The President of St Andrews Muslim Students’ Association (STAMSA), third year Khadeeja Khalid, is fast making a name for herself as one of the most politically active members of the St Andrews community.
Ms Khalid is entering her second year of presidency, continuing as the first female president of the Islamic Society in St Andrews, and hopes that the religious society will continue to grow and mature after her time at university is over.
Ms Khalid feels that the St Andrews community in particular is receptive to socio-political concerns, as was demonstrated by the success of last November’s ‘Feminism In Islam’ conference, which was a joint venture with the Feminist Society.
The Saint spoke to Ms Khalid about her opinions on diversity, religion, housing and welfare within St Andrews. Ms Khalid, though stressing the welcoming environment of St Andrews, said that there is some work still to be done in regards to the diversity within university representation.
“It’s very funny how the University works here compared to other universities. I’m from Manchester, from a single-parent and working class family. In other universities, there is a wealth of diversity represented in Student Union committees, whether that is diversity in race, gender, background, or sexuality. As a whole, St Andrews doesn’t have that representation – particularly in regards to people from lower income and diverse racial backgrounds.”
Ms Khalid was quick to acknowledge the outreach work done by St Andrews already, including work at Madras College and work through the leadership aspect of the Laidlaw Fund. However, she added that more work must be done to engage future working class students to attend St Andrews in the future.
As a whole, St Andrews doesn’t have that representation – particularly in regards to people from lower income and diverse racial backgrounds
“I think the University needs to do more outreach. I know in the 1980s or 1990s, it made great strides to make the university appeal more to Americans to bring in more money, because of international fees. I probably know more people from London than from Scotland [at St Andrews]. That’s because [Scottish students] don’t bring in money.”
On ideas relating to affirmative action, Ms Khalid was unsure as to the exact policies St Andrews could employ, but did support access programs which help children whose parents have not gone to university.
Another topic which holds particular interest to Ms Khalid is that of Islamaphobia and how it has affected student experiences.
“Being the President of STAMSA, I have had to deal with a couple of cases of hate crimes which have progressed to significant levels with the university security teams. “An [Islamaphobic] experience that a friend and I had was the day after the Paris attacks. I was travelling a lot that weekend, and the group of people I was with – which consisted of friends of various races, but not all Muslim – was getting menacing looks on public transport.
“It wasn’t within St Andrews, but it made me realise how the treatment of Scottish Muslims had changed because of the media coverage of terrorist attacks. There were terrible instances of female students having their hijabs (headscarves) pulled off on the way to class in Glasgow, which prompted the creation of the #I’llStandWithYou campaign by the University of Strathclyde Islamic society.
STAMSA also place a great emphasis on charity work throughout the year, and Ms Khalid was keen to bring this work to The Saint’s attention.
“In Charity Week, we aim to have an event every day to raise money for various causes worldwide. It’s a UK-wide initiative which works in collaboration with Islamic Relief, a charity which sits on the UK’s Disaster Emergency Council, a privilege that only 12 other charities have.
“This Charity Week, the team organised a hike up Ben Lomond – it was the first ever mountain climb organised by STAMSA and it was a great success. We are aiming to raise £5000 by mid-November.”
Ms Khalid noted that while the St Andrews community is generally a welcoming one, she has dealt with instances of Islamaphobia, perhaps unintentional ones, which had affected the student experience of some Muslim students.
“St Andrews is really strange. People call it ‘The Bubble’ because it is a representation of society as a whole. Over a third of the population is either university staff or a student during term time. Although the University includes people from over 120 nationalities, some still find it so shocking when they see a person of colour speak English fluently, or when they learn that not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs.
“Imagine their surprise when they learn that a Muslim person has a white parent!
“It might seem insignificant, but so many people on campus are the future’s policy makers, but aren’t aware of things like this.
“There are inevitably drawbacks to being in such a small town, and it will never be as beautifully diverse as London, but being in St Andrews gives you the opportunity to engage with the smaller community around you in a palpable and meaningful way.”
On the discussion of stereotypes, Ms Khalid said she does not believe that the purpose of STAMSA, and other Islamic societies across the country should be to solely focus on eradicating preconceived notions of intolerance and terrorism. Instead, she argues that the focus should be on the beauty of the religion, and providing support for Muslim and non-Muslim students alike through the employment of Islamic values and teachings.
Being in St Andrews gives you the opportunity to engage with the smaller community around you in a palpable and meaningful way
“Something that really irritated me when I first got involved in STAMSA was that we always had to dispel any misconceptions about Islam. In response to every terror attack committed by a so-called ‘Muslim’, we had to reaffirm that this was not in the name of Islam.
“It seemed like you couldn’t talk about the equality and respect which a Muslim should extend towards others, unless it was in response to atrocities. Even the Muslim youth have problems with this, as all they hear about their religion from the media is in the context of terrorism.
“We’re taught that in all your endeavours, you should try to please God, and not people – this could be a great source of comfort for someone going through their teenage years, but instead they are alienated by Islamophobic rhetoric which is rife in the media nowadays.
”When asked whether STAMSA’s successes were due to the work of its committee members, Ms Khalid stressed that it was in part due to the nature of St Andrews and the willingness of students to listen which allowed for freedom of discussion.
“Last year STAMSA hosted Osama Saeed, the former Head of Media and Public Relations at Al Jazeera, as he spoke about the rise of Islamophobia, focusing particularly on dangerous rhetoric and the perpetuation of uninformed stereotypes in the media.
“The event, along with others, was a great success, as we saw that up to 90 percent of the attendees were non-Muslims. We actually won an award from the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) for the most politically active Islamic society, which I feel is significant, as it shows that we have successfully engaged with the politically-charged campus that is St Andrews.
Ms Khalid remains optimistic on the future of St Andrews and concluded with her hopes of improvements; even after her time here is over. “In the past decade or so, there has been an increase in the number of female leaders in Muslim communities as well as in the wider community. “I feel honoured to be a part of this group, especially as a BME woman at such a respected institution as St Andrews.
“I only hope that these communities will continue to open themselves up to evaluation and re-evaluating their perceptions of diversity and inclusiveness in the future.”