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How University Made Me a Better Muslim

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Amatullah is a student of the Qur'an and its language. She completed the 2007 Ta'leem program at Al-Huda Institute in Canada and studied Qur'an, Tajwid (science of recitation) and Arabic in Cairo. Through her writings, she hopes to share the practical guidance taught to us by Allah and His Messenger and how to make spirituality an active part of our lives. She has a Bachelors in Social Work and will be completing the Masters program in 2014 inshaAllah. Her experience includes working with immigrant seniors, refugee settlement and accessibility for people with disabilities.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Avatar

    serenity

    August 27, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    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.

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

  3. Avatar

    Richard Prior

    August 27, 2012 at 12:02 PM

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

  4. Avatar

    Hajj packages

    August 28, 2012 at 6:56 AM

    Mash Allah very nice article. Thanks for sharing good informative post in your blog. I like it.
    http://www.hajjpackages.org.uk

  5. Avatar

    CL

    August 28, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    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!

    • Avatar

      Neemrahs

      August 29, 2012 at 4:34 PM

      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.

  6. Avatar

    Meena Malik

    August 28, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    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!

  7. Avatar

    Neemrahs

    August 29, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    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.

  8. Avatar

    Aziza

    August 30, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    This is exactly what I needed to read right now, Alhamdullilah. :)

  9. Avatar

    canadianmuslim

    September 2, 2012 at 2:59 AM

    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!

  10. Pingback: Sept 3, 2012, NEWS « Muslim News Digest

  11. Avatar

    JNisha

    October 19, 2012 at 9:16 PM

    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.

    • Avatar

      A.j

      November 12, 2012 at 8:19 PM

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

  12. Avatar

    Umm Bilal

    December 5, 2012 at 7:35 AM

    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

  13. Avatar

    student of knowledge

    December 13, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    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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#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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#Islam

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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#Islam

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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