BY LAMA ABDEL BARR
Founded in 1995, the Help Club is one of the oldest and most dominant community service clubs at AUC, and one of the club’s goals is to bring together the diverse members of the AUC community.
The club is seen by many AUC students as having heavy Islamic inclinations, and some of the rumors surrounding the Help Club even go as far as suggesting the club is funded by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Members of the club strongly deny any such political and religious involvement. “Our community is mainly concerned with ethics,” Mohamed Swelim, President of the Help Club comments. He goes on to add however, that “we have a somewhat conservative culture within the club”.
Lojain Ibrahim, member of the Help Club, explained that some of the club members might have voted for Muslim Brotherhood candidates in the parliamentary elections, while other members voted for liberal parties such as Al Kotla Al Masreya.
“The members’ political choices are individual ones,” Ibrahim asserted.
Then why does this misconception exist so strongly on our campus? Swelim reasoned that this might sprout from a similarity in the nature of the community work carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood and community service clubs as a whole, not just the Help Club.
Ibrahim also added that the misconception might be due to the fact that many of the female members of the club are veiled. She says, however, that many of the female members of the club are actually not veiled, and some of them even occupy head positions.
Habiba Ghanem, Newsletter Head of the Help Club, suggested that another reason for the misconception is that the club’s activities are usually gender-segregated. She relates this to the club’s original structure, one that is so complex that “you have to be in the club to understand it”, she explains.
She maintains that they do hold mixed meetings, referring to the club’s general meetings as an example of their mixed interactions. Swelim added that their type of activities are better carried out separately as it leaves both the members and the recipients of the charity work at greater ease and and makes them feel more comfortable.
Ghanem clarifies that the activities carried out by the Help Club are not religious by definition, adding that “the point of the club is to benefit society.”
Their off-campus activities include teaching English, Arabic and religion lessons to mothers and their children in Old Cairo. These religion lessons are indeed Islamic ones, but Ghanem explains that “this is the religion the mothers and children belong to”.
The club’s on-campus awareness campaigns include international causes, such as the recent campaign for Somalia, and past campaigns for Lebanon and Palestine.
Fadel Soliman, an international speaker and presenter of Islam, was a guest speaker at the Help Club’s 2012 annual reception. He explains the grounds of his invitation, “I was invited to participate in extremely important humanistic activities in support of poor people in Somalia or oppressed people in Palestine, etc.”
Yet, the sentiment amongst AUC students seems to point towards a clear labeling of the club as Islamic. “I think it’s an Islamic charity club here at AUC,” said Basma Hatem, an undeclared freshman, when asked about her general knowledge of the club. “I’ve never really considered signing up there because I felt like they were just focused on religion,” Hatem added.
This preconception of a tendency towards religiousness is notable in the club’s official e-mails. The greetings of the e-mails tend to be laden with common Islamic lexicon such as “Al Salam Alykom” and “Jazakom Allah Khayran”.
Ghanem explains that this does not imply the aim of targeting Muslims, but rather a sign of “individual betterment” by the sender.
Swelim also emphasized that this terminology is not strictly Islamic but rather imparts universal positive meanings that “do not offend anybody”.
“We have a great deal of diversity within the club,” he maintains, asserting that the club is not solely comprised of Egyptian Muslims, though he admits they are the majority probably because many people “filter the Help Club through the Muslim Brotherhood lens.”
Even though this affects who applies to join the club, Swelim claims that it does not affect the effectiveness of the activities or the interaction of the AUC community with on-campus campaigns.