Maggie McLoone (left) is pictured with Ali Mahmood (right). McLoone, who is not Muslim, joined the Muslim Law Students Association to support her friends and learn about Islam and American Muslims.
IIn the fall of 2019, Ali Mahmood and Mishkat Torania of Brookfield, new students at Marquette University Law School, met. The two Muslims noticed “there’s not a lot of representation,” Mahmood said.
It’s not surprising. The legal profession itself is not very diverse. the American Bar Association’s 2021 National Lawyer Population Survey shows that 85% of practicing lawyers today are white and 63% are men.
Torania introduced Mahmood to Eman Daas, another Muslim student in a different section. The three of them began talking about creating “an organization to advance the Muslim legal community in Marquette,” Mahmood said. They contacted another first-year Muslim student, Mahmood Abdellatif from Rome, Georgia. They were then four.
MU Law School needs five students to start a new organization, but they didn’t know any other Muslims at the time. One of their classmates, Maggie McLoone, had become a new friend. She is not a Muslim but she was interested in the opportunity to learn more about Muslims in America and about Islam. She also wanted to support her new friends. With McLoone joining their board, they were able to launch the MLSA. They decided to share leadership and all became co-chairs of the organization.
Since their official launch in the fall of 2019, they heard about two other Muslim law school students, but they weren’t interested in participating, Mahmood said.
An auspicious start
Shortly after forming the MLSA, a New York lawyer contacted them to ask if they were interested in joining other law student associations, American Muslim bar associations, and creating accountability and Accountability of Law Enforcement (CLEAR). amicus curiae in a Case on appeal against President Donald Trump over what has become commonly known as the “Muslim Travel Ban”. amicus curiae is Latin for “court friends”. They submit a factum in a case in which they are not a party to the action but have a material interest in the case.
Marquette’s MLSA has joined law student associations at Boston University, George Washington University, Harvard, Rutgers, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Virginia and Yale University.
“One of the first things we did together was write a statement about our views on the travel ban,” Mahmood said. “It was great to be a part of this and nice to see our name alongside other student and Muslim legal organizations.”
“Our main mission was to show ourselves as part of our law school community and basically speak for ourselves,” Daas explained. “Muslims are often interpreted very differently from us. Our representation in the legal profession, where you don’t see a lot of Muslims or people from the Middle East or Southeast Asia, is very important.
To combat common misconceptions, MLSA decided to hold “Tea Talks” at law school. They set up a table in a hall where they offered cups of tea and answered questions about Muslims and Islam.
“We were there to give most law students their first real impression of what a Muslim looks like,” Mahmood said. “We had just been handing out tea and answering questions about Islam in general and American Muslims, what we are and who we are.
Although not a Muslim, McLoone also participated in Tea Talks. “I have certainly learned a lot since we created the organization. I just try to listen as much as I can and ask questions when I’m not sure.
“A student asked me if all Muslims had beards like me,” Mahmood said. “Another asked if all Muslim women wore the hijab, the scarf. I explained that it was a personal decision, that Islam allows personal decisions.
“A fundamental misconception is that all Arabs are Muslims and all Muslims are Arabs,” Daas noted. “It’s a very simple thing that confuses people.”
Another approach to combating stereotypes is MLSA’s social media campaign on Instagram. “We started doing a Muslim spotlight, highlighting a prominent personality who is also a Muslim. We wrote about NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, MP Ilhan Omar and others,” Mahmood said. “We also made a ‘Spark Notes’ version on certain Muslim holidays like Ramadan and shared them with our fellow law students.
“A big part of our goal was to explain and better convey what Islam means to us so that our fellow law students better understand what it is like,” Mahmood added.
Interreligious iftar and conferences