I didn’t say hello. I didn’t say salaam. I didn’t ask for a name. Nor did I say mine. I just walked straight up to someone who I had never seen before and asked for a phone number. This was the first thing that I did on my very first day of university.
I know what you’re thinking: ‘Astaghfirullah brother Abid! This isn’t the way to deal with sisters!’
It isn’t. Except he wasn’t a sister, though he smelled too good to be a brother. Standing at 5-foot-10, with a roughly two-foot-long beard, that was as luscious as a lion’s mane and as glorious as the sun’s rays, I had approached him determined to be his friend. Why the terminator-like focus on him you ask? Well, it all started the night before. I had all these fears and concerns about starting university- the fact that I didn’t know anyone, that I had no idea what to do whilst I was there, etc.- and I expressed them to my older siblings. Their response was, “Find a good brother and the rest will fall into place.” And because the easiest way to identify a brother is by the bountiful facial hair on his chin, or at least according to what I had thought at the time, I took my brothers’ words to heart and began my epic journey to find anyone with a beard. He, who won’t be named as he may never speak to me again, was the first one my gaze fell upon. So rather than waste time with introductions, I just asked him for his contact details. As expected, everyone around him laughed.
However, to my shock, he didn’t laugh. He gave me his number and asked for mine. Five years later, he’s not only one of my dearest friends but one of the many people who helped make everything else in my life fall into place. I am truly thankful for knowing him and for the advice that my siblings gave me. It is in this spirit that I share a few words of advice for those brothers and sisters who will soon be starting their first year at university.
1) Recognize what university is and what it isn’t.
The word university is thought to originate from both its literal meaning in Latin, universitas which is “the whole” or “a totality” and its formal usage in the Latin title, universitas magistrorum et scholarium or “community of teachers and scholars”. It is through these two meanings that we can begin to appreciate the purpose of a university. It is a community where students strive to bring the best out of each other and mature into scholars under the guidance of experienced teachers and masters of their trade, their growth being organic and taking place in a holistic fashion- intellectually, emotionally, morally and spiritually.
I understand that people want to have fun as well, and they should, but try to keep the above mentioned purpose of being at university at the forefront of your mind at all times, so that you can make the most of your investment into higher education and truly appreciate knowledge.
Through my many years at university, I’ve realised that knowledge, whether it’s medicine or media studies, is not only a key that opens many doors in this life, but when approached with the right intention and utilised in the right manner, is a means to please God, know Him, and can even be the sole reason for entering the everlasting gardens in the hereafter. As God says in the Qur’an, “Say, ‘Are those equal? Those who know and those who do not know?” (39:9).
So don’t let movies fool you. University is all about finding your field of speciality, mastering it, and mastering yourself so that you are able to truly benefit others with the knowledge you obtain. Do that, for His sake only, and you will reap the rewards manifold, in this life and in the life to come, in sha Allaah.
2) Work on yourself more than you work to better the world around you.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking anyone to be perfect before they try to help other people with the knowledge that they accrue. In the 3rd chapter of the Qur’an, God says, “You (the Ummah) were brought out for the benefit of humanity,” and in a famous narration, the Prophet (saw) informed us that “the best of people are those that bring the most benefit to the rest of mankind.” Even Imam Al-Shafi’i said, “Knowledge is not what is memorized, but knowledge is what benefits.” When bringing benefit to others, you must be sure to spend equal time bringing benefit to yourself by acting upon knowledge. Not only will this prevent you from sharing the fate of a candle, which gives light to everyone else but only burns itself in the end, but it ensures that the fuel by which you’re empowering the lives of others is continuously replenished and that your efforts are infused with God’s blessing, assistance, and reward at all times.
Working on one’s self can sound a bit vague. Working on one’s self does not mean just wanting to be better – it entails taking a serious, structured approach towards personal betterment. I’m not saying you must stand on a skyscraper every night brooding over Gotham City and shouting at the people below about wearing hockey pads, but as the law of entropy dictates, if a system is left to its own workings, without any external influences, it tends towards chaos. Likewise, if we don’t have structure in our lives whereby we are merely hoping to gain something out of nothing (an almost atheistic mentality to have), then our lives will naturally slip into a state of disarray and our result will be anything but success – except if God wills otherwise. As God says, “The one who purifies his soul succeeds and the one who corrupts it fails” (91:9-10).
3) Take practical steps in the right direction.
- Find good teachers. To paraphrase Maulana Rumi, a journey that should take a day might end up taking a hundred years if you don’t have a guide. This applies just as much to our academics as it does to our personal development. Whether it’s a professor who will mentor you in an area of interest, a local scholar who will teach you the Qur’an or personal development, or an upperclassman who will take you under their wing and make sure you stay focused at university, find them, squeeze all the wisdom out of them and make du’a for them for helping keep you on the straight path.
- Streamline your daily routine. Imam Malik was once asked, “What do you say about seeking knowledge?” He replied, “It is good and excellent, but look at what you are obliged to do from the morning to evening, and hold to this.” By fixing our daily routine, we actually end up fixing our entire lives. It is no wonder then that Imam Hasan Al-Basri said: “This world is three days – as for yesterday, it has vanished along with all that was in it. As for tomorrow, you may never see it. As for today, it is yours, so work on it.” So stay ahead of the curve by allocating a specific time of your day to fulfilling the many responsibilities (be it towards family, friends, studies or otherwise) that you have and plan things in advance so that you are being proactive as opposed to reacting to things as they rear their ugly heads.
- Study and memorize the Qur’an and learn Arabic. For any Muslim student aspiring to draw nearer to God, they must keep these tasks at the forefront of their minds at all times. It’s all too common however to see students at university debating secondary issues that they are neither qualified nor mature enough to discuss, be it the differences between different sects within Islam or the specific rulings in Islamic jurisprudence. The Quran is the foundation upon which all else is built and the key to which you will be able to understand other aspects of Islam. Keep first things first and never, ever get caught up in an argument about whether it’s “halal to eat penguins” as by doing so, not only will you find that your faith weakens, but also, you may very well begin to question your existence in the first place.
- Find good friends and keep them, be professional with everyone else and don’t be afraid of loneliness. There’s a lot of information out there about the importance of having good friends. It’s a topic to discuss in a bit more detail in a future article, inshaAllah, but for now, the following couplets from Ali (r) should suffice:
Verily, your true brother is he who is really with you,
Who will harm himself in order to benefit you,
And who, when the troubles of time break you,
Will shatter himself to pieces in order to gather you together.
The list above is by no means exhaustive. University can, understandably, seem like a daunting experience for many students, almost like entering the darkness of the unknown. There may be times during your stay that you may feel that “it’s just too much to handle”. Know, however, that “God does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…” (2:286) and that, as Imam Ibn Ata Illah Al-Iskandiriyyah said, “Whoever illuminated their beginning, illuminated their ending.” Illuminate your first year by striving to have sincerity and achieve excellence) in all that you do and you’ll set a precedent for success and growth in your coming years, inshaAllah.
May God make your years at university a witness for you on the Day of Judgement and a means by which you earn His forgiveness, mercy, and everlasting pleasure. May He also enable you to wake up on time for your lectures, protect you from dodgy takeaways, turn up to the right exam when it comes to your end of year exams, and shower you with patience when you inevitably get a 100 missed calls and voicemails from your parents after you were five minutes late in calling them the other day. May He also elevate your parents for putting up with you.