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21 Things I Learned at 21


6. Islam is Much More Useful to Practice Outside of Mosques, Weekend Seminars, and Conferences.

6Those are the easy places to be Muslim. The purpose of faith is much more than a ‘feel-good-Friday-sensation.’ It needs to be your safety net for all aspects of your life. It is much more important to have a heart which uses its connection with Allah to help you cope with the calamities of life versus hanging out at a conference just because everyone and their dad is attending it. Start reading the Qur’an more regularly in whatever capacity you can through a regiment. One day you will have children whom you will strive to raise as good Muslims. Get serious about your faith. Stop chasing after ‘celebrity’ speakers/imams simply because they are famous. Find someone you can be consistent with. Find someone who has good character, a strong grasp on their faith, and benefit from their company often. There will possibly come a time where you will question why you are Muslim and the purpose of faith in your life. Write these questions down and go to your teacher/mentor to seek out the answers. If you can’t get them from him/her, then they can definitely help you towards heading in the right direction.

7. Preserve Your Money and Pay Off Debts.

7I remember one year when I lived away from my family I ended up spending about $400-$500 on eating out in one month. Since then I cut it down big time! Learn to eat to live, not live to eat!

Owing someone twenty dollars for an expensive meal, making your tuition/car payments, parking tickets, etc. are all considered debts to me. The longer you let debts carry on, the deeper you dig your hole. If you are in debt, then check out to help organize your finances.

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Always have money on the side that you have earned but don’t touch. It should be there for a rainy day. You never know when things can go wrong, so make sure you are prepared.

8. Forget Bollywood and Hollywood. ‘Love’ Is Not What it seems.

8I have seen enough peers and friends around me go through a divorce after a short marriage or a break up after being engaged for a long period of time. We as young people are in love with wanting to be in love and don’t understand what a relationship entails, what a spouse’s rights are, what the purpose of marriage is, what our own family expects from us, and much more. Not that I know anything about this, but I theorize that ‘true love’ takes time and effort just like anything else in life.  If you have your head on straight by understanding the above, earn your own money, and are in decent standing within your own family, then you can possibly consider getting married. For everyone else, steer clear of an idealized-fantasized-romanticized idea of a relationship.  Take your time and do not rush things. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham aren’t real, so stop trying to live like Shah Rukh Khan.

9. People Who May Despise and Insult You Are Simply Insecure. Those People May Include Your “Friends.”

9As you achieve success in life you will see many people in your life who you were once close with eventually begin to make you look down on yourself. They thrive off of hurting and insulting you. It is good at the same time as haters are a validation that you are doing things right. Do not entertain these types of people with your time and effort. . Keep your composure, let them make a fool of themselves, and then simply proceed with carrying yourself with dignity. The fact is that your success and failure will help you see who your real friends are in life–which leads me to my next point.

10. Surround Yourself With Good People.

10Fundamentally Islam teaches us that you are as your friends are. If you have bad company, you will automatically pick up their traits, actions, train of thought, and more. If you hang around people who are positive, advancing in their religion and career, then you will pick up something from them as well. As the saying goes: ‘tell me who your friends are and   I’ll tell you who you are.’  At the same time do not saturate the amount of people you are close with, rather, have a few close confidants that you keep dear to your heart and learn from.

11. Get Mentors. Yes, More Than One.


This is a picture of Omer Bajwa. He works as the Muslim chaplain at Yale University and is a close friend and mentor of mine. Check him out at

As you near graduation you should start to seek out mentors wherever you can find them to be accessible and helpful to you. It is obvious that a lawyer cannot help you grow as a doctor and a doctor cannot help you grow as a lawyer, so it is very important to have a mentor in each field you are seeking to grow in, whether it be career, religion, physical fitness, or family life. When you have a question regarding your faith, you should automatically know who can nurture you and answer your question in a personal format in your own language. If you are looking to land a good job in the next few months after graduation then you should constantly be talking to your professors to see which of them is the most competent and approachable in helping you grow in your career.

The Qur’an has always favored the concept of إِسْتِخْلَاف (istikhlaaf) in our religion.., passing the baton onto the next people in line. The bigger picture of life is not about a single individual, rather, it is about conveying the good in your life to someone else so they can continue a legacy of building something much greater. A good mentor knows that his success is tied to passing on his own skills and ideas to a protégé who can be trained, grown, and taught with an open mind.

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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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