Gamma Gamma Chi Sorority (2006)

As the number of practicing Muslims in the U.S. grows, they are influencing a number of American institutions, including colleges and universities. Many schools have formed Islamic Studies programs in recent years, offering education about IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to... and the Muslim world to Muslim and non-Muslim students alike. A newer development has taken hold among the students themselves: the founding of the first Muslim sorority. Gamma Gamma Chi seeks to offer an alternative for Muslim women, and like-minded non-Muslim women, to the college life that is popular on many of our nation’s campuses.

Since 1908,[1] women on college campuses have been initiating sororities to meet their cultural or religious needs—from Black sororities to Asian-American and Latino sororities to BaptistThe Baptist tradition includes a variety of Christian churches which trace their beginnings to the Anabaptist reform movement that rejected infant baptism insisting on the importance of baptizing only those who are able to profess the faith as believers. sororities. Gamma Gamma Chi (hereafter: GGC), which means “women on earth for a period of time,” follows in these footsteps.

The information in this research report draws extensively from the GGC website, from news reports dating from November 2005 to February 2006, and from personal email correspondence with co-founder, Dr. Althia Collins. [Editor’s note 2016: the GGC news archive is not currently available online.]

Founding

When Imani Abdul-Haqq started at Bennett College, she went to informational meetings for several sororities and was disappointed by and uncomfortable with the Christian underpinnings she found within each one. Her co-rushers stared at her headscarf as if “she had three heads.”[2] She just could not find a sorority that fit what she was looking for and that would not ask her to compromise her Muslim belief system: “As a Muslim who dresses modestly and does not drink, I wouldn’t want to set myself apart from the people I was pledging with,” Abdul-Haqq told the Los Angeles Times, “I want to feel the unity.”[3] Deciding to act on her idea to start a Muslim sorority, she “figured [she] wasn’t the only one looking” for an alternative opportunity to be involved in a sorority, yet maintain her commitment to living out and acting on her Islamic beliefs.[4]

Working with her mother, Dr. Althia Collins, she began to strategize. The two started by talking with other young Muslim women about how to bridge the gap between their belief system and their desire to be involved in sorority life. When they received what Collins called an “enthusiastic response”[5] from several college-aged Muslimahs (Muslim females) and Muslim Student Associations, the mother-daughter duo formally established GGC as a nonprofit organization in July 2005.

Leadership

Imani Abdul-Haqq is currently a student at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina (which does not have sororities or fraternities on campus), where she is working toward her business administration degree. Abdul-Haqq, who embraced Islam in 1999, serves as the vice president and handles membership inquiries for GGC.

Dr. Althia Collins is a successful business woman in Alexandria, Virginia, who embraced Islam in 1998. In April 2005, Abdul-Haqq approached her mother with the idea for a Muslim sorority and by July 2005 had convinced her to be involved. Collins brings a background in institutional organization to GGC. She serves as the executive director of the national headquarters of the sorority. Together, these two women are building a new dimension of the American sorority.

GGC, like all national sororities in the U.S., operates a central headquarters—GGC is based in Alexandria, Virginia. The sorority is lead by a five-member Board of Directors, called the National Grand Chapter. They are charged with overseeing the activities of the sorority and its local chapters on a national level. This group of women is the first formally recognized chapter of GGC, which was established on November 13, 2005. All members participated in an installation ceremony, which was the culmination of three days of study and learning about the six pillars of the sorority (see Mission, Values & Goals below).

Membership

While the life of GGC is still in its infancy, the sorority is already quite active. On college and university campuses, students gather interest among themselves and then invite representatives from the national headquarters to inform students of the sorority’s particulars, benefits and the commitment necessary to join. As soon as there are enough interested students (the number varies by campus, but is usually around ten students), the national headquarters works with them to gain institutional approval from their college or university. When both institutional approval and student interest has been recognized, a chapter is formally established on campus. Students are then able to become members of GGC.

Membership in GGC is open to Muslim and non-Muslim women who have completed at least one semester of work toward an undergraduate degree and maintain a C+/B- GPA. Interested women participate in the “Gold Presentation”—an official show of interest by both the candidate and the sorority. This forum is a chance for candidates to learn more about the history, goals and values of GGC. Likewise, the Gold Presentations let the national headquarters learn about the prospective members. During this process, the National Grand Chapter evaluates whether or not there is match between interested students and GGC.

Gold Presentations are held as soon as a group of women on one campus shows a swell of interest. In February 2006, GGC leadership held two presentations in Atlanta and one at MIT. Plans are underway for holding Gold Presentations at Rutgers University, University of Kentucky and the University of Maryland in late March and early April 2006.

At this point, GGC does not participate in Rush, the traditional new member recruitment period for sororities and fraternities. But, as GGC gains in visibility and size on college campuses, the sorority plans to offer dawah, or invitation, to interested women by participating in Rush. The formal initiation into GGC requires new members to “recite a creed, learn the sorority song and take part in a secret induction ceremony that deals with ‘the values of the sorority’ such as sisterhood and philanthropy.”[6]

While the Gold Presentations are a requirement for all potential members, attendance at these sessions does not imply automatic membership. According to the website’s membership guidelines, acceptance into GGC is based not only on whether or not women meet basic requirements of GPA and student status, but “can uphold the standards of [GGC] as well as commit to participating in our programs and activities.”[7]

In painting the picture of the ideal GGC candidate, the national headquarters writes on their website that: “Gammas are interested in establishing and continuing the tradition of excellence in all aspects. Therefore, we invite all women to apply who exhibit excellent personal and professional character and high moral standards, and who have a commitment to service to the community.”[8]

Co-founder Imani Abdul-Haqq is very affirming of the women who have expressed interest in GGC to this point. She told the Guilford College Magazine, “The women who we’ve received interest from are an excellent group. We reflect diversity, and embody a picture of Islam that isn’t seen in the media. We’re not oppressed. We’re educated and outgoing. We take care of our communities.”[9]

Mission, Values & Goals

The sorority’s overarching goal is to create a positive image of Muslim women in this country and around the world. The stated mission of GGC is “to promote positive visibility of Muslim women and Islam in general. To accomplish our mission, Insha’Alla we will increase the involvement of Muslims in our respective communities.”[10]

GGC has adopted the motto: “Striving for the pleasure of AllahAllah is the word for God in Arabic, used by Arabic-speaking Christians, Jews, and Muslims. According to Islam, Allah is the creator and ruler of the entire universe, the ultimate judge of all human beings, characterized by mercy and compassion. By means ... through Sisterhood, Scholarship, Leadership, and Community Service.” In order to enact the mission and to live out that motto, Gamma Gamma Chi, according to its website and its July 25, 2005 press release, has adopted these six goals as their Gold Pillars:

  1. Islamic Awareness and Involvement by promoting an accurate and positive image of Muslim women.
  2. Educational Development by encouraging academic excellence.
  3. Economic Development and Indigent Support by providing scholarships.
  4. Environmental Awareness and Involvement by educating and stimulating participation to establish a positive community interaction.
  5. Physical and Mental Health by providing necessary support to young Muslim women.
  6. Social Awareness and Involvement by highlighting issues and providing solutions for problems in their communities.

In distinguishing themselves from other sororities, GGC’s focus is “to provide an alternative to traditional sororities that allows women to maintain and celebrate their Islamic identity in rewarding, meaningful, and fun ways within a sorority structure.”[11] Members of GGC will adhere to SunnahSunnah, meaning “custom,” refers to the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, remembered by the early Muslim community and preserved in narrative accounts (hadith). Because Muhammad is considered to be the best example of how to live, his Sunnah ..., the body of Islamic custom and practice based on Muhammad’s words and deeds during his 23 years of ministryMinister is a general term for a member of the clergy in the Christian church. The term has also come to use in other religious traditions to designate a member of the clergy (as in the Jodo Shinshu tradition and the Nation of Islam)., which includes no consumption of alcohol, inappropriate contact with the opposite sex, or excessive partying.[12]

Why a Muslim Sorority?

The benefits of GGC are evidenced in the sororities’ above-stated mission and values—GGC aims to build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim communities while offering tangible service to those communities. Alongside these, an important underlying part of GGC’s mission and values is to provide opportunities for Muslim women that would otherwise not exist on some college campuses. Amira Shalash, one of the students at the University of Kentucky interested in forming a chapter on campus, told the Los Angeles Times, that is certainly true for her, “My parents would never, ever let me join a regular sorority.”[13]

Dr. Collins, too, points out, “sororities provide a major means of socialization, and non-members are often left on the fringes. Research shows that people who engage in sororities…[have an] advantage that non-members often do not enjoy.” She goes on to reference academic research that shows that GPAs, organizational, leadership and communication skills are all edified by participation in sorority life.[14] Similarly, Susan West, director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs at the University of Kentucky told Kathleen Adams of NPR that she welcomes GGC to campus, especially because they have seen numbers that indicate membership in sororities or fraternities helps with retention and keeps students connected to the university.[15]

Dr. Collins summarized the value of GGC to young Muslim women in this way: “This sorority is an opportunity to help other Muslim women to develop leadership skills to prepare themselves and to help each other through their networking.”[16]

Activities

From the perspective of the national headquarters, the heart of the sorority’s activities right now are the aforementioned Gold Presentations and generating interest among college women. In January 2006, Gamma Gamma Chi received institutional approval from the University of Kentucky and hopes to have a chapter on campus by the end of the 2005-2006 academic year. The organization has received strong interest from women at Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Rutgers University, and all institutions in the University of Maryland system. Dr. Collins feels hopeful that chapters will also open on these campuses before summer 2006.

Beyond establishing itself as a strong presence on college and universities, three programs, all of which according to co-founder Dr. Collins “are designed to develop Muslim women leaders,”[17] guide the activities of Gamma Gamma Chi:

  1. Muse: A support system focused on personal and professional development
  2. UmmaUmmah means “community,” refering to the worldwide community of believers bound by their faith in Islam which, ideally, is seen as transcending ethnic, racial, and national differences.: A community outreach program
  3. Our Voices: A Speakers’ Bureau

Jump-starting their efforts of community service, the National Grand Chapter hosted an iftarIftar is “breaking the fast” at the end of each day of the month of Ramadan. After sundown during Ramadan, most Muslims ceremonially break their fast by eating dried dates and soup before the maghreb prayer. Later they may eat a larger meal with relat..., or meal to break the daily fast, during RamadanRamadan is the ninth lunar month during which the first revelation of the Qur’an came to Muhammad. Each year in this month, Muslims abstain from all food, drink, and sexual activity from dawn until sunset. They ar. also meant to make a conscious effort ... in 2005. According to the October 21, 2005 press release, the event drew one hundred people. Attendees were asked to bring cans of food or non-perishable items to be donated to the Battered Women’s Shelter of High Point, North Carolina.[18]

GGC plans to expand this type of charitable work by raising funds for people rebuilding in Pakistan and by “adopting” schools in order to raise awareness and understanding about Islam.[19] As the organization gains more and more momentum on the university level, the local chapters will, according to Collins, be required to have at least one community service activity. Chapters will be encouraged to choose projects which “broaden the opportunities for interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims who might not have the opportunity to interact with Muslim women otherwise.”[20]

Additionally, the local chapters will also observe important Islamic practices such as Eid celebrations, fasting and Itikaf (staying in the mosqueMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit... in honor of Allah) in the month of Ramadan. Both the national and local chapters will observe salatSalat is the ritual prayer Muslims perform five times daily: at dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset, and nightfall. While it is preferable to pray in a mosqu. with fellow believers, one may pray alone in any clean place. All Muslims pray in the direction of t... (five daily prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not.) if the timing of the prayers coincides with a GGC meeting or event.

In addition to community service and observation of Islamic practices, academic achievements are also very important in each chapter. One of the first things GGC’s website addresses with regard to membership is the expectation that “each of its members…exemplify that commitment [to high scholastic achievement] through classroom attendance and performance.” GGC maintains high GPA expectations for each of its members: 3.2 on a 5.0 grading scale, 2.5 on a 4.0 grading scale, or a 1.5 on a 3.0 grading scale.[21]

Funding

GGC is incorporated as a non-profit organization. The sorority requests donations from people interested in supporting its work via its website and is currently fundraising for infrastructure support, including operating costs and accounting along with expected costs for future expansion.[22] An article printed in the Washington Times reported that Dr. Collins has donated $50,000 in cash or in-kind support to help start up costs.[23]

As do most national sororities, GGC collects membership fees from its members and chapters. New members pay a one-time $250 initiation fee which covers the cost of activities during the probationary period (the time between approval by national headquarters and the official ceremony of initiation). This includes things like a sorority pin, a sorority abaya, a Gamma Lily t-shirt, and food and entertainment. After that, “Gammas” pay national dues of $150 each year and chapter dues of $100 per year ($50 per semester). The dues are set by the Board of Directors each year. At this point, GGC does not have arrangements for women who cannot afford these dues, but hopes to have them in the future.[24]

Responses

There has been a general sense of enthusiasm among Muslim students. Boushra Aghil, a native of Lexington, Kentucky and a participant in the Gold Presentation at the University of Kentucky, agrees. She told NPR that GGC “is exactly what Islam is about. It’s about social awareness. It’s about letting people know who you are. This is using a Western institution to further an Eastern idea.”[25]

Ameria Shalash, a first-year at the University of Kentucky interested in GGC, was similarly excited about the potential of GGC as she affirmed the mission of the sorority, saying, “‘I think women in Islam are seen in a really negative light, especially right now. The media totally looks down on women in Islam, and I think this [GGC] is a great opportunity for us to work together and for us to spread the word of Islam in a positive light.'”[26]

From a more academic perspective, Walter Kimbrough has been expecting the emergence of Muslim sororities. Kimbrough, president of Philander Smith College and author of several books on sororities and fraternities on college campuses, told NPR that “there has been this bifurcated Greek life. Students of color look for niches in sorority life.” The start of a Muslim sorority, he says, seems like the next natural development for Greek life in this country.[27]

Zeena Tabbaa-Rida, a student at Rutgers University (where a Gold Presentation will be held in the spring of 2006), wrote her dissertation based on conversations with fourteen college-aged Muslim women entitled, “Muslim Women Reflecting on American Education.” In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, “[s]he cautioned against the sorority’s becoming only a safe haven, urging the women to use [GGC] as an opportunity to build bridges, ‘putting their hand in their non-Muslim counterparts’ to serve their larger communities…’This organization has a powerful message to send in showing how Muslim women are concerned about global issues and community life…It is great to see how these young women internalize their Islamic values that emphasize community service.'”[28]

As of January 2006, Gamma Gamma Chi has received inquiries from women in eighteen U.S. states and from women in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates who are interested in starting a chapter. Inquiries come from women in a range of Muslim communities: Shi’ite, SunniSunni Muslims emphasize the authoritative role of the consensus of religious scholars (‘ulama) in interpreting the Qur’an and the Sunnah (custom) of the Prophet. The community could thus choose any good Muslim as a successor (khalifah) to Muhammad, th... and Nation of IslamThe Lost-Found Nation of Islam in America, begun by Wallace D. Fard in Detroit in the 1930’s, was developed by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad preached some Islamic principles, but his lessons about the superiority of the Black Man were c....

Future

The future looks bright for GGC. They have received news coverage across the country. A Google search for “Gamma Gamma Chi” turns up bloggers who are interested in opening a chapter on their campuses. [Editor’s note 2016: The blog at “tazateblogz1.blogspot.com” no longer exists.]

GGC hopes to open five new chapters a year, in every region of the U.S., by 2015. And with strong interest at several campuses, they seem headed in that direction.

Conclusion

Dr. Collins, in reflecting on the import of GGC, said, “As a part of American society, we are best served by being active participants and not merely spectators in our communities…Through our sorority we want to provide a way for our members to be involved in another facet of American life as we live in our communities.”[29] Through its efforts to build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim women, its intention to create positive images of Muslim women in the U.S. and its goal of nurturing the leadership skills of Muslim women, GGC is creating a new dimension not just of the American sorority, but of American religious life.


[1] According to Wikipedia, the first African-American sorority was founded in 1908; the first Asian-American sorority in 1949; the first Latina sorority in 1975. Accessed 17 February 2006.↩︎
[2] Duin, Julia. “Women Start First Islamic Sorority.” The Washington Times. 4 January 2006. Accessed 27 March 2006.↩︎
[3] Jarvie, Jenny. “For Muslims seeking sisterhood, fledgling sorority may be answer.” Los Angeles Times. 11 December 2005. Accessed from The Boston Globe, 13 January 2006.↩︎
[4] Callas, Toni. “Muslim Students Going Greek.” Philadelphia Inquirer. 27 February 2006. Accessed 5 March 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: Now available at http://articles.philly.com/2006-02-20/news/25408817_1_gamma-gamma-chi-imani-abdul-haqq-sorority.]↩︎
[5] Van Oot, Torey. “Two USC Students Express Interest in Muslim Sorority.” Daily Trojan. 20 January 2006. Accessed 13 February 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: Now available from Pluralism Project Religion Diversity News archives at http://pluralism.org/news/usc-students-express-interest-in-islamic-sorority/.] ↩︎
[6] Duin 2006, 2.↩︎
[7] Gamma Gamma Chi “FAQs”. Accessed 13 March 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: These FAQs are not currently available online. Some information about GGC is available on the GGCEpsilon website of the chapter that serves the Philadelphia Metro area.] ↩︎
[8] Ibid.↩︎
[9] “Greek Life, Islamic Touch.” Guilford College Magazine :6; Winter, 2006. Accessed 13 March 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: Guilford College Magazine does not host archived articles. A similar article is available at http://articles.latimes.com/2005/nov/22/nation/na-sorority22.]↩︎
[10] Gamma Gamma Chi Home. Accessed 20 February 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: These FAQs are not currently available online. Some information about GGC is available on the GGCEpsilon website of the chapter that serves the Philadelphia Metro area.]↩︎
[11] Gamma Gamma Chi “FAQs”. Accessed 20 February 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: These FAQs are not currently available online. Some information about GGC is available on the GGCEpsilon website of the chapter that serves the Philadelphia Metro area.]↩︎
[12] Callas 2006, 2.↩︎
[13] Jarvie 2005, 2.↩︎
[14] Collins, Dr. Althia. “The Creation of the First Muslim Sorority: A New Way for Muslim Women to Connect.” Karamah Newsletter: 9-10; February 2006. Accessed 13 March 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: Karamah Newsletter archives prior to May 2012 are not available online.]↩︎
[15] Adams, Kathleen. “Drive for Islamic Sorority at U. of Kentucky.” National Public Radio. 14 December 2005. Accessed 20 February 2006.↩︎
[16] Ibid.↩︎
[17] Collins 2006, 9.↩︎
[18] Gamma Gamma Chi News Releases. Accessed 20 February 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: These FAQs are not currently available online. Some information about GGC is available on the GGCEpsilon website of the chapter that serves the Philadelphia Metro area.]↩︎
[19] Callas 2006, 3.↩︎
[20] Collins 2006, 10.↩︎
[21] Gamma Gamma Chi “FAQs” Accessed 16 March 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: These FAQs are not currently available online. Some information about GGC is available on the GGCEpsilon website of the chapter that serves the Philadelphia Metro area.]↩︎
[22] Collins 2006, 10.↩︎
[23] Duin 2006, 2.↩︎
[24] Collins, personal email communication.↩︎
[25] Adams 2005.↩︎
[26] Van Oot 2006, 1.↩︎
[27] Adams 2005.↩︎
[28] Callas 2006, 3.↩︎
[29] Collins 2006, 10.↩︎