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21 Things I Learned at 21


Ramadan has always been a time for me to make new resolutions and reflect on the past so that I can grow as a person and transition into the New Year… Hopefully this article will serve as a helpful treatise of advice for those of you who are looking for some traction in your early twenties. When I told Omar Usman that the title of this article is “What I Learned at 21,” he smirked and said, “You learned absolutely nothing.” I nodded my head and agreed, and hence below you will see how I simply compiled what I learned that I don’t know. Enjoy!

1. You Don’t Know Anything and You Are Inexperienced – Accept it.


Our egos do a pretty good job of making us front like we are on top of our game. We rave about our creative ideas and ability to think outside-the-box, but the reality is that most of our ideas and outside-the-box thinking is useless if we haven’t worked a day in our lives. Bachelor’s degrees will simply help you think along a certain wavelength and give you the chance to show others (including your employers) that you are serious about yourself and getting ahead. Learn to work a bunch of random jobs during college to learn skills needed for your profession. Simple things such as learning to talk to people at a help desk, helping someone feel accomplished through tutoring, or working as a waiter will possibly take you a long way. Sometimes we are our own deceivers.

2. Understand Your Priorities as a Muslim.

2There are some things in life which are more important than others; it’s a simple rule of thumb. When you can figure out what your priorities are and give them their due rights,  life will begin to flow very naturally. If waking up in the morning has always proven difficult for you, understand that going to sleep early and praying Fajr on time in the morning takes priority over watching the season finale of Breaking Bad or Burn Notice.  If you are at school the whole week and work at night time and get barely anytime with your family, be sure to set aside a generous amount of time on the weekend to spend time with your parents and siblings instead of spending the weekend at an Islamic weekend seminar. Your religion and family take priority over EVERYTHING else in your life.

3. Work Hard, Study Hard, Play Hard.

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3You better be REALLY good at whatever you want to do in life. Stop beating around the bush and give everything its due measure. When it is time to work, work. Work thoroughly through your tasks and leave no stone unturned. There is no substitute in life for natural hard work. Stop procrastinating with your studies if you are in college. Instead of hanging out in the MSA all week long and then cramming the night before for an exam, legitimately go study the material so you know it. Don’t make excuses, rather, learn for the sake of learning; you will not regret it. Learn to take breaks and have a good time. Don’t over play, but do it enough to get your head straight. Balance is key. Take vacations during the time you have off of school and go refresh yourself. Get away from all the stressful situations of your life and just go recuperate.. Know what you like to do for fun and go do it.

4. Only Fools Take People’s Praise Seriously.


You will become negatively affected in your individual growth once you let the praise from other people settle into your heart. Taking things back to my first point, you will start your failure once you accept you are good to go. Not to mention there are many people out there who will simply praise you out of pity. If you are at that stage, then you better get your head straightened out and realize you have a whole life ahead of you before you get filled with a load of hot air. There is a difference between receiving a compliment, getting motivated after experiencing a low, and being taken for a ride by someone through their praises.


5. Success Starts with Financial Independence.

If you are not making your own halal money and working towards becoming independent of your parents then you are short from a path of success. Stop making excuses and intend to be free from being someone else’s financial burden. You probably will not be able to pay for your own rent initially, but you should be paying for your own gas, food, and other essentials. Help out around the house if you can with bills. Eventually wean yourself away from using anyone else’s money but your own. Again, the key is having the intention and working towards it; it’s a work in progress.

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Nihal Ahmad Khan is currently a student of Islamic Law and Theology at Nadwatul 'Ulama in Lucknow, India. He was born and raised in New Jersey and holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in Business from Montclair State University and a diploma in Arabic from Bayyinah Institute's Dream Program. He began memorizing the Qur’an at Darul Uloom New York and finished at the age of seventeen at the Saut al-Furqan Academy in Teaneck, New Jersey. He went on to lead taraweeh every year since then. Along with his education, Nihal has worked in various capacities in the Muslim community as an assistant Imam, youth director, and a Muslim Chaplain at correctional facilities and social service organizations. Nihal is also an MA candidate in Islamic Studies from the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.



  1. Asif Balouch (@PhilAsify101)

    November 4, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    Excellent post. A good reminder to all those young folks out there and even the older ones.

  2. Mohammad

    November 4, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    Really nice article bro!

    • Nihal Khan

      November 8, 2013 at 5:46 PM

      Thanks Mohammad!

  3. Haleema

    November 4, 2013 at 9:50 PM

    So much relate-able! Amazing post. Jazak’Allah Khayr.

    • Nihal Khan

      November 8, 2013 at 5:46 PM

      Thanks Haleema!

  4. Usamah

    November 5, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    You’ve listed your 18th point as “travel often.” You also mentioned that you took “long trips during breaks.” How do you recommend a 21-year-old (or a 22-year-old such as myself) fund such extensive travel? How do you manage to pay for all the trips you take? It’s not easy for a student (or a recent grad with student loans) to just fly to Dubai during Spring Break.

    • Nihal Khan

      November 8, 2013 at 1:51 AM

      Salam Usamah,

      I usually travel nationally. I go see family and friends usually and try to see places where I’ve never been. Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore, skiing in Pennsylvania are all very affordable trips. If you’re working then putting aside $200-$500 every 4-6 months shouldn’t be too much of a hassle in my opinion.

      International travel is a little tough. I went to Umrah VIA Dubai (shoutout to Waleed Jameel) and basically saw a good amount of the area in 8 hours. It’s all about the resources you have and using them to your max.

      I hope that helps :)

  5. Mel

    November 6, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    I like the Author’s bio, nice…Usamah if you cannot afford to travel socialize with people from many different cultures.Easy to do at the Masjid !!!

  6. Said Hasan

    November 8, 2013 at 8:27 AM

    Beautiful lessons. JazakAllah Khayr for sharing.

  7. Khadija

    November 9, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    Is point #19 an E.T. reference?

    • Nihal Khan

      November 11, 2013 at 7:47 PM

      I don’t think so lol.

  8. Mahmud

    November 10, 2013 at 9:29 PM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    JazzakAllahu khair, this was a good article, especially the first page, and especially the bit about working hard. I really learned my lesson here, inshaa Allah.

    By the way-your a Psych major….how hard could that be? Pshhhhh. Try an engineering major. You have no time for anything but Salah and Study. And making fun of humanities majors with your stressed out Physics/Mathematics/Natural Science buddies.

    Joking, joking.

    • Nihal Khan

      November 11, 2013 at 7:46 PM

      Lol. Try taking the four credit courses which let you into the major. Your brain will be fried!

  9. Farah

    November 11, 2013 at 7:38 PM

    Very nice and well thought out article, mashaAllah. I forwarded it to my 22 year old brother. I definitely feel that everyone learns these lessons at different points in their life and not only at just 21 although the years around 21 are definitely critical. Keep writing!

    • Nihal Khan

      November 11, 2013 at 7:44 PM

      Thanks a lot Farah!

  10. Abdul-Azeez Muhammad

    November 12, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    This article really helped. Jazaakallaah khairan

  11. Salman Hossain

    November 12, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    nice,interesting post brother.keep on bro.we are inspiring.

  12. Harf

    November 13, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    Here is something I learned: don’t listen to what atheists have to say about free will

  13. Halima

    November 20, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    Very glad I stumbled upon this article. It’s a really great piece. I hope I can put this all into action before I hit 21 next year. Thanks for sharing!

  14. DS

    December 1, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    Regards to number 19 – I’ve found this to be a major dilemma in my own life. I dorm in a city right near the city that my parents & family live in so I come home on the weekends, every weekend. However, being at school for 4 days a week, doing nothing but school and not having any time for anything – no personal time, no friends/hangout time, no Islamic events time, and practically no time to do anything that I love doing while I’m in school. So when I go home on the weekend, I have three days of time to split between family, friends, myself, events/camps/classes. I’ve cut back tremendously on events – where I used to go to one every weekend, I now only go at most, 1X/mth. Even though I’ve cut back so much, my family still feels like I spend the majority of the weekend outside of the house and not with family. If my weekend consists of 3 days, I spend 2 of them with family (sometimes all 3 if I have nothing planned for that weekend such as a meeting or event that I’m involved with planning(which is not often) and I have to be at). How much more time of my weekend can I spend with them? I know they miss me, so do I, but it’s literally impossible for me to be able to be everywhere and do everything at the same time to the max. I used to have many weekend out of town meetings for organizations I’m a part of (which meant I didn’t see family for weeks at a time) however, I cut back on that tremendously. This semester, for instance, I went to only one weekend long meeting out-of-town and was still able to spend at least one night with my fam but somehow its still not enough. I know it’s not enough time but given the time that I have to split up everything, it’s all that I really have and the best that I can do it. I don’t know if any of this made sense, I guess I might just be ranting but I really need help because I’m tired of being told/being made to feel that I dont care about family because I do care – it’s just that the circumstances of life/school has put me into this situation and I can’t do anything about it until I graduate. Maybe I’m just giving myself too many excuses and I should give my excuses the black eye but I don’t know. PS – I’m a girl and the oldest child, I’m sure this has a lot to do with it. Help on what I can do to make my family feel like I’m still a part of the family and that I do care and that I’m doing my best to spend time with them?

    • Nihal Khan

      December 7, 2013 at 4:54 PM

      Assalamu ‘Alaikum DS,

      In my opinion you should spend time with your family over anyone. Friends will understand if you guys can’t meet up, but family won’t as it is their right. The same rule with campus events. Once you graduate college you never know where you’ll end up, so make sure to maximize family time.

      Family is one of those things you need to give your 100% to in my opinion. That shows they really matter over everything.

  15. Rasul

    January 31, 2014 at 11:48 AM

    Outstanding article! Keep up the good work

  16. Pingback: » Navigating the College Experience: Nihal’s Narrative

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