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PostSubject: Identity & University Life   Thu Dec 11, 2008 11:16 am




Identity & University Life



Struggle for Identity and Purpose at University


As online counsellors for Islamonline, we get numerous questions from all over the world relating to the struggles of being Muslim in the 21st
century. Particularly for young Muslims, the questions we receive
indicate that for a significant number of us, the world is increasingly
becoming a place of uncertainty and meaninglessness. Even among those
who might be described as ‘privileged,’ or those blessed young ones who
have been given the opportunity to study at the world’s top
universities, life appears to be growing ever more challenging. Perhaps
a bit surprisingly, it is not only occurring among Muslims living in
the West, either.



Many of our talented young brothers and sisters who will inevitably go
on to lead our nations into the future are, in many cases, unsure of
how to make sense of their time at university. They
struggle with social issues, identity issues, cultural issues, the
opportunities and pressures of relationships, and others. Although it
is a time of life that should be filled with new and exciting
experiences and learning new things every day, many are unable to take
advantage of the opportunity to grow and broaden their horizons. It is
an issue that needs addressing for it is these young people that
represent the future leaders of Muslims the world over.



University
life for many young Muslims can be a time of great confusion and
dismay, where the protections and safe space of being in an Islamic
environment gives way to the unbridled freedom of campus culture and
lifestyle.Young Muslim university students will often struggle with:


  • How to interact with the opposite gender in an appropriate manner



  • How to manage their time
  • How to ‘fit in’ yet retain their Muslim identity
  • How to find themselves and their calling in life
  • How to make meaning of studying ‘secular’ knowledge
  • How to deal with failure and mistakes, and many others.



Growing
up in the West, young people are taught that their university years
should be the best of one’s life; a time when we get our first taste of
being on our own with few formal responsibilities. For Muslim youth,
however, it can be a bittersweet experience that more often than not
presents an endless array of challenges and dilemmas unique to Muslim
students. This article aims to begin to look at some of these
challenges a bit more closely with the hope, in sha-Allah, of helping young Muslims better understand and make sense of this critical period and opportunity.


The University Years: A Time to Find Oneself


For
the typical university or college student, higher education is in many
ways the crème de la crème of life. Particularly for Westerners,
university means freedom; freedom from parents in particular, and the
end of the restrictions and social tensions that often define life as
high school students. In reflecting on my own experience, I remember the bliss of entering University, and once and for all getting away from the small town of my childhood
that had become so confining – onto bigger and better and things, or so
I thought. The confines of life in small town America were finally
over; no more seeing the same faces everyday that I had grown up with,
rarely meeting anyone new, having to be home at a certain time, getting
permission to do anything and so on. Finally, when it came time to
enter University I was ready to experience life unfettered, and to take
on the world according to my own whims and pace. This is the kind of
folklore that accompanied university life growing up in the West, and
what I truly believed up until the time I enrolled in my undergraduate
program. What I learned of course was that much of those beliefs were
false, and that university life was a bit more complicated than I had
envisioned.


My
experience at university taught me at an early age not to assume
anything. I found that university – though liberating to a degree - was
wrought with other types of challenges that I had never imagined or
could have predicted. None-theless, it was a time of great
self-discovery and learning, where the classroom of life intertwined
with academic pursuits resulting in a unique experience that helped me
to understand myself so much better. Of course, this was the result of
many ‘mistakes’ and several heart-wrenching experiences, but through
that pain and difficulty I learned the importance of self-growth and
why life (i.e. Allah SWT) is the best teacher.
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