Most Influential Student: Arwa Mohammad

The MSO president educates students about Islam during a time of great Islamophobia.

This story is part of our 2010-11 Mizzou in Review series.

Things weren't looking promising for junior Arwa Mohammad's first year as president of the Muslim Student Organization.

With protests in late August against the building of Park51 Community Center, commonly referred to as the Ground Zero Mosque, anti-Islamic sentiment was running high — anything but ideal conditions for someone trying to increase the presence of a Muslim student group on campus.

But instead of panicking, Mohammad sought to do what she's always done — inspire others to action and educate the community about her beliefs.

And so she did. Instead of waiting until April to hold Islam Awareness Week, she moved it up to October in response to the controversy, hoping to foster a greater understanding of Islam across campus through an increased emphasis on programming.

This focus on education and advocacy is what has made Mohammad an effective and influential leader at MU and in the Columbia community.

MSO spokesman Mahir Khan said Mohammad is to thank for the success of MSO.

"I really don't think there would be much of MSO if it weren't for Arwa," he said. "She just has such an incredible ability to just get people to do things that nobody else has."

As MSO president, Student Health Advisory Council vice president and as an Honors College ambassador, the junior biochemistry major feels comfortable in leadership positions. But she said she doesn't allow her status on campus to go to her head.

In fact, she only agreed to be featured for this story after taking time to decide whether or not she felt she deserved the honor. She then requested that the focus be kept on MSO, the organization she has devoted a majority of her time to over the past three years.

She attributes these feelings to a view of her leadership role as an opportunity to serve those who elected her and to do something good for the Muslim and Columbia communities.

"I see a leadership role as more of a responsibility that one has to bear, rather than something that's sought after for some type of recognition or some type of status symbol," she said.

After graduating from Rock Bridge High School as the president of the Muslim Student Union and co-editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, Mohammad came to MU ready to continue her extracurricular involvement.

During her freshman year at MU, she started an MSO team for Relay for Life before being elected as education chairwoman at the end of the year.

After thriving in that role for a year, Mohammad was identified by fellow members as the most qualified leader for MSO and ran uncontested for president for the 2010-2011 academic year.

Since taking the role, Mohammad has persuaded members to become more involved and work to give MSO a greater presence on campus.

Khan said Mohammad's leadership style and work ethic is inspiring to other MSO members.

"She has a really positive attitude and a very positive leadership style that makes people want to be like her," he said. "She's a role model for every Muslim and every other student in general that comes to MU."

After hosting Islam Awareness Week in the fall, Mohammad and MSO worked to increase member activity through more frequent events.

New activities included fasting initiatives throughout the year, trips to the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, discussion nights for the Muslim Brothers and Sisters and a spring conference featuring speakers from Brooklyn, NY and Chicago.

Further contributing to advancing the Muslim community in Columbia, Mohammad is a member of the Muslim Speakers Bureau of Columbia, which travels around Columbia to give presentations to educate people about Islam.

Aside from her work in MSO, Mohammad said she spends 10-12 hours per week doing research in a biochemistry lab under Dr. Grace Sun, as well as working as an Honors College ambassador.

Even though she admitted that she could probably stay on as president for another year, Mohammad said she wanted other members to be able to gain the leadership experience.

Entering her final year of undergraduate study next year before heading to medical school, Mohammad said she plans on staying active in MSO as what she jokingly referred to as "that over-involved member."

For her, holding a leadership position was only a way to accomplish her goals, not the goal itself.

"What I really wanted to do with MSO was create excitement, she said. "I wanted to create a sense of community and involvement with the Muslim students. I wanted to create a presence on campus, and that's something I'm really proud of."

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