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Advice for New University Students: Work Hard, Play Hard, PRAY harder

Are you a young Muslim starting university this month? Or a mature student, looking to improve your career prospects? Either way, life is about to change big time – new surroundings, new friends, and new opportunities – along with new trials, new temptations, and new traps. Change can be good, and change can be bad: so listen to the sage advice of some seasoned MM-ers to ensure that your life changes for the better, insha’Allah!

ISoc2Sick

A classic tip from King’s College London graduate, Bushra:

“Seek out your university’s Islamic society and SIGN UP! They will be your lifeline out in the scary world of student-hood.”

Logo for one of the best ISocs in the world. I may be biased.

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A lot of ISocs (a.k.a. MSAs for you Americans) have Freshers’ (first-year) events in the first few weeks of term for new students. You can contact them before you start via their websites and Facebook pages (Google is your friend). If your university doesn’t have an ISoc, try searching for Muslim cultural societies, like Pakistani, Indonesian, Malay, Arab, Somali, etc. Even if you’re not from those cultures, they should still welcome you, and at the very least, show you where the best places to pray and eat halal are , inshā’Allāh.

It’s also important to remember prayer room etiquette: give salām, smile, be friendly and welcoming to all. Just because someone doesn’t seem as pious as you are (note: thinking you’re better than others is a sure sign to check yourself!), or they pray a little differently than you, doesn’t provide any excuse for you to give them the cold shoulder. You don’t want your prickly nature to be the reason why someone doesn’t offer their ṣalāh in congregation, or avoids attending circles of knowledge, or even regular ISoc socials, a‘ūdhu billāh.

“Don’t be judgmental- whether you are super-practicing or not. University will introduce you to many more different characters than those at school and will test your own patience by making you accommodate for these people. It will refine you.” – Bushra

Freeeeedom!

Beware the price of freedom.

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A warning from graduate of Imperial College London, iMuslim:

“Don’t let your first taste of ‘freedom’ go to your head – especially true for those sisters like me, who were rolled up in cotton wool most of their young lives! Suddenly teachers and parents aren’t there anymore to keep their beady eyes on you, and Shayṭān’s whispers becomes more like Shayṭān on loudspeaker!”

Without raining on your parade, the amazing high of your first few weeks away from home can also be dangerous for your īmān. You don’t realize how much of your Islam is dependent on the opinions of family and other authority figures until they disappear from view. Strangers, especially non-Muslims, aren’t going to care whether you pray your ṣalāh, or ‘eat of the good things’. Now it really is between you and Allah; time to familiarize yourselves with His Attributes: As-Samee’, the One who hears all; Al-Baseer, the One who sees all; and Al-‘Alīm, the One who knows all. In conclusion: feel free to disobey Allah in the place that He can’t hear you, see you or know about it. {smile}

However, greater freedom and a strange place also has its advantages:

“Starting uni is a great opportunity to renew yourself. Often school can be a very suffocating place because there is so much peer pressure from your friends – and even the people you dislike! If you’ve always wanted to start praying, wear hijab, clean up your language, volunteer more, and so on, but your peers were holding you back, uni is the best time to break the chains, wipe the slate clean, and start again with a ‘bismillah‘.” – iMuslim

Friends Forever

The heart is precious. Be careful who you let in.

Leaving behind childhood friends can be hard, especially if it takes time for you to make new ones. As lonely as you may feel at times, try not to fill that void in your heart, and the gap in your social calendar with just any company:

“Surround yourself with good people. Not just ISoc members, but also good friends on your course who may not be Muslim, but they live clean, and they respect you and your faith. If you left one bad group of ‘friends’ behind, don’t fall into the same trap again now you’ve been given a second chance. The Prophet, ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: ‘A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so each one should consider whom he makes his friend.’ [Sunan Abu Dāwūd]” – iMuslim

Campus Superstar

You are going to spend a lot of time in here. Study tip # 1 – try not to fall asleep.

With all the fun of new friends, clubs, and societies, you may forget that university is actually for something called, STUDYING.

To help you along, here are some awesome study tips from University of California student, Meena, and University of Washington graduate, Safia:

“Don’t give up the work habits that you established in high school. Most people have chiller schedules once they go to college and all forms of self-discipline and timeliness disappear. The hardest workers will do the best. Being “smart” isn’t enough. Make iḥsān in everything you do – even school.” – Meena

“Be a known presence, not just in the university community at large, but also in the classroom. It’s critical to visit during office hours and get to know your professors more. This is more general academic advice (of course, it’s a da’wah opportunity also), but when you familiarize yourself with the teacher, it has many advantages:

  • One, they’ll know you’re a serious student because you went beyond the classroom.
  • Two, the more memorable you are to professors, the easier time you’ll have getting the critical letters of recommendation that you will need for jobs and grad school.” – Safia

And a bucket load of academic advice from Wharton School of Business MBA grad, Amad:

  • Remember why you are at college: to earn a degree. Keep the focus. It’s only 3-4 years and if you put your mind into it, you’ll reap the benefits
    for the rest of your life. You almost have to treat it as an extremely important investment that may dictate your career, your future family, and where you might live.
  • Talk to senior students in your major. You can usually get great advice on professors, classes, and when you need something to lighten the load, professors who repeat the exam questions every year!
  • It’s not important just to “like” something to make a career out of it. If you want to be bread-earner, then you have choose something that will get you a job after you graduate. It affects what area you might be able to make a living in. For example, if you desire moving to the Middle East at one point in your life, scan the jobs that may be available in the region.

More practical advice can be found in this must-read MM post.

Don’t Forget Your Roots

This is how happy your pops will be when you call him (before you ask him for more money).

Our EIC, Hena – alumni of Wellesley College and the University of New Orleans – keeps it real:

Call your mom!! Dad, siblings, grandparents, and old friends too – if you call them and keep in touch, it is less anxiety for them and they won’t think that you have changed.”

Absence makes the heart grow fonder – but also more forgetful! Don’t let the excitement (and stress) of college life make you forget those who helped you to get there in the first place. That goes double for the One who provides for you in every way: Al-Razzāq. Keep in touch with your Creator via your daily worship, dhikr, and regularity of good deeds.

We hope that our sincere advice is of benefit to you. May you be successful in your studies, and enjoy every moment of this new and unique life experience, Ameen!
Feel free to share your own pearls of wisdom in the comments below.

Related Article: A Message to Anyone Interested in a College Degree

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Dr Mehzabeen b. Ibrahim joined MuslimMatters as a blogger in late 2007 under the handle 'iMuslim', whilst still a struggling grad student. Since then, she has attained a PhD in Molecular Biology and a subsequent Masters in Bioinformatics, and now works as a specialist in this field for a well-known British, medical charity, masha'Allah. Somewhere in between she found the time to get married, alhamdulillah. She likes to dabble in photo and videography, a sample of which can be found on her personal blog: iMuslim.tv.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Umm Sulaim

    September 22, 2011 at 5:57 AM

    Yesterday, I began plans to enrol in and resume some free online programs. This post is a pleasant coincidence.

    College wasn’t my first taste of freedom; I was free long before that.

    Most students take college as a social theater. They and some lecturers made all sorts of horrible remarks concerning my principle, ‘I know why I’m here,’ until the end of the first year when it became obvious I had the highest GP in the entire year (approximately 2500 students in my year).

    The courses I had very little interest in were those with repeated exam questions; BORING!

    I surrounded myself with trustworthy colleagues (Muslims and non-Muslims) who kept me informed of the latest academic information. I, in turn, assisted them with their courses, including courses far removed from mine.

    Interacting with lecturers and Professors in and out of the classroom was a hallmark of my college life; some of them are still my friends. The downside included a lecturer ignoring me during lectures saying anyone who has additional comments to make should come to her office. I never did; interaction starts first IN THE CLASSROOM. Some other lecturers misconstrued my visits as an indication of nuptial interest and repeatedly planned my marriage informing the town without my knowledge and approval. I played along behaving as if I was unaware of the plans until I had had enough. I crushed the party.

    I don’t do clubs. They are a very easy way to make collective enemies and for someone like me who naturally makes more enemies than friends, I keep clear of any membership/ regular attendance of societies until I know who’s running the show. I am more of a freelancer; I belong to everyone.

    Always learning,
    Umm Sulaim

    • Avatar

      Umm ibraheem

      September 22, 2011 at 4:26 PM

      I am confused by what your comment is supposed to mean….it’s all very abstract? Which country did you attend university?

      • Avatar

        Umm Sulaim

        September 22, 2011 at 4:34 PM

        Which part of my comment is confusing so I can explain?

        My words are in response to the article.

  2. Avatar

    Yasmin

    September 22, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    Thanks for these great reminders! My only advice is to try your hardest and when it comes time to take the exams have Tawakul in Allah (swt). I always like to repeat surah Fatihah once and Surah Ikhlas three times before taking any exam!

    • Avatar

      umm abdullah

      September 24, 2011 at 8:31 PM

      Assalamualaikum

      I agree about placing our trust in Allah. But reciting surah fatihah and surah ikhlaas,… you might have to ask a trustworthy scholar about that. It’s better to make a general dua before your exam. Allahu ‘Alam.

  3. Avatar

    Khattaab

    September 22, 2011 at 10:31 PM

    Anyone have any study tips, how to ace the course?

    Not pass or decent grades- actual top marks?

    • Avatar

      mimi

      September 28, 2011 at 11:18 AM

      Assalamu’alaikum,

      Some tips based on my undergrad years:

      Find people who have already taken your courses and ask if you can borrow their course notes, assignments (e.g., labs for science students), and written tests/midterm exams. It doesn’t mean you study any less (or copy their work: so wrong!) but having this resource really helps to understand expectations and the amount of effort you’ll need to put in.

      If a prayer time starts and finishes within a lecture, you can do this: place a small MP3 recorder on your desk to record the part of the lecture you’ll miss, and then leave to pray.

      I did well in almost every course I went to see the professor outside of class time. You get an idea of what they expect, what material is most important to study, etc. Visiting the professor with one or more fellow students is best. Think of your Profs as your teachers and remember the amount of respect our religion requires us to give to our teachers (when you do that it’s not so hard to talk to them, whether M or F)

      I formed many ‘acquaintances’ in uni and just a few lasting friends (1 or 2 in 4 years). You don’t have to become close friends with every person you meet- just be helpful, friendly, and respectful to the students you work and collaborate with.

  4. Avatar

    Khattaab

    September 22, 2011 at 11:22 PM

    Also, what kind of sleeping patterns should Muslim students have? Do/should/could they pray in jama-a. What about for fajr? Is qiyaam in the picture?
    In the article da’wah was mentioned.. Is dawah an obligation?
    To what extent should a Muslim student take a non-Muslims as awliyaa? I mean how close can one get when the other desires you to party, yet you desire for them jannah?
    How can one pray dhuhr/asr? Do they conflict with lecture times?
    If a male student has a female teacher, what kind of advice regarding lowering the gaze.. I mean I have no problem staring at the blackboard/PowerPoint.. But any advice about this issue?

    Quite many questions I know, but if anone has any advise about any of them it’d be greatly appreciated.

    Assalamu alaykum.

    There is another thing.. What is the greatest benefit in university? Something you weren’t expecting, some kind of freedom, the change in atmosphere which allowed you to grow in..

  5. Avatar

    Umm Sulaim

    September 23, 2011 at 5:07 AM

    Wa alaykumus-Salam waRahmatuLlah waBarakatuH

    From personal experience, to ace your courses
    – Make the library your friend; look up relevant books to help improve understanding of your courses.

    – As soon as you have a free time, read through the day’s lectures and if it includes maths, attempt to solve the day’s examples without looking at your notes. If you get stuck, check your notes and NOTE WHY AND WHERE YOU MADE A MISTAKE. Doing that will help you avoid a similar mistake in the exam hall!

    – Aim for the top mark. Do not listen to anyone telling you a B grade is ok. If you do get a B, it is ok, but aim higher.

    – Sleep and wake up at a time convenient for you; this depends on how tired you feel. Sleep less during the week and make it up on weekends.

    – Keep in touch with your colleagues and practise past questions to have an idea of how questions are set and also, should the lecturer be one of those who repeat questions.

    Muslim women do not have the issue of Jama’ah, so you attend Jama’ah whenever possible. The first thing to note is your lecture hours and say your prayers at its earliest time if necessary. For instance, if you have a lecture from 1pm to 3pm, check the time the sun crosses its meridian in your area and pray before attending lectures. You might want to get in touch with other Muslim men to fulfill Jama’ah.

    Say Qiyam before sitting down to read. You might shorten Qiyam depending on your usual length.

    I always say the best form of Da’wah is ones conduct. Verbal Da’wah comes in when the occasion allows.

    If you make your objective to study well known to your colleagues (Muslims and non-Muslims) and stick to it, I doubt anyone will insist on pulling you into unhealthy social activities. They will criticise you, but won’t compel you to join them.

    If you participate/ respond to the lecturer’s questions politely and promptly, I do not expect they will be so concerned about eye contact. Some will of course make an issue out of it. Whether they get you to gaze at them or for the woman, remove your niqab so they can gaze at you depends on you and your participation/ grades.

    The greatest benefit in university is rediscovering oneself and moving ones cognitive ability to an upper level.

    Umm Sulaim

  6. Avatar

    Umm Sulaim

    September 23, 2011 at 5:08 AM

    Wa alaykumus-Salam waRahmatuLlah waBarakatuH

    Khattab, from personal experience, to ace your courses
    – Make the library your friend; look up relevant books to help improve understanding of your courses.

    – As soon as you have a free time, read through the day’s lectures and if it includes maths, attempt to solve the day’s examples without looking at your notes. If you get stuck, check your notes and NOTE WHY AND WHERE YOU MADE A MISTAKE. Doing that will help you avoid a similar mistake in the exam hall!

    – Aim for the top mark. Do not listen to anyone telling you a B grade is ok. If you do get a B, it is ok, but aim higher.

    – Sleep and wake up at a time convenient for you; this depends on how tired you feel. Sleep less during the week and make it up on weekends.

    – Keep in touch with your colleagues and practise past questions to have an idea of how questions are set and also, should the lecturer be one of those who repeat questions.

    Muslim women do not have the issue of Jama’ah, so you attend Jama’ah whenever possible. The first thing to note is your lecture hours and say your prayers at its earliest time if necessary. For instance, if you have a lecture from 1pm to 3pm, check the time the sun crosses its meridian in your area and pray before attending lectures. You might want to get in touch with other Muslim men to fulfill Jama’ah.

    Say Qiyam before sitting down to read. You might shorten Qiyam depending on your usual length.

    I always say the best form of Da’wah is ones conduct. Verbal Da’wah comes in when the occasion allows.

    If you make your objective to study well known to your colleagues (Muslims and non-Muslims) and stick to it, I doubt anyone will insist on pulling you into unhealthy social activities. They will criticise you, but won’t compel you to join them.

    If you participate/ respond to the lecturer’s questions politely and promptly, I do not expect they will be so concerned about eye contact. Some will of course make an issue out of it. Whether they get you to gaze at them or for the woman, remove your niqab so they can gaze at you depends on you and your participation/ grades.

    The greatest benefit in university is rediscovering oneself and moving ones cognitive ability to an upper level.

    Umm Sulaim

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#Current Affairs

This Eid And Beyond Boycott Goods Made With Enslaved Labor Of Uyghurs Even If It Is Your Favorite Brand

Bidding farewell to Ramadan, celebrating Eid?

Well, the Muslims of East Turkestan under Chinese occupation had neither Ramadan nor will they have Eid…

Not only that, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) run government has transferred Uyghurs and other ethnic minority citizens from East Turkestan to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Nike, Gap, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Carters and others. Read Uyghurs for Sale for more information

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CCP is also pressuring governments across the world to extradite Uyghurs back to occupied East Turkestan.

Here is what you can do to help them:

Action Items

  1. Keep making dua for the oppressed of East Turkistan and the world.
  2. Boycott Chinese products! Do not be complicit in slave labour. Start with focusing on the companies in the graphic. Share it with #SewnWithtTears, #StopChina, #BoycottChina. Write to them and demand that they do better.
  3. Raise awareness on the plight of Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause. Learn more at SaveUighur.org
  4. Work towards reducing your country’s economic dependence on China.
  5. Build alliances with all people of conscience to demand a cessation of China’s oppression of all faith groups, be it Muslim Uyghur, Hui; Chinese Christian; or Tibetan Buddhist.
  6. Encourage and promote fairer trade and commerce with Muslims and others rather than China.
  7. Inquire about Uyghur diaspora members in your area. Organize to help out orphans, widows, and students.
  8. Pressure governments to provide legal protection to Uyghur refugees-exiles by granting either citizenship or refugee/asylee status. Stop the “extradition/repatriation” of Uyghurs to China!
  9. Get your universities/endowments to divest from China. Raise awareness about Chinese espionage and hired guns in academia. Demand academic and financial support for Uyghur scholars and students. Request more academic attention and funds for Central Asian, Uyghur, Turkistani studies. 

Read a greater discussion of action items in A Response to Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s Comments on the Uyghurs, which also contains a greater discussion on East Turkistan’s history and its current situation. A condensed Arabic version of the article can be found here

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 9: A Good Word

Now that we have learnt about the life of this world, let’s talk about a good word.

I want you all to close your eyes and think of a beautiful tree. 

Question: Who can tell me what their tree looks like? Is the tree big and strong? Does it have lots of branches and leaves? Does it have fruit?

Now, I want you to think of a time when someone said something really nice to you.

Question:  What are some of the nice statements you remember people telling you?

Question: How did those statements make you feel?

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Yes, they fill us up with a warm feeling. We may have felt proud of ourselves and we may have felt loved. Do you know that Allah [wt] describes a good word to a good tree? 

In Surah Ibrahim, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ ضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا كَلِمَةً طَيِّبَةً كَشَجَرَةٍ طَيِّبَةٍ أَصْلُهَا ثَابِتٌ وَفَرْعُهَا فِي السَّمَاءِ 

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تُؤْتِي أُكُلَهَا كُلَّ حِينٍ بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهَا ۗ وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ 

Have you not considered how Allah presents an example, [making] a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches [high] in the sky? [Surah Ibrahim; 24]

It produces its fruit all the time, by permission of its Lord. And Allah presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded. [Surah Ibrahim; 25]

Question: Now, I want you to think of a time when someone said something mean to you. How did that make you feel?

It’s not fun to remember the mean stuff right? Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) continues in Surah Ibrahim and says:

وَمَثَلُ كَلِمَةٍ خَبِيثَةٍ كَشَجَرَةٍ خَبِيثَةٍ اجْتُثَّتْ مِن فَوْقِ الْأَرْضِ مَا لَهَا مِن قَرَارٍ

And the example of a bad word is like a bad tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, not having any stability. [Surah Ibrahim; 26] 

Question: What do you think are good words we can use to build strong, firmly rooted trees?

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 8: The Life of This World

Now that we have learnt about qalbun saleem, let’s talk about the life of this world.

Question: Do you know that there is an ayah in the Qur’an that takes us through all the stages of life and tells us what we find to be the most important aspect based on our age?

This ayah is found in the chapter named Al-Hadeed. 

Question: Does anyone know what Hadeed means? 

Yes! It means iron! The verse in Surah al-Hadeed starts by saying:

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اعْلَمُوا أَنَّمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ 

“Know that the life of this world is play and amusement.”

Question: When you were really, really young, what was something that was important to you?

Yes, playing! You would use your imagination, play with your toys, and build legos. That is what  لَعِبٌ la’bun means. Then you got a bit older and you wanted to hear stories and be entertained. 

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Question: Can you tell me in what other ways you’re entertained? (Examples can include watching TV, reading books, etc)

Yes! This is what is meant by  لَهْوٌ l(ahwun). Then we get a bit older and our goals change. The ayah continues by saying, وَزِينَةٌ وَتَفَاخُرٌ بَيْنَكُمْ (wa zeenatun wa tafakhirun baynakum). All of a sudden, you become a tween and a teenager, and you really care about your looks. You want to dress in the nicest clothing and look beautiful. This is zeena

Then you get even older and you enter college. You compete with your classmates and show off your knowledge and skills to impress future employees. This is tafaakhirun baynakum , i.e. boasting with one another. 

Then what usually happens after college? Work, marriage, and children! The ayah continues by saying, وَتَكَاثُرٌ فِي الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَوْلَادِ (wa takathur fil amwaali wal-awlaad), i.e. and competition in increasing wealth and children.

As parents, we try to give you the best life and education, and we work hard to provide for you. But, we always have to remember that it won’t be permanent, right? 

Question: We will be so happy, like farmers watching our seeds grow into beautiful plants, but what happens in the fall when it’s no longer sunny and becomes windy and cold? 

Yes, the plants turn yellow. Remember that toy you used to love playing with as a really little kid? Is it as interesting to you anymore? Remember that TV show you could not stop watching? You even memorized all the lines in it. Do you remember the title? Are you interested in something else now?

This is the example of our whole life. Once we get something we once were so excited to have, we realize that after some time has passed, that it has “turned yellow” to us. 

Question: What do you think that means?

Yes! It’s not as interesting as it once was. So knowing that this is going to happen, how can we make sure to not get distracted by the bright and shiny and stay focused on Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)?

We’re in luck, because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gives us the answer! Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

 “سَابِقُوا إِلَىٰ مَغْفِرَةٍ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَجَنَّةٍ 

Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and Jannah! 

Question: How do you think we can race towards Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)?

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