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For Muslims seeking sisterhood, fledgling sorority may be answer

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Tottering on stilettos, Amira Shalash, a freshman at the University of Kentucky, tossed back her long, tousled hair and tugged at the neckline of her sweater, which had slipped off her shoulder.

Giggling, her friends -- who wear hijabs, traditional Muslim head scarves -- teased her that she was not dressed modestly enough.

The nine young women were gathered to learn about the nation's first Islamic sorority.

The motto of Gamma Gamma Chi: ''Striving for the pleasure of Allah through Sisterhood, Scholarship, Leadership, and Community Service."

The sorority, based in Greensboro, N.C., hopes to establish its first campus chapter at the University of Kentucky.

Taking a seat at the introductory meeting, Boushra Aghil, a 20-year-old junior in an olive green shirt and black hijab, studied the sorority's gold-colored brochure. She was curious about how Gamma Gamma Chi would reconcile Islamic morals with sorority life -- and the party atmosphere associated with it.

''My parents would never, ever let me join a regular sorority," said Shalash. ''I don't know any Muslim sorority girls."

Yet many young Muslim women are intrigued by the concept. Since Gamma Gamma Chi was founded seven months ago, Muslim students from 14 states -- and from Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates -- have e-mailed the sorority's national headquarters in Alexandria, Va. The biggest response came from the University of Kentucky, Lexington, a city with a Muslim population of nearly 2,500.

The idea for Gamma Gamma Chi came from Imani Abdul-Haqq, a 34-year-old business administration major at Guilford College in Greensboro.

She hopes to establish chapters in every region of the United States by 2015.

A black woman who converted to Islam in 2000, Abdul-Haqq considered whether to join an established black sorority, but worried she would have to compromise her Muslim beliefs. Even the term for the nine predominantly black fraternities and sororities -- the Divine Nine -- makes her uncomfortable. Only Allah, she says, is divine.

''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," she said. ''I want to feel the unity."

The Muslim women at the University of Kentucky said they also wanted that feeling of connection.

''The American white-bread sorority girls wouldn't always understand our issues," said Aghil. ''We already wear a scarf, we recognize we are the odd people out, but we need a support system, a group that can support us in the Islamic way."

Gamma Gamma Chi is not the first sorority to offer an alternative to traditional, predominantly white American sororities.

Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first of four major black sororities, was founded in 1908 at Howard University in Washington. In 1991, Hispanic-oriented Gamma Phi Omega was established; in 1997, the multicultural Theta Nu Xi; in 1998, the South Asian Kappa Phi Gamma.

As the first Muslim sorority, Gamma Gamma Chi has the unique challenge of creating sorority life that is in keeping with Islamic law.

Although alcohol is banned in most sorority houses, a national study conducted in 2001 identified 62 percent of sorority members as binge drinkers.

That type of behavior won't be tolerated at Gamma Gamma Chi. Its president and executive director, Althia F. Collins, an education consultant and former college administrator who helped her daughter, Abdal-Haqq, establish the sorority, has devised a strict induction process.

''It will be a bit like 'The Apprentice' or 'America's Next Top Model,' " Collins said

If more than five students at the University of Kentucky submit applications by January, Gamma Gamma Chi hopes to establish its first chapter in February.

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