Written by Anonymous.
They tell you that the first year of college life will be nothing short of a miracle. The beginning of a new life and a new you – free to be whoever you want and go wherever you want (now that your parents are not around). You are under the impression that with such freedom and lack of restriction, you will reach the stars and achieve your dreams. The sky is the limit of course.
It took only a few months into college to change me and this outlook of mine. I have realized that this newfound freedom that I once craved in high-school had the potential to lead me down a dangerous path of chaos and confusion — it was all too much for me. There were so many roads leading to the person I wanted to be – but what really was that person?
As soon as I entered college, I was free to do whatever I wanted and be whoever I wanted. I was always the good kid who obeyed the rules set forth by my parents and thus respected them greatly, but this recent independence I now had access to excited me. It was nothing new to most of my friends – even Muslims – who thought it was strange of me to be paranoid over going out to Ihop in the middle of the night.
The very first things that a normal college student might set upon doing if they had not already done so is: a. attend a party; b. drink alcohol; and, c. have sex for the very first time. My experiences didn’t fall into any of these categories.
For this Muslim Girl, the struggles were vastly different.
1. Opposite-Gender “Friendships” within the MSA
When I first arrived on campus, I began to hang out with the people in my dorm and it seemed as though we clicked perfectly. We took trips into the city and had a great time — but things started to go south when I was almost pressured into tagging along with them to a sorority party. When they came back completely drunk that night, I knew that these weren’t the people I could spend the rest of my four years with without violating everything I stood for.
In an attempt to keep away from the obviously prohibited things, but have fun at the same time, I joined the Muslim Student Association at my college – believing that this environment would help me interact with people who would help me better my deen.
The more I got to know the different personalities within the MSA, the more confused I became. They were different shades of Muslims – some who didn’t drink but found it okay to mingle with the opposite sex till 3 A.M. They were Muslims who smoked weed, but showed up at the mosque almost every week. They were sisters and brothers who had secret boyfriends/girlfriends and were on the board of the MSA. But there were also Muslims who were semi-strict in their practicing and hoped to strengthen their knowledge in faith.
My reason for writing this post is not to criticize or judge the kind of Muslim that people choose to be, but to disclose how important it is to be aware of what kind of Muslim you are and what it means for the development of your character and the persona you wish to embody.
One of my first experiences with the matter began with a seemingly innocent friendship with a boy in the MSA (pretty obvious, yea?) It started off while working with one another on a couple of homework assignments. One thing led to another and we began to study in the company of one another. We had long conversations regarding our faith and sometimes on our lives, hopes, and dreams. But somehow, for me, this did not feel right at all.
The red flags in this “friendship” hit when this Muslim brother of mine warned me to stay away from others brothers in the MSA who he believed were not good for me. Soon enough, he became upset that he had not seen me in a while and began to ask if I had other Muslim guy friends. He was supposedly hurt that I wasn’t giving him all of my time and assumed he was being replaced by someone else, when in fact I had just become busier in my work. The nature of this friendship was a possessive one – something that just cannot be done in the name of being a good “brother” in Islam.
As I later found out, this brother thought it okay to message girls for hours on end that he had only met once or twice.
I’ve come to the conclusion after many such encounters that some Muslim men believe they have a sort of influence or control over Muslim Women that Non-Muslim Men do not possess. All of a sudden, the boundaries set by Allah (SWT) between a man and a woman have disappeared just because he’s a “Muslim” boy. He makes his move and casually puts his hand on your shoulder because in his mind he actually has a chance with you.
You may stand out from the Muslim crowd when you stand up for yourself and say “no.” You may stand out when you refuse to shake hands with the opposite gender or refuse to be alone in a room with another guy. You may be judged by those you deemed your friends for it all. But in the end, remember:
“Indeed the believers… Who sincerely accept faith in Allah and the Last Day and do good deeds – their reward is with their Lord; and there shall be no fear upon them nor shall they grieve.” [2:62]
If you know that you are moving on the right path, there should be no fear of criticism or rejection. You will only be a better person for it all. It sets a clear distinction between you and the rest of the crowd.
Now it doesn’t matter to me whether or not a person is Muslim. I know that as long as I felt comfortable with my group of friends who are supportive of me & my religion and share my values, there is nothing I couldn’t do.
2. Why Do I Practice Islam?
Before coming to college, I would pray because I knew my parents would come into my room and ask me if I had done my salah. With the exception of having the internal drive to do Ibadah during Ramadan, most of my acts of worship were done out of obligation and fear of disrespecting my parents (and Allah of course). I knew it was a sin to miss a prayer so I tried my best not to do so.
Now that I was in college, there was no one around to check up on me. None of my Muslim friends were getting up from their studies or conversations to catch the Asr Salah before time was up – so at first I too forgot about my obligations as a Muslim, and was not overly concerned or bothered in being steadfast with my prayers. But as time passed and I began to dwell on the fact. I felt guilty for not having enough belief and love for Allah to do the one thing he has asked me to do. Allah alone had given me all the blessings of this world and accepted all my duas. Even if my parents were not there to monitor me, Allah was. And He was indeed watching how I would respond and thank his grace and good favor.
With these new reflections coupled with my internal struggle of trying to understand the kind of Muslim I wanted to be, I resumed my timely prayers and even began to make periodic trips to the mosque on campus to pray in Jamaat (congregation). I started to read the translation of the Quran, revise my Surahs, and fall in love with the Prophet’s life. I found sisters with similar struggles to mine and am determined to keep friendships that only uplift and motivate me to be a better individual.
I reflected on all my sources of happiness in this world and concurrently began to appreciate my religion. For the first time in my life, the events in my day were scheduled around my prayers. I made sure to carve out time to sustain the spiritual and religious part of my inner self. I questioned why I followed certain practices and read books on giving dawah to quell those very concerns. With Trump as our President-elect, I knew I had to be well versed in the practices of Islam in order to answer any one who questions its goodness and virtue.
An obvious consequence of trying to build these habits led to the nagging question: what do I want from my college education and who do I want to be before I die and return back to my lord?
3. What Were My Ambitions?
The first semester of college had given me plenty of free time — and with that came a lot of time for self reflection. All my life, I had been working toward getting into a great college and playing my part in making a difference in the lives of others. Being in a place filled with smart and brilliant people who also wanted to change the world – in my mind – would propel me to work harder and achieve.
These past few months have made me realize how wrong I was. Every piece of good and self-satisfying work takes self-initiative — it would never be taught or handed out even at the greatest of institutions. All the opportunities in this world can be a little overwhelming for a freshman who might not know what exactly she/he is looking for. It is thus extremely important to have mentors to guide you along the way and for you to take the initiative to set clear objectives/goals for yourself every month on paper and every day mentally. I still may not know what I want to do in my life, but I now know the practicality of my options and a plan to get to them.
The first semester of college was tough. For the first time in my life, I was forced to make decisions without the consultation of my parents. I was tested on how strong my principles were and if I really and truly believed in them. These three lessons will definitively carry me through the rest of college — and I hope that Allah guides me to keep my good habits and forgives me for all the mistakes I might have made. Because only with the unveiling of these deficiencies and flaws will I become stronger.
Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!