How University Made Me a Better Muslim

Recently, I’ve received quite a few remarks, questions about homeschooling my teenagers. I’ve had to field questions that has the assumption that I am the kind of Muslim who will not allow her kids to go to college or mingle with the non Muslims. What is exasperating is that I have talked to this particular person before about this, and she is supposedly aware that I’ve sent my daughter to campus to audit some classes, for two semesters. She probably forgot that. So I had to go over it again with her until I realized that she probably forgot, and by then I was getting really exasperated. There are people who will assume the strangest things just from looking at me or us, and I get questions like,

“So how long have you been driving?”

and I replied,

“Hmm….since I was 17.”

and received this response,

“Oh??” with a lift of the eyebrows and a very surprised expression, and it makes me think,

What did she think? Why did she ask that question?

When I told hubs, he said, “Maybe she’s just trying to be friendly.”

Haha. Umm…sure.

It’s really amazing how we judge each other by how we look, without taking the time nor effort to get to know each other more.

Then again, I guess I am kind of ‘mysterious’. I guess I keep surprising people in different ways, behaving the opposite way of how I’m supposed to behave by how I look.

We’re a minority here in terms of what we do, and that is not among the non Muslims, but among the Muslims, interestingly. In different ways. So in a way, I guess we’re learning to deal with Muslims and non Muslims. In different ways. Different challenges. In a city where we are a minority both among the non Muslims and among the Muslims. Double whammy.

I still have to learn to take it as a blessed challenge. There are just some days where I feel so frustrated and exasperated by the Muslims. Not so much the non Muslims. May Allah make me patient in this. Ameen.

I love this article, written by a sister I know, who I think has accomplished a lot at a young age. She is a graduate of Al Huda Institute, went to Egypt to study Arabic seriously for a few years, came back and is now in college. Some people start with seriously learning the religion first and making that foundation really strong, but I think most of us went the other way :- we start with studying the secular things first because that is the mainstream way, and then somehow one way or another, find the religion and rediscover our Islam and start to learn the beauty of it rather than just abiding by its rituals on autopilot. I am of the latter category, and so I appreciate this article. If I could do it over again, I guess I would have liked to learn my religion first, which I actually did, but it was more on rituals than on the spiritual. But then again, different things are good for different people. Allah has carved out our individual paths and based on His wisdom and knowledge, our own path is good for us.

As a parent, I would choose the first category for my children, as I feel that there is a certain lacking in not having a solid solid foundation in the religion as you live out there in the real world. True, those mistakes sometimes are priceless and end up teaching you more of a meaningful lesson. And even with having a solid foundation, making mistakes is sometimes important as part of the learning process. It can even be essential. We’re not perfect, and Allah loves repentance, such that it has a certain status with Him. He loves to forgive, and He loves for us to ask of Him. If we’re perfect, we might get into that feeling that we don’t need Him. So there is merit in making mistakes.

But having a solid religious foundation doesn’t exempt you from making mistakes. You will always make mistakes. The difference is with having a solid religious foundation, is that you have that built in warning light and an existing structure through which you can analyze your mistakes and take the appropriate rectification measures. You are also held to a higher standard though, and are more accountable. In that way, it’s scarier, but like it or not, being ignorant is also not even an option here. They say ignorance is bliss. In this case, it’s not. Being ignorant out of a lackadaisical attitude is not an excuse.

After all, the very first revelation says “READ/RECITE!”

Education is vital for survival. But of course, education has many definitions according to different people. In our case, I would say education entails being knowledgeable about the religion so that you can better your relationship with Allah and as a result, with others, and being knowledgeable about the worldly matters as needed, and beyond, in your own specialty. The key is balance. We are Ummatan WasaTta ( the moderate nation). WasaTa being defined as the central line. So as a nation, and this includes all of us who came after Muhammad saw, we are not to go to extremes. Moderate here needs a definition also. Alas, for once, I’m going to stop going off tangent, and just post the article, which I hope may be of benefit to those who have been raised in a Muslim bubble and feel apprehensive about being out there.

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.

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.

Categories: Al Huda Institute, Homeschooling, Living Islam, Thoughts | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “How University Made Me a Better Muslim

  1. Hello there! This post could not be written any better! Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept preaching about this. I’ll send this article to him. Fairly certain he’s going to have a very good read.
    I appreciate you for sharing!

    • nadiaschooldays

      Thank you for dropping by, commenting and sharing! 🙂

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