Muslim Student Association Advisor, Genghis Khan, talks about Muslim life on campus


Picture from Governor Kathy Hochul’s Iftar (dinner breaking the fast one day in Ramadan) from 2022. Our MSA was one a few that were in invited the Albany event.

Shriya Biswas, 807 Editor

In honor of Ramadan, Concordiencis interviewed Genghis Khan who is the advisor for the club run by Muslim students. For the past month, students have been fasting from sunrise and sunset. Throughout the past month, Muslims try
to establish a closer connection to God along with evaluating themselves as good people.
In this interview, Genghis spoke about why Ramadan is such a vital part of Muslim students on campus along with elaborating on his role as an advisor and also discussing the purpose of the MSA and the activities.

As an advisor to the Muslim Students Association at Union College, how do you promote inclusivity and diversity within the Muslim community, and how do you work to create an environment that is welcoming to all students regardless of their background?

The Muslim students are a very diverse group coming from several ancestral cultures and a plurality of nations around the world, so inclusivity is the default. My goals have been to have every aspect of MSA activity be student-led and run, thereby presenting these growth opportunities to the entire diverse group. As an example, the MSA e-board currently has folks from four unique cultural backgrounds – and it has been that way in the past. I’ll mention our Friday congregational prayers later, but typically biweekly the sermon and service are led by students. In the past, there have even been a female prayer leader – which is counter to what many think they understand on this topic, yet it is correct and supported by the definitive Islamic textual sources and interpretive methods. My role then, is to facilitate for the students in all ways I can, with the administration and staff, and with my role as an Imam spiritually and educationally – using my experience with The Qur’an and its interpretation, Textual Analysis in Qur’anic Arabic, Hadith Methodology, and the Principles & Branches of Islamic Jurisprudence – especially focused on modern times and circumstance like those encountered at a college campus.

How do you address questions and concerns from Muslim students who may be navigating their faith in a diverse college environment, along with supporting their spiritual growth?

This primarily happens through one-on-one discussions and is one of the most meaningful things to me. I’m encouraged that students are raising questions and thankful that they are comfortable discussing them with me. College – in general, and especially for students which such diverse backgrounds – tests assumptions, beliefs, and practices and raises questions. Discussing them is a wonderful opportunity to learn, understand more about others, and understand more about oneself. That whole discussion process results in personal growth and understanding as many students have shared with me

What are some events that have been organized by the Muslim Students Association on campus that promote interfaith understanding?

Our most frequent event is Friday congregational prayers held in the interfaith prayer room in Reamer during common hour. They are open to anyone who’d like to attend and at times some Muslim students bring friends and colleagues from other faiths. Another event is Charity Week where the MSA reaches out to the Union community raising funds to support orphans, refugees, and the needy. This was a meaningful way for Muslim students to share and connect their faith with others as charity is one of Islam’s main teachings. It’s typically done in the Fall term and although we missed the last one, that’ll come back again. We’ve done larger events like Islam Awareness Week several years ago and continue to partner with other clubs, Intercultural Affairs, and organizations like Hillel on events they host.

You have been involved with various organizations and initiatives throughout your career. One notable organization you have been associated with is Bethesda House, a homelessness prevention organization in Schenectady. Can you speak about your experience at Bethesda House, including your role on the Board of Directors, the impact of your involvement, and how it aligns with your Islamic perspectives on justice, kindness, compassion, and generosity?

Thanks for this question. The Islamic path combines belief and doing work – it’s not complete for one to just claim they believe; they should also work to bring about benefit. The most important Islamic principles are believing in the Oneness of God and living up to that belief through just and equitable action, kindness/compassion, and generosity – things that require patience, perseverance, and sacrifice of time and money. My connection with Bethesda has embodied all of this and has reinforced for me how we all share these principles in common. I’ve worked with so many Bethesda leaders, volunteers, donors, champions, and the clients they serve – all from different faith labels and diverse backgrounds – but with common goals of housing the homeless, feeding and clothing those who need, and just providing a safe space and friendly ear. I used to be excited whenever Union in the past used to organize the Empty Bowls event which Bethesda and other organizations benefitted. Hopefully, that comes back. Finally, as board members, our main role is to broadly facilitate for the staff and the clients, to work on the public and political relationships, fundraise, and be champions for them at every opportunity to get the work done.

What are some upcoming events that the Muslim Students Association is planning to organize?

The main one is the end of Ramadan celebration. Ramadan – the month where healthy Muslims fast from dawn to sunset – ends on Thursday and Friday is Eid-al-Fitr (celebration of breaking the fast). The MSA will send out notices on timing. Some Arab students will also be participating in the Arab American Heritage Month (April) identity dialogues coming in a few days. I think you’ll see announcements for that too.

Lastly, how has your experience been at Union so far? Are there some specific instances or events on campus that have contributed to enhancing it?

My time at Union since 2015 has been positive. The biggest takeaway I can give is that the administration and staff actively work to solve problems. Many issues have arisen and will continue to, but listening, the sense of responsibility, and the goal of finding solutions are always there and that’s the best to be hoped for in a dynamic college environment in today’s world.