Wednesday, January 4, 2006

America’s first Islamic sorority is more about God than being Greek.

There will be no beer at Gamma Gamma Chi functions, in obedience to Islamic law, nor will there be group fraternizing with the opposite sex.

“Partying is allowed in Islam, but it’s how you party,” said Althia Collins, an Alexandria businesswoman who has helped create it. “You can have fun with girls and it doesn’t have to include men.”

Thirteen women at the University of Kentucky will form the sorority’s first college chapter this spring, and another group is waiting to start at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus. A citywide chapter in the District, made up of women from several local universities, is also in the works.

Along with pledges, there will be prayer to Allah. Instead of hazing, there’s hijab, the scarf some devout Muslim women wear. Covering one’s hair is not mandated within Gamma Gamma Chi; in fact, four out of the five board members do not wear one.

Mrs. Collins’ daughter, Imani Abdul-Haqq, came up with concept for Gamma Gamma Chi while rushing sororities at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C.

As Mrs. Abdul-Haqq entered the room wearing her scarf, “They looked at her like she had three heads,” Mrs. Collins said.

Plus, a lot of sororities had Christian roots or began meetings with a Christian prayer, which discomfited the daughter, who converted to Islam in 1999. Since then, she has designed a line of Islamic wear, including T-shirts for women with slogans like “Real Women Pray” and “NO, I am not oppressed.”

Mrs. Collins has contributed $50,000 in cash or in-kind services to start up the sorority, and Mrs. Abdul-Haqq chose the Greek letters Gamma Gamma Chi because together they mean “women on earth for a period of time,” dovetailing with Islamic teaching.

Although Gamma Gamma Chi is open to all, no non-Muslims have joined to date. But other Muslims have reacted well, Mrs. Abdul-Haqq said.

“They think it’s due time we have a organization like this for Muslim women,” she said, “which helps them grow as women, leaders and part of many communities. It also gives them a chance to network.”

They’ve had inquiries from Sunni, Shi’ite and the Nation of Islam women.

Before joining, members must 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.

Mrs. Collins converted in 1998, having grown up with a Baptist father and a mother who attended an African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. She began trying other churches during college, then, feeling restless, began investigating other faiths.

She began reading evangelistic texts about Islam during a visit to her sister, who had converted years before. Islam, she decided, appealed to her intellect, whereas Christianity seemed more concerned with the emotions.

“Besides,” she said, “I really did not understand the Trinity.”

To date, Gamma Gamma Chi has heard from young women in 18 states, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

“I thought this was something revolutionary,” Mrs. Collins said. “We are building a sorority established on the tradition of the sunnas; the ways of the prophet [Mohammed].”

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