Eyes on the Prize

I graduated from a private Islamic school in June 2012. I was a student there since I was in 4th grade. I remember resenting the hijab and the Islamic curriculum, but I grew to appreciate them as the years went on and I got older (and hopefully wiser). When I entered high school, everything I learned was centered around preparation for college, academically and religiously. It was stressed that I was flourishing in a sheltered environment, that the outside world was harsh and a lot more unforgiving, that my Islamic values would have to be iron strong in order for me to weather college.

I thought it was important to write this article because many of our Muslim youth graduate from Islamic schools and come out disillusioned. Alhamdullilah (praise be to Allah), many of my friends graduated before me and gave me ample warning as to what I should expect. I discovered the negatives were few, far and in between, and the positives were overwhelming. And most of the time, getting used to big changes just requires some good, solid advice.

1. Prayer, prayer, prayer

I can’t stress how important this is. Praying five times a day is one of the basic foundations of Islam and, indeed, being a Muslim. First and foremost, it is an act of worship and should be done for the sake of Allah, but there are many added benefits. Taking time from your stressful schedule to pray is never a mistake because it calms the mind and nerves. Plan your schedule around it — don’t plan salah around your schedule. Talk to your professor if you have a conflict with a class, and ask if you can step out at a certain time every day. You’ll find that most, if not all, professors will be friendly and accommodating. I have even heard of a student who missed his Friday class regularly with his professor’s permission in order to pray Jumma (weekly congregational prayers). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that Allah (SWT) said:

Indeed, I Am as My servant presumes Me to be. And I Am with him when he remembers Me, so if he remembers Me to himself, then I remember him to Myself. And if he remembers Me amongst a company, I remember him amongst a company greater than it, and if he draws close to Me a span of a hand, I draw near to him the span of an arm. And if he draws near Me the span of an arm, I draw near him the span of two outstretched arms. And if he takes a step towards Me, I quickly step towards him.
     —[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

2. Hold onto your values

This is self-explanatory. If you went into university with a set of morals, don’t relax them because the status quo says you should. Sometimes it’s not a conscious decision, rather a natural response to being in a certain environment if one is not careful. Take care not to put yourself in positions that you know will not do you any favors.

3. Being steadfast doesn’t mean being closed-minded

Human beings have limited knowledge. We are natural learners. This is not to say go shopping for lenient religious rulings if you want to get out of an Islamic duty — it means that new information may come to light that will cause you to see the world differently. Let it. It will shape you as a person, and if you hold onto Islam while it happens, you will graduate college not just a better person, but more intelligent, aware, and prepared.

4. You will encounter ignorance

…particularly if you wear the headscarf — Muslim women are often targets for ignorance. Rude comment? Misguided tirade about Islam? It would be easy for me to say don’t let it ruffle your feathers — I haven’t been able to accomplish that myself yet. But the best you can do is remain calm and respond with dignity and intelligence. Don’t stoop to the level of someone who willingly degrades you.

This is worst case scenario, and I don’t know anyone personally who this has happened to, but if someone physically attacks you, report it immediately and get help. Do not let it slide. You may just want to forget the incident, but if someone like that is walking around, you won’t be the last, and you have a duty to protect any potential future victims.

5. Do your best, rely on Allah for the rest

You are going to school to learn — don’t waste this valuable resource. Everything else is secondary. Put optimal effort in your studies and Allah will take care of everything else. I often ask myself before exams, “Did I exhaust every single resource in my power?” If the answer is yes, I let myself relax because Allah is just, and doesn’t let hard work go to waste. Besides academics, actively participate in clubs and organizations. Socialize and network! Your connections now may go a long way later.

6. Have fun

…within the boundaries of Islam. I often hear older people say that college was one of the best times of their lives. Try new things. Step out of your comfort zone. Live life! You’ve gotten so far already, and you deserve it.

Insha’Allah (God willing), every Muslim that enters and graduates college will be a beacon of light and leadership not just for their communities, but for society as a whole — and it all stems from having and maintaining good, healthy, Islamic habits.