A Muslim fraternity at the University of Texas at Dallas recently took to the streets in protest of domestic violence against women.
Members of Alif Laam Meem, the founding chapter of the new Alpha Lambda Mu Fraternity, held signs that said "Muslims Say No to Domestic Violence" and "Muslims Say Yes to Women's Rights" at the Men's Rally Against Domestic Violence in Dallas on March 24 to protest the abuse of women and to put a positive face on a religion they say is often misunderstood.
"Muslims are always on defense," fraternity president Ali Mahmoud said in a phone interview on Monday morning. "We usually get called in to explain ourselves and instead we decided to take the offense and tell people what Islam is instead of what it isn't."
A sophomore who was "born and raised in Dallas" on Spongebob and the occasional fast food meal just like a lot of other young Americans, Mahmoud thinks people often have the wrong idea when it comes to Islam and domestic violence.
"We wanted to clarify the misconception that any kind of domestic violence is allowed in our religion," he said. "And it may seem apparent through the media that it's allowed, but that's majorly a cultural phenomenon and not an actual teaching of our religion."
Broadly speaking, the effort has paid off.
The group posted a photo on their Facebook page that has been liked more than 1,000 times and shared more than 1,500 times. Pictures and word of the fraternity have traveled across Tumblr, Twitter, Upworthy and the Dallas Morning News.
Reactions on campus have also been generally positive, although it's worth noting that the organization is not a typical fraternity.
The group doesn't drink and they don't believe in "adultery or fornication," Mahmoud said, adding that the group wants to create a brotherhood focused on "constructing real men" in line with the teachings of Islam.
Most campuses, he said, have Muslim student organizations and he thinks those are valuable as young people navigate the "complicated" issue of Muslim life on a college campus. But he also thinks they're "not very binding" and the fraternity "felt institutionalizing brotherhood was the best way to help develop a league of Muslim male leaders who stand up and serve the community."
"Real men don't hit women," Mahmoud said, echoing the tagline from the Dallas rally. When it comes to both his fraternity and Islam, of that he is certain. But there are other parts of his fraternity and other aspects of his religion, like its stance against homosexuality, that have caused some controversy online.
A Tumblr called "Cornell Muslim Dissidents" claims to have had a Facebook conversation with the president of Alif Laam Meem and mentions an interview with Nouman Ali Khan. Khan is the founder and CEO of an Islamic educational institution and a Muslim speaker. According to the Tumblr, the president said during the conversation that the fraternity "would typically not allow someone who is openly and shamelessly gay to join the fraternity, as it is explicitly prohibited in the religion."
Mahmoud said the person behind the Tumblr post pulled the remarks from a separate videotaped conversation he had had with Khan and distorted them.
"Everybody has their critics," Mahmoud said of the Tumblr post, "and his claims are just outright false."
Khan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Regarding the Tumblr post's allegation that the fraternity is anti-gay, Mahmoud said, "the fraternity denies any claims of being homophobic," and that any homophobic behavior was "against the religion."
But Islam does denounce any sexual relationship not between a married man and woman. And, as the fraternity grows and expands, it's going to have to, to borrow a phrase from Mahmoud, play more offense. They will likely be pressed on their views of homosexuality and what their fraternity does and does not accept.
Well, as a group that has already thrust themselves into the limelight to counter negative Muslim stereotypes, people will be watching.
It's worth noting that the fraternity did do something special in sharing their opposition to violence against women. They pushed back on negative stereotypes about Muslim men in what is often viewed as a male-dominate religion. And, when it comes to fraternities, they are tackling an issue most of these male-centric groups often avoid.
But they're still grappling with how to communicate where they stand on other issues like homosexuality, and they are doing it with an audience.
"We're just starting," Mahmoud said, "and we're still trying to figure out what it means to be a Muslim fraternity."