The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life and the Brandeis Chaplaincy recently announced the creation of the Bahalim Student Fund, a fund to give the Brandeis community an opportunity to fight Islamophobia and promote understanding of Islam.

The Bahalim Student Fund was made possible by a donation from Brandeis alumnus Ammad Bahalim ’04. The fund is designed to “support student-led public events intended to combat Islamophobia and promote an understanding of Islam as a tradition of learning and critical thinking,” according to the description of the fund released by the Center.

The committee is looking for proposals that will have “a broad appeal to students on campus.” This could include “exciting formats” or “unexpected collaborations among groups of students, clubs and departments,” Leigh Swigart, the director of programs in International Justice and Society at the Ethics Center, said in an interview with the Justice. “It does not have to be a talk, it doesn't have to be a film. It could be a comedian who uses an appealing and insightful way of getting at issues that are very important, or a music that is unexpected or a theater production.”

The fund offers up to $1,500 for the winning proposal, but a great proposal could justify a higher amount, according to Swigart.

Swigart also explained that the fund was the result of a one-time contribution by Bahalim, unless he chooses to contribute again in the future. Bahalim, who is of Pakistani heritage, currently works for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a philanthropic organization that fights inequity. The Gates Foundation triple-matched Bahalim’s contribution in accordance with its policy regarding employees’ charitable donations

In discussion with the new Muslim chaplain, Muhammad Xhemali, the Center decided to open the fund up to not only Muslim students, but to anybody who would like to propose programming. Swigart thinks that the fund “will be a great way to get some excitement and collaboration across different sectors of campus and give students the opportunity to think imaginatively about how to use such a fund.”

In the same interview, Swigart said she assumes that Bahalim created the fund because “he is responding to the rising climate of Islamophobia and thinking that having something on campus is a good place to start knowing that there are number of Muslim students on campus.” She explained that the language of the proposal is broad, giving the Center and the University considerable freedom in applying it to the community. She also said that the fund’s proposal language emphasizes Islamic life in the United States. 

Part of the Bahalim fund will go to programs in different departments, but most of it will go to student programs. According to Swigart, there is value in offering students the financial freedom to create programs because “students are the best judges of what their peers will appreciate and how their peers want to learn about something unfamiliar.”

The Ethics Center is not trying to further its institutional goals by administering this fund, Swigart clarified. Rather, it is working to build and preserve the inter-religious and inter-communal coexistence at Brandeis. She said that in doing this the Center is administering the fund “to serve the campus [in] the best way possible.” 

—This article was updated to correct factual issues. The original version said the fund would offer $5,000 for proposals. This has been corrected to $1,500. Additionally, the original article said Bahalim donated to the Gates Foundation. This has been corrected to clarify that he works at the foundation and that the foundation matched his contribution to the fund.