It was 2010 and I had just returned from my studies in Cairo. I was in a “Muslim bubble,” having just come from a place where I heard the adhān every day and I was just another covered woman walking in the streets. Coming back home was not appealing at the time, especially with the welcome we received at the airport. I was bitter about being around non-Muslims again and wasn't looking forward to going back to school in a month.

I was in a new place with new people and was working on finishing my social work degree. I looked around the room during the first day of classes and groaned, “Oh great, I'm the only Muslim here.” I braved myself for the worst and prepared for comments about Muslims, immigrants and minorities. To make matters worse, I was surrounded by people whose lifestyles I did not agree with and I was worried my faith would suffer tremendously.

Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) had a different plan. As I got to know my classmates and my professors, and as my knowledge of social justice and social work grew, I realized how great of an opportunity this was for me. I had just come from a year-long adventure where I had to adapt and be open-minded to a different language, customs and culture, so why not be open to learning in this new environment? I remembered the statement of a scholar I would always repeat to myself in Cairo:  find a benefit in every situation you find yourself.

One of the biggest complaints of Muslims is that non-Muslims do not understand us, especially as Muslim women – we are bombarded with weird and inappropriate questions/comments from non-Muslims on a regular basis. Yes, we can blame the media for this, but another huge problem is that Muslims are not actively engaging with non-Muslims. There I was, the only Muslim in 4 out of 5 of my classes, and I had an incredible opportunity to present Islam the way we want it to be presented to my classmates and professors. I quickly got over my annoyance at the questions and started many dialogues which led to me gaining the respect of my peers and professors. All of those ignorant questions are not asked to simply annoy us — people really do not have a clue!

We expect non-Muslims to accommodate to our needs and lifestyle, but when it comes to their needs and lifestyle, we brush it off because they are “kuffār”. University taught me a Prophetic principle:  hate the sin and not the sinner. In our modern Islamic culture, we call out people for their sins and focus a lot of our attention on those with whom we don't agree. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and the Messengers before him did not act this way. In an example from the Qur'ān, Lūt 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) teaches us this principle. His people said of him and his family: “Expel the family of Lūt from your city, they are people who keep themselves pure!” (27:56) When Lūt tried to plead with them to not harm his guests, they said to him: “If you do not desist, O Lūt, you will surely be of those evicted!” (26:167) As they continued to berate him and threaten him with eviction, Lūt 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – a Prophet of God – responded, “Surely I am towards your deed, of those who detest (it).” (26:168) Do you see the principle? Despite their abuse, he did not direct his disgust towards them but towards their actions. Even though I disagreed with the lifestyle of many of my classmates, we all shared a common struggle: being accepted and respected by society.

In these times of illicit behavior, rampant alcoholism and other vices, Islam gives us the tools we need to not only be the best Muslim around non-Muslims, but also to learn from them. Once my “Muslim bubble” popped, I was able to look at the situation in a positive light:  I learned lessons in character from people we normally scoff at. I learned how to respect different opinions and respond cordially. I learned the importance of a good work ethic. I learned how to be a better Muslim from people who do not even accept the religion.

We may not know it but because we call ourselves Muslims, we will – like it or not – be spokespersons for Islam. I've heard too many stories of Muslims who cheat on exams, take religion classes just to debate (thinking this is “da'wah”) or get into heated arguments with their professors. Of course non-Muslim students do these things all the time, but when it's a Muslim, we are all affected.

I end this article with a situation that took me completely by surprise. Really, when we act like Muslims, people will notice. I received an email from my professor for a summer class I am taking in which I am, again, the only Muslim in the class. He thanked me for my courtesy and good ethics. He told me “you are in social work for the right reasons” and that students have told him they appreciate my kindness and helpful nature.

SubhānAllāh. Receiving his email made me smile. Before I thought of what on earth I had done to deserve such a nice gesture, I prayed to Allāh to accept it from me.

Yes, the university environment is difficult. Yes, we will be faced with a ton of harām things. But, Allāh does not burden us more than we can bear. All people, despite their background or religion, have something to offer us. Look at this experience as a chance to grow as a Muslim – polish your character by dealing with difficult people, use it as a time to fast if you are being affected by the environment, show your professors and classmates what it really means to be a Muslim, look through the Prophet's ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) history and read about how he treated open sinners and non-Muslims, truly thank Allāh for blessing you with Islam and learn how to benefit from people you do not agree with.

May Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) help us, guide us, protect us and increase us in wisdom.

 

19 Responses

  1. serenity

    AsSalaamu Alaykum ukhty

    Had I read this a little 3 years early, i would’ve been advised on how should i act in university. I came from an Islamic school where high school rooms for boys and girls are separated. When I entered college, I was a little intimidated by the environment. I was displeased and got anxious because in the whole university, I was the only Hijaabi Muslim. Every time I pass by the hallways or road, I’d get stared at. I understand that though, it’s more of I got used to it. And because of my personality not far from being introvert, I didn’t make an effort to approach anyone in the class. yes, that made me even more aloof. But now, I can say that I’ve already gained friendship with my classmates. They were nice so it was really easy to mingle with them. I must admit it took time before I got used to the way they behave.

    Great article by the way, how I wish I had read this before I’d come to college.

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  2. How University Made Me a Better Muslim « Days of Our Lives 2

    […] How University Made Me a Better Muslim by Amatullah It was 2010 and I had just returned from my studies in Cairo. I was in a “Muslim bubble,” having just come from a place where I heard the adhān every day and I was just another covered woman walking in the streets. Coming back home was not appealing at the time, especially with the welcome we received at the airport. I was bitter about being around non-Muslims again and wasn’t looking forward to going back to school in a month. […]

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  3. Richard Prior

    Does anybody know where I can get good Tagalog translations of the Quran? please advise me…..

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  4. CL

    I noticed a slight “Muslims superiority” mentality in this post, particularly at the beginning, but it got better as you learned to be more accepting of other people.

    When you said ”
    Of course non-Muslim students do these things all the time”, that’s implying you believe non-Muslim students to naturally behave worse than Muslims. I can tell you that’s not true, non-Muslims do not do these things all the time.
    Other than that, good post!

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    • Neemrahs

      I think she just meant non Muslim behavior, not all deeds in general. Unfortunately like all humans we too can take on an attitude superiority however these are not the teachings of Islam, and i think the author does a good job of explaining her own struggle.

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  5. Meena Malik

    awesome post! i am a little nervous about going back into the University scene after spending a year in my Muslim bubble as well.

    jzk!

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  6. Neemrahs

    MashAllah very nice article. I too wish I had read this a few years earlier. However i just wanted to note on some of the remarks the author has given about her own growth. You gave great examples of how to change and be a better person, not just saying do it. I have to admit, I fell to some un-Islamic behavior in my college days because of my environment, I am not blaming it on that, I take full responsibility. But it is hard and sometimes if you don;t have the right guidance, which can even be a few words like this article you can mis-handle a situation, for lack of better words. I went to a uni with a lot of “hijabi’s” but unfortunately I couldn’t mesh with them b/c they too indulged in a lot of un-Islamic behavior (like backbiting, gossiping, etc.) and it hurt me b/c they judged me b/c I didn’t wear a hijab. So I felt more comfortable with people who didn’t judge me as much (of course they are human and judged a little). But like the author said, just because we are Muslim everything is looked at through a microscope. But I just want to say that I pray more of us can have the wisdom of this sister and be able to make ourselves better people and walk in the prophets as well, Ameen.

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  7. canadianmuslim

    Subhanallah what an inspiring article!
    Here are 3 reminders for the hijab-wearing muslims who are nervous about studying in university in USA of Canada: Have Courage!
    1) If people stare at you for wearing hijab, remember that tall white/black people in China receive the same kinds of stares; don’t assume that it is all negative, for it is often out of simple curiosity, or even admiration. And if they stare, you can smile back, it’s charity :)
    2) Remember that there are many believers that you cannot know by their dress, muslims included. Being a Christian-dominant country, there will be others who share belief in one God, and they are our brothers and sisters in monotheism. And the rest are our brothers and sisters in humanity. Instead of relying on whether they wear hijab or not to judge their beliefs, go find out for yourself by interacting with them. You may find that you actually are not alone.
    3) Your simple acknowledgement and respect for others, muslims and non muslims alike, could have a huge effect on the minds and hearts of others, by the grace of Allah. what an excellent opportunity!

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  8. JNisha

    This is wonderfully written. I want to be a muslim but I feel that I cannot. Ever since my Nana passed away, there is no one to show me the right of way. I miss him, his teachings, his prayers, his kindness and his good heart. Now I just feel like a lost American with no muslim roots. It’s sad and it does’t help that everyone around me partakes in haaram behavior. I hope one day I can be as strong as this author or any faithful muslim. Thanks for sharing.

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    • A.j

      try nouman ali khan’s lectures on youtube, they are pretty good, plus he’s American too!

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  9. Umm Bilal

    Assalam o Alaikum,

    Subhan Allah Ukhti… this is such an eye opener. May Allah keep us steadfast in presenting the real Islam to the world that we encounter every day. ameen

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  10. student of knowledge

    As salaam alaikum wa rahmatullahi,

    Going to university, with whole new atmosphere is very interesting, challenging as well. Infacct an opportunity as sister mentioned to build & portray the positive power of a muslim lifestyle.
    Now one confusion that has come up in my deicision making is travelling for studies.

    1] i know we women have rights to education, alhamdulilah
    2] what is the case of travelling abroad to complete education, that means travelling alone,staying in hostel alone, away from our mahrams[legal guardians]

    keeping in mind factors of self-discipline, what exactly is the ruling about travelling alone away from home for education ?

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