The time has come. Your possessions packed tightly into boxes and suitcases. Your parents with the constant expression of worry plastered on their faces. Your friends meeting for ‘the last supper’ type meals. You are ready, although you may feel anxiety or worry, do not doubt that you are ready. Your university life has begun. Welcome to freshers week!
Before you even arrive at university you will have been bombarded with all the horror stories, exciting opportunities and tips for survival. This initial verbal starter-pack is full of paradoxes. Although it is important to utilize the good advice your family and graduate friends are imposing on you, the individuality of university life must not be overlooked. Every single student, regardless of factors of identity, social circles or academic ability, will experience a different journey, diverse encounters and perceive every aspect of university life idiosyncratically. What you do have in common, however, with many students both homegrown and international, is that you are Muslim.
The strong Muslim support systems, whether you have been blessed to experience them at home, or never had exposure to the wider ummah are in effect at all major universities in the UK. Not only can you harness the likeness of your Muslim colleagues, but you can appreciate the intersectionality of many other Muslim students. You will be exposed to possibly the widest variety of human beings that you have ever had the opportunity to meet, you must bask in this ambiance. For what you have to offer to this community is unique, much like every other student, the opportunity to express your individuality, to unite on the principles of diversity and tolerance and to celebrate the variety of cultures that embody Islam. This form of exposure is a rare and beautiful phenomena.
On the polar end of the spectrum comes exposure to those who may have had no previous contact with Muslims. University brings diverse strands of human life that have never unified in one institution before, with many of the students alienated from Muslims, either unintentionally or willfully. Considering the current climate both nationally and globally, it is unfortunate that this strand of the student body may only seek exposure to the Muslim community through the media.
We are all aware that the media seeks comfort in stereotyping and alienating certain minority communities, and it is expected that Muslims must condemn acts of terror and vouch for the peace and tolerance Islam promotes. Without having to constantly prove yourself as a model member of society, you as Muslim students, can express your Islamic identity in the absence of such reactionary narrative.
As mentioned, many students at your new universities may have never had direct contact with a Muslim. Use this as an opportunity to assert a more practical example of your peaceful place in productive civil society. For those of you who are tired of ‘preaching’, instead of ‘practising what you preach’, why not try to just practise the traits of an all round good human being, an asset to society and an innovative, understanding and empathetic individual.
Rather than simply just talking about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), why not try and live like him. By taking taking examples from his life and putting them into practise, you too can be a beacon of peace in a world where conflict appears strife and never-ending. Only we obtain the right to determine what we are and are not, so enter into this new chapter of your life by owning the narrative and being confident in expressing who you are. Instead of talking of peace, live it. Instead of defending Islam, defend humanity, for the latter is itself the embodiment of Islam.
Through this proactive lens, lets exhibit the humanity of Islam. Muslim is not simply the box we tick when enrolling, or the five prayers, hijab and halal food, it is the embodiment of humanity in a world where all forms of benevolence seem diminished. Let us not simply look Muslim, speak Muslim or eat Muslim, let us act Muslim through the authentic, inspiring and motivating life of our beloved Prophet. Let us be more like him, for actions are greater than words and true Islam knows no bounds.
By Munibah Qureshi
Policy & Social Impact Researcher