This week, it’s senior Rayyan Najeeb on handling success with humility and gratitude, as well as trying to be worthy of praise we receive.
This week, Meena Sayeed is back with some wisdom on being thankful!
This is the first part of the Northwestern McSA’s new initiative, “Sunnah in 60 Seconds!” Every two weeks, we’ll be bringing you a Northwestern Muslim with some advice on how to incorporate some aspect of deen into your everyday life. This week, we bring you 2012 alum Omar Jamil!
Allah says in Surah Rahman,
عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ (٤
He taught us bayan, the ability for us to communicate and be communicated to in a sophisticated manner such that we can be convinced by words, signs that non-Muslims are providing us with, to make us better Muslims, better humans.
Despite how interesting and iman or faith-boosting my easy A class and my casual summer reading were, they weren’t my passion. Rocks and neuroscience are cool, but my major was psychology – I love studying how the mind works. One of the most interesting things I learned about was a study called the Marshmallow Test. Imagine yourself when you were four years old. A researcher sits you in a room with a marshmallow in front of you. She tells you, “You can eat the marshmallow now, but if you wait until I come back, you can get another marshmallow, so you’ll have two.” What would you have done?
Psychologists wondered the same thing, particularly because they wanted to find out the difference between the people who waited and those who did not. Most failed. But they found that those who waited had higher levels of something called “emotional intelligence”. It’s the ability to control impulses, persist, delay gratification, and understand the emotions of oneself and others. Five, ten years down the line, it was associated with higher verbal fluency, higher SAT scores, higher self-esteem, a better ability to cope with stress, and a lesser likelihood of using drugs. According to evolution, much of emotional intelligence is what makes us human.
Then it clicked. Islam makes us human. Islam is our marshmallow test. The Islamic concept of being patient, persevering, believing, and doing good deeds in this world for the delayed gratification of the next life was scientifically related to our dunya or worldly concept of success. As Muslims, we’re taught that this life is a test we must struggle through to pass; we think our only reward is in the hereafter. But Subhanallah, Allah is Most Merciful, He doesn’t leave us hanging.
These light bulb wow moments are just waiting to be discovered, yet it was not until college and after connecting my deen dots with my dunya dots that I came to fully realize that Islam is everywhere. It’s impossible to escape. So to be good Muslims, we don’t need to escape, distinctly separating our livelihood from our worship. Rather, we should work with the “secular” subjects we are passionate about and keep linking them to Allah. Rocks taught me about ayahs in the Qur’an, neuroscience taught me the benefit of the Sunnah, and marshmallows made me Muslim.
Any knowledge-seeking can be treated as ‘ibadah, or worship, and in fact, it can be better. The Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “The superiority of the ‘aalim (scholar) over the ‘aabid (one who does a lot of extra worship) is like the superiority of the full moon over the stars.” We just have to 1) continue researching, studying, and learning what interests us with the proper intention, 2) know a little about Islam, and 3) make those connections. Let it transform you. Let’s not pigeonhole Islam to scrolls written 1400 years ago. Instead, let’s keep learning together, working to fully understand that all of creation was made to submit to Allah forever and always. It was made for the purpose of Islam.
It was my sophomore year at NU and I was desperately looking for the last class to fulfill my distribution requirements. I needed an interesting yet easy A Natural Sciences class so anything beyond 100-level was too much. I settled on Earth 110, Exploration of the Solar System, the class that was at a level lower than “Rocks for Jocks.” Probably the best choice ever. We not only watched Men in Black for an assignment and played with water for lab, but every day I came to class, I said Subhanallah, Glory be to Allah, at least five times, marveling at the wonder of Allah’s creation. When we learned about the characteristics of the solar system, Subhanallah. When we were taught the characteristics of the heavenly bodies in comparison to Earth, Subhanallah. When we understood the perfection of Earth as a living space for us, Subhanallah.
Allah tells us many times in the Qur’an to reflect on all of His miraculous signs, those in the Qur’an and those in the world. But when we’re able to connect the two, it’s nothing short of amazing. Allah says in the Qur’an, in Surah Aali-Imran verse 191:
الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَى جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذَا بَاطِلا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ (١٩١)
Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.
The feeling of being able to put into practice even a single ayah of the Qur’an, in class of all places, is incomparable.
We’re often told that deen and dunya don’t mesh, that secular education and religious education are two separate entities. But I was able to appreciate, respect, and enjoy science because it reminded me of Allah. And that fervor only made me excel.
Outside of class, I kept learning things that were totally un-Islamic, but were totally Islamic. We get the Johns Hopkins University magazine at home and I was just flipping through it over the summer. It was right before Ramadan so food and the lack of it were definitely on my mind. An article under the new Neuroscience research section called “Don’t Feed Your Head” caught my attention. The brief summary: society is obsessed with the idea of brain food, but in fact, fasting specifically two days a week is incredibly healthy for the brain, protecting it from diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
My first response was to check the author: Muslim name? No. I was mind-blown. Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated in a hadith from At-Tirmidhi, saying “The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), used to take care to fast Mondays and Thursdays.” An action and thus recommendation of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) from 1400 years ago is just now being understood by the top researchers of the world as a beneficial practice. At that moment, I said to myself, لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله
There is absolutely no God worthy of worship and obedience but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger.
If I were not Muslim before, for sure I am now.
I had the pleasure of being a part of two graduating classes while I was at Northwestern. You see, I was one of those rarely talked about students from the “other” Northwestern campus way across the waters of the Atlantic. I was one of the NU-Qatar kids. I spent three and a half years studying in the Northwestern campus in Qatar, and two quarters in Evanston. I had two classes that I would call my own.
Yes, I spent the majority of my time outside of Evanston, but I immediately felt more at home once I landed in my small, dingy dorm in the Mid-Quads. It was cold, I had to lug my suitcases all the way to the top floor, I didn’t know how to get food from ‘Plex, and where the hell is University Hall?! But, somehow, I managed to find a place where I belonged in all the running around.
Chicago became my haven. She’s so beautiful, at night, in the morning, on weekends, any time really. I would go to concerts, film screenings, art galleries, museums, to eat. There was no excuse not to hit up Chicago.
I didn’t spend six months in Evanston just to go to Chicago though. Often, I’d spend all day and night in Evanston hanging out, and studying, obviously. Africana, Reference and other parts of the library became good friends. More than that though, the parts of campus that allowed me to interact with people were the most important. The MCC is still my favorite place to go. I had the chance to come back to campus a year after I left for Qatar again, and it was still the same: The same bodies, the same carpets, the same smell and mustiness, the same jinn closet. Fawzi was a new addition, as was the Oudh smell on the prayer mats (Thanks Nate), but otherwise, it was just as it’s always been. It was still home.
But really, it’s not the place that makes it home. I could say that about Chicago, the MCC, the House, my dorm, wherever, but that’s not it. None of those places would matter if it wasn’t for the people. Back to my first point—I had two classes. I had two distinct sets of people that I would end up confiding in, sharing memories with, and welcoming into my own extended family (of sorts).
The most valuable thing I took away from Evanston is the realization that it takes a very short time to be affected by someone and to love them for who they are. I am so fond of, and care so much for, my friends in Evanston that I am considering centering my life decisions on them. Where will I have my wedding so that my NU Brothers and Sisters can attend? Where will I live? Where will I vacation every summer in order to see them?
It doesn’t matter where in the world we are, as long as we are together and sharing time and space. I’m grateful for the blessings I’ve had so far in life. It’s definitely been a blessing to have met so many people in the McSA, and taken that further and become a part of their lives. They’ve definitely become a part of mine.
Sometimes I feel like my years at Northwestern were just one big, fat state of denial.
Denial of the fact that I won’t ever be allowed to live in an apartment with my friends (ever) again, denial that I will, in fact, have to move back in with my parents into that childhood room with those puke-green walls and even uglier starfish wallpaper, and denial of the fact that I probably won’t see American soil for a long, long time.
When I came in as a freshman, I remember thinking that for the first time in my life, I was independent — free, free at last. I was going to be living all by myself, without anyone to take care of me, and I was finally going to live the dream I had idolized my entire life.
And every year, after telling someone new that I’m the proudest (and probably only) Kuwaiti they’ll ever meet, this person would ask me the same dreaded question, “So where are you going to be after college?” Whereas everyone around me had already started discussing how they were going to apply to places like New York, Europe, and other fancy, schmancy jobs around the globe, I started realizing that I would indeed have to return.
To Kuwait. As an international student, it feels like a big punch in the stomach the day it sinks in that you’re actually on a student visa to be here, and that you’re physically not going to be allowed into this country when the visa expires in a few months. It felt like I had been indulging myself with post-graduation daydreams of moving into another apartment in downtown New York with my Northwestern friends to pursue my dream job and eventually rise to the top — you know, the great, American Dream.
But then I remembered that I have parents. Oh my God, do I have seriously overprotective parents (and for all you commuters, I feel like a baby complaining when I at least got to experience living away from them). Some of us have parents who not only don’t expect us to move out after college, but in most cases, would strongly prefer (read as: demand) that we move back in with them. We have family.
Trying to reconcile my “American” pretense and my Kuwaiti reality is the most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with. Replace “Kuwaiti” with Desi, Muslim, or whatever, and you’ll probably get a similar picture. And while most of you won’t have to experience what I will, I’m sure that for some of us, a different post-graduation path awaits — one in which you realize that there might just be more than one dream, and that these other options will probably be different from the path you thought you’d be pursuing freshman year. Whether the reasons for these changes of heart are family or otherwise, we might find ourselves making unexpected choices, or making peace with them. Maybe choosing a medical school that’s closer to home over a more prestigious one that’s further away won’t sound that illogical. Maybe nine months from now some of us will find that medical school, graduate school, or that one job we took in the city aren’t where we really want to be. Still others just might want to prioritize marriage over their careers for a while.
Over the summer, I asked my 13-year-old brother what his biggest dream for the future is. “To live in an apartment with my friends like in all those t.v. shows,” he said. “That sounds like so much fun.”
Dreams change. Priorities can change. Life will go on regardless, but maybe not as planned. Also regardless, everything will, insha’Allah, be okay.
Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatul Allahi Wa Baraktuh. My name is Kareem Youssef, and this is just about my first ever blog post. Being ready to start at Northwestern University, I have this rumbling of emotion in my gut which is far more than just unbridled excitement. I come from a fairly traditional Arab family; those who left for college went assuming that a flux of haram and baser instinct would befall anyone who wasn’t completely engaged in perpetual abstinence from the activities of non-Muslims. Now, this is a very biased generalization. This is also why I can easily say that any Muslim at Northwestern, or anyone sincerely seeking higher education somewhere else, will automatically violate this notion.
The weeks of the summer and fall that passed by as I spent time enjoying the campus life treated me quite well. June arrived as I discovered an email telling me all about a program called Bio-Excel. In a nutshell, it was six weeks of immature jokes, condensed college courses, and around thirty “prospies” living it up in Roger’s house as some of us become blood brothers, (ask Amir Khan and Faique Moqeet *wink*). Moving towards the autumn, I took a chance and joined the P-Wild train. When the week of heavy backpacking and camping in the great wilderness came to its eventual end, I made sure to appreciate the thirty minute favor my shower head gave me upon my return the morning of Wildcat Welcome.
God had apparently always had me veering towards Northwestern; it was the only school I applied to. Despite the plethora of the risky, instinctual decisions I had during the college application process, the rewards which resulted payed off. Once I arrived to campus, I desired only to experience the things that I thought I knew well, but hadn’t. I didn’t want to make the mistake of overestimating my capabilities, I remembered that I had much to learn about the world. I embraced the vague, uncertain lifestyle of the typical college student, without any hesitation or fear of what lay ahead.
One aspect of the student body at Northwestern that struck me hard, at least concerning the more secular freshmen, was the fact that many of them had nothing to say on the matter of religion. Religion in general for some people is comparable to a pseudoscience, and it depressed me when I attempted to envision how life without any type of connection to God would be. I felt sad for these people, and this definitely reflected my still apparent naivety’. In my (thankfully) biased opinion, a parallel can be drawn between expanding one’s horizons and persevering the trek towards that span through the advent of some religious growth. I spent my entire life shaping a personal definition of Islam, a steel curtain I formed which was a product of rejecting the more traditional/cultural methods of Islamic practice. One would think such a strongly opinionated dude could not possibly relate to a group like the MSA. After my first encounter with the McSA, I realized how poorly sculpted my personal Islam still was; I, a “know-it-all”, finally came to terms with reality.
Initially, I felt like trying to relate to a newly discovered community of Muslims would be like finding a needle in a haystack. My misperception was almost laughable as they took me in as their own, even erasing that insecurity regarding one’s self worth all freshmen collect within their hearts. I reconnected with people I already knew from my community, and created a whole new posse’ of (masha’Allah) extremely talented individuals who, like me, also happen to graduate in 2016. By becoming a part of the McSA, I became part of a larger network of Muslims just like me. Satisfaction enters my heart every moment I come to know that I have possibly found my place to be. The need for humans to receive validation is a petty vulnerability, but one I have decided to accept. Nevertheless, I intend to grow socially and spiritually, while encouraging others around me, Muslim and non-Muslim, to do the same so we may overcome our faults in order to promote the good while forbidding the bad.
Sincerely and with peace,