Cardinal Hall at Catholic University of America, Brookland neighborhood, Washington.
Another school year is in full swing. Frat houses around the country are once again swollen with partygoers and intoxicated youth. Sunday mornings once again mark the regret of thousands of young women who hooked-up the night prior and either cannot remember what they did, or do remember and are trying to forget.
Another hook-up season is in full swing.
But this hook-up season, there is an increasing phenomenon of unlikely bedfellows opting out: Catholic and Muslim women. These women of faith are increasingly allied in searching for a different way to live out their college tenure than from dorm room to dorm room. And they are finding that despite theological differences that run deep, shared perspectives about modesty, chastity, and dignity run deeper.
At Georgetown, the Muslim Interest Living Community (MILC), originally “designed to create a strong support group for Muslims and non-Muslims who want to be steadfast in prayer and in their commitment to campus building and cooperation,” provides a haven for students seeking an escape from alcohol and hook-ups. In years past, up to half of its residents have been non-Muslim. Noreen Shaikh, a resident of the MILC, says the community offers “an alternative way to spend Friday and Saturday nights outside the realm of parties and clubs.”
Muslim enrollment at Catholic universities is surging. At Catholic University, which just recently reinstated same-sex dormitories and where the school administration has been very vocal in opposing binge drinking and premarital sex, Muslim enrollment has doubled in just four years. Nationwide, the growth in percent of Muslim freshman students at Catholic colleges and universities is significantly outpacing that of enrollment at secular schools. As one female Muslim student at Catholic University put it, “They have the same values we do.”
Sarah Mumma, a devout Catholic and recent graduate of Northwestern University, affiliated herself closely with the Muslim Cultural Student Association during her time there. In her view, rooming with Muslim girls was a “haven amid the hookup culture and the pervasive dismissal of chastity as backwards, or even sinister.” She found that not only did she share with these Muslim women abstinence as a lifestyle, but found they shared other values in common. “Smart, well connected and serious Muslim girls I met in college became some of my best friends.”
Sajda Ouachtouki, a member of the Religious Life Council at Princeton University, voices similar sentiments about her close Catholic friends, “I find that I share much in common with these friends and often find myself turning to them in times of inner struggle. Their morals and notions of self-respect weave a special bond between us.”
Statistics show that as many as 78 percent of women will engage in a hook-up at some point during their college tenure, 14 percent of whom will rely on a friend to tell them what happened the next day, 49 percent of whom will never see the partner again, and 16 percent of whom felt pressured into the sexual encounter. In a given year, roughly 97,000 cases of college campus sexual assault or date rape related to binge drinking are reported. Another 100,000 college students annually report being too drunk to know if they consented to having sex.
For many women of faith on college campuses, not only is such behavior a direct violation of their faith, it is the degradation of women, plain and simple. Not only are Catholic and Muslim women increasingly sharing the experience of rejecting the college culture of sexual excess, but they find common ground in the empowerment that chastity offers as an alternative. So while Muslim and Catholic women may say different prayers each night as they prepare for bed, they are united in relishing that their bed (and their dignity) is theirs and theirs alone.