at this middle ground we call brotherhood.