College can be difficult for anyone, but it is arguably more so for Muslim college students studying in the U.S. In a Christian-majority country dominated by the religion’s holidays and norms, many Muslim students struggle when separated from their families and religious communities. Despite the isolation one might feel in such an environment, maintaining your religious beliefs and customs in college is not impossible.
One thing most Muslim students struggle with in college is the loss of the religious and cultural community they are used to. Such communities serve as a safe space for many and foster greater spiritual connection with Allah, or God, through religious festivities, group prayers and Islamic studies lessons. Without such support, it may be difficult to maintain spirituality while in college. To combat this, one solution is to build or join a Muslim community within your college campus. Most colleges have a Muslim Student Association (MSA), which often plans events for religious holidays, holds group prayers, hosts guest speakers and organizes Islamic discussions. Getting involved in such organizations is a great way to build a sense of belonging and make friends with people with similar backgrounds. By doing so, you form a network of support and create a new religious community for yourself within your new college environment.
If your university doesn’t already have a Muslim student organization, consider starting one. Reach out to other Muslim students and try bringing them together, perhaps for a Friday group prayer, or Jumu’ah prayer. You may then pose the idea of starting an MSA, and if you all work together, that could become a reality. Even if starting or joining an MSA isn’t an option for you, all hope is not lost. Try looking for mosques or religious centers near your college campus and make an effort to go there regularly, even if only for Friday prayers. If you stay consistent in your efforts, not only will you maintain a spiritual connection, but you will also likely acquaint yourself with other regulars and create your own religious network. Your college campus may also have a prayer area, where you can meet other Muslim students if you visit it frequently.
Another way to meet other Muslims on or near your campus is to eat out at restaurants that offer halal food. Get a few friends together (Muslim or otherwise) and spend lunch at a halal restaurant on or near campus. Try getting to know other customers if you’re comfortable, and chances are you’ll meet other Muslims living in the area. By trying these techniques to connect with other Muslims in your new home, you can start building your own religious community similar to that of your hometown.
Make Time for Spirituality
It’s no secret that college students are extremely busy. From attending lectures, going to student organization meetings, studying and even working, their days are packed. Thus, it can be really easy for a student to drop habits they developed while living at home. The same applies for Muslim students. Muslims must pray five times a day at specific prayer times, during which they must be in a clean, quiet and private area to pray to Allah. Many Muslim students find it difficult to keep up with prayers while in college since they no longer live in a Muslim household with constant reminders to pray or even the opportunity to participate in group prayer. Thus, it’s important for Muslim college students to prioritize these five prayers in their daily schedule.
One idea is to make time for each prayer in your schedule, just as you would a class lecture or study session. You can also set alarms or reminders on your phone to alert you when it’s time to pray. By doing so, you can maintain a strong relationship with Allah, which will ultimately help with spiritual, mental and even physical well-being.
Another way to maintain your connection with Allah and Islam is to incorporate spirituality into every aspect of your life. Make duaa, or supplication, to Allah before tests, exams or even studying, asking Him for guidance and motivation in your studies. Say the appropriate duaas before and after eating: “Bismillah” (In the name of Allah) to recognize His blessings upon you, and “Alhamdulillah” (All praise to Allah) to thank Him for your meal. Try designating a time every day to read the Quran, which can help you stay in touch with your spirituality. This writer recommends doing so at night, as it can help cleanse your soul of the day’s stress and protect you from any evil before going to sleep.
You can also practice new Surahs (chapters) you learn during your daily prayers, helping you to memorize them for whenever you don’t have a Quran on hand. By incorporating Islam into your daily life as much as possible, you’ll feel less isolated in your new environment and will develop spiritual strength and peace of mind.
Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Up for Yourself
Because American culture is predominantly Christian-oriented, many social norms in American society may not be compatible with Islamic beliefs. This may make accommodations for Muslim students difficult. Thus, it’s necessary for Muslim students to speak up for themselves in order to get accommodations based on their religion. For example, some Muslim students find that college housing does not cater to their beliefs and Islamic rulings, as dorm halls may include things like genders mixing. Therefore, some Muslim students may ask for housing exemptions to live off campus to avoid any conflicting beliefs. Some may reside in single rooms on campus, while others may live with a roommate.
If you have a roommate, it’s important to communicate with them the types of things that are non-negotiables for you, such as having the opposite gender present in your room or having alcohol present. Always be polite and respectful of your roommate’s beliefs as well, but make it clear that these are part of your religion and cannot be negotiated. For more flexible topics, try to compromise with your roommate to avoid any conflicts. By communicating effectively, everyone’s needs can be met, and you’ll be on track for a comfortable, stress-free semester.
While it may be difficult to attend an American university as a Muslim student, there are ways to make it as worry-free as possible. By speaking up for yourself, prioritizing your spiritual well-being and actively trying to build your own cultural network, you’ll feel at home in no time. Be sure to incorporate Islam in your daily life and remember Allah when you need Him, and you will enjoy a successful school year