Tuesday, 20 September 2011

8 Tips for the Muslim Student

So you’re going to University…

September is a great time - you get to see all the college students eagerly preparing for their taste of university life. You also see life flow back into the student parts of town which felt eerily quiet during the summer months.

Whether you’re a fresher or an old schooler returning back – the academic year is full of opportunity. So here are few quick bits of wisdom I’ve inherited from others.

1) Thank God

Gratitude is at the very heart of faith, so thanks for the blessing of having reached higher education. The very moment you enrol, you’ve become one of the very blessed few who have ever had the opportunity. And in the words of Spiderman’s uncle, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, so be prepared to thank God by serving his creation.

2) Join the Islamic Society

The Islamic Society is a fantastic and wonderful opportunity. It is one of the best things about university life. It will help you make friends, show you around, give you wonderful social activities and help you keep in touch with your spiritual heart which can be so easily neglected in the intense speed of uni life. “But my ISoc is dull, small and barely does anything” I hear you say. Well that’s just a perfect opportunity to join your ISoc committee and give it some life. Why? Because there is only one thing better than joining the ISoc, and that’s being part of the core committee. It will give you amazing life skills, amazing memories, and let you be part of something that is in the service of God.

The ISoc isn’t a ‘Muslim bubble’ thing, or at least it shouldn’t be. For me, the ISoc was in fact a gateway to meeting people of different faiths, and none (we had lots of fun with the Atheist and Agnostic Society during my first year). Through the ISoc I met people of various backgrounds who attended ISoc social outings, inter-society events and so on. Rather than causing isolation, the ISoc helped me make diverse friendships from different faiths who I otherwise would not have met.

3) Get Yourself a Quran

Both Arabic and English. Maybe you’ve packed one already, if not, steal (I mean borrow) one from the local mosque. Fork out a few quid and buy an English copy (I recommend Abdul-Haleem’s translation). The Quran is light. In Arabic, its recitation is healing and comfort for the soul. In English, its words are wisdom and knowledge. Consume it in both forms. The Prophet (peace be upon him) described the Quran as gardens to delight in. You might go for weeks or months and never glance towards it. But there is always a time when you need to walk in the shade of God, illuminate yourself in his light and enjoy the serenity and fresh gardens of the Quran. Keep it handy. There is a world of knowledge and wisdom contained within its few pages.

4) Education does not equal lectures.

Not to get too romantic and nostalgic, but once upon a time the words learned and educated didn’t mean a degree or well paid job. It meant refinement of character, wisdom, moderation in speech and behaviour, it meant civility and etiquette (by etiquette I mean adab, not eating with the right spoon). Unfortunately, society has been moving towards a duller, more empty and very Cartesian view of the world. Universities have become less places of education and more commercial. But that shouldn’t stop you from getting a real education.

Henry Rutgers once said “don’t let your studies interfere with your education”. I have no idea who Henry Rutgers is, but he’s speaking sense.

Get an education at university. That means meeting people, organising events, going to debates, involving yourself in the thick and thin of campus life. Personally, I learnt a lot more out of lectures than in them. My lectures taught me theories and ideas and academic debates. My ISoc and extra activities taught me patience, determination, hardwork, kindess, concern for others, not to mention event management, leadership skills, working under a very very tight deadline, marketing, multitasking, the practicalities of catering for 300 odd people. With both my university lectures and my ISoc experience under my belt, I felt I left university a more rounded and more whole individual. Others I know feel the same. So get an education in university, but know that an education means more than understanding the word Catersian.

5) Bit by Bit

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said “God loves the deeds done often, even though they might be small”. Importance advice with regards to ones good deeds, but vital if you plan on passing your examinations. Writing an essay in a few days is never a good idea, nor is trying to cram in the final hours before an exam. When it comes to learning, bit by bit is really the key. Don’t get over-excited read three books in the first week, attend every lecture, seminar, and the whole host of non-compulsory extras offered through the week while keeping intricate well-filed notes with labels and highlighted key sections. Why? Because as anyone who has spent more than 3 months in university will tell you, it doesn’t work. Inevitably you will burn out, worst case scenario, stop trying at all. Instead, get into the habit of doing a bit every day. Even in the ridiculously long holidays. Freshers are always is amazed by the free time offered by university – use it well.

6) Parents

Whether you’re living at home or living away, don’t ever forget your responsibility to your parents. You’re not a teenager or a child, you’re an adult and you have a responsibility to your mother and father.

7) Prayer, Dhikr and a halaqa or two.

Maintaining your spiritual side can be daunting while at university. Most universities are secular, so while your brain is given all the critical refinement it needs your heart is considered simply an organ for pumping blood around your body. Keep your heart alive with some dhikr every day (something small you can do daily easily, make sure there is some salawat in there somewhere). Try your best to do your prayers. If you pray already, keep it up. If you don’t pray, maybe start getting into the habit of praying now. One or two a day and build it up. And make sure you go to a halaqa. Most ISocs hold one, if not, a local mosque should Find a good scholar that you click with, and a topic you feel you’ll enjoy and benefit from. Spiritual knowledge is vital to growing as a person.

8) Have Principles and a Plan

I’ve seen some terrible stuff at university. I’m not talking about binge drinking or the rugby team hazing (the latter being particularly traumatic… I hope I never see an ‘elephant walk’ again in my life), but people who have lost themselves while at university. Know your priorities and know your principles. If you don’t know, this is a perfect time to find out. Few things are as disheartening as seeing someone full of life and potential become apathetic and aimless. Or worse still, replace their once noble and lofty aspirations (end poverty, save the world etc…) with the mundane and self-serving. We all know the hadith that “actions are by intentions”, well remember that this also means that great actions require equally great intentions.

I hope these 8 points are somewhat useful. I'll end with a brief piece of advice someone shared with me during my first year - "a day in which you don't grow closer to Allah is a day wasted".

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