During university, beyond the horizon of deadlines, coursework and exams, life seems like an imaginary place, akin to the land of Narnia, and in existence during the very precious few hours of sleep we manage to get. However, for many of us that persevere and work hard with the assistance of coffee, Red Bull, and any other concoctions we may brew to get through all-nighters nearer the dawn of the finals, graduation is one of the most memorable moments of our lives.
For many, it culminates the end of many years of stress, anxiety, anguish, and a whole host of terms synonymous with pain. For some it means the beginning of a flourishing career, for others an opportunity to begin a long, well-deserved break; but for many, it also initiates a sad reality – the end of our Islamic activism.
Speak to any career professional and mention the word university, and many will retell the tale of their nights out, alcohol-fuelled socials, and club thrilled parties. However for many a Muslim, university presents the opportunity to engross oneself in a nurturing environment which cultivates leaders of tomorrow; namely, the ISOC. Many Islamic Societies in universities across the UK are places where brothers and sisters can work together within their respective groups to promote the agenda of Muslim welfare within their remits. The staples of the ISOC calendar include freshers weeks, welcome dinners, charity week, discover Islam week/month to name a few. These short-lived terms of endearment pool together elected committee members and keen participants to fulfil the worship of Allah (subhānahū wa taʿālā) with aspirations of attaining reward in pursuit of materialising a variety of events, tailored to the halāl space not afforded by other university societies.
But what happens after the hats are thrown, and the rented gowns are returned is an almost all-too-miserable fact. As many return home from university, they retract themselves from an environment no longer appropriate and instead enter into the “real” world, with the allure of ISOC and our Islamic engagement fading away.
A well-known tale of being around a group of friends, embedding a mark of goodness and righteousness, as the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said “the person is on the religion of his friend,” drifts into a life of independence, and perhaps isolation. Long gone are the regular walks to the mosque or prayer room for jamāʿah during revision breaks, or the halaqahs after lectures are done for the day, and unbeknown to us are the subtle yet gradual distancing from our former selves.
For many, our change in surroundings, whether that be in an office or the lack of Muslim colleagues causes a great diversity in output. For some the 9-5 lifestyle extinguishes our motivation to do anything but get home, eat and sleep after a long day at work, not forgetting that in some unfortunate cases, the need to “combine” all of the prayers missed during a hectic day.
This all-too common story for many of our brothers and sisters post-university begins when leaving the circle, hype, and proximity to the ISOC. A new-found sense of independence, exposure to the dunya beyond the realms of education, and the first taste of a pay-cheque can sometimes lead us down a dangerous rabbit hole of drawing further away from Allah (subhānahū wa taʿālā).
The sad stories of people inappropriately free-mixing in the wrong crowds, or engaging in unethical, harām professions altogether, or even sometimes attending that “important” alcohol-infused work function become common. Slowly, we permit ourselves self-diagnosed fatwas, and “reasons” to qualify our compromise and impeachment of Allāh’s guidance and rules.
Our trips to the mosque become infrequent, and our proximity to the Qur’ān wanes as the days roll on, and our engagement with charities and Muslim organisations diminishes. A question then arises and proposes itself, was it all a show? Was it a PR stunt, or were we just caught up in the hype? Why do we find ourselves a shadow of the productive being we once were?
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) emphasised on many occasions the ability of the shaytān, personified in the frame of a wolf, to prey on and dominate the lone sheep. Perhaps it is the pursuit of a new chapter in life, prioritising itself at the forefront of our ambitions—marriage, a new car, home, children, etc.—that causes a backlog of worship. Of course, all the above is halāl, but at what cost are we expunging a catalogue of “Islamic” actions and habits we once used to engage in? All in chase of the limited dunya, prospecting worldly materialistic and capitalist features, and at times to the detriment of our Hereafter. Again, we should not misinterpret or misconstrue, I have no qualms in working hard, and pushing ourselves to attain the best in all, with the intention of worshiping Allāh, but how do we balance the equation?
Whatever the case may be, we all need to take a good look at ourselves in the mirror and ask: how am I getting closer to Allāh, and how can I do more?
It is these questions that can reawaken our diminishing light, a representation of our former selves and our relationship with our Creator and His gifts to mankind. We need to rekindle the embers and spark a flame of ambition to run back to the Creator. Let us list a few ideas that we can utilise to help reinvigorate the lived Islām back into our seemingly impenetrable timetables.
The Salāh, as the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, will be the first thing we are asked about; if it is good everything else will be good. How should we maintain this level of success? Remember most working environments cater to religious minorities, providing prayer spaces or “contemplation rooms”, a perfect facility for our prayers, and safe space to read some Qur’ān. If you work somewhere that does not provide this, it is an opportunity to ask for the establishment of a quiet space—and the reward of doing so may weigh heavily for you, serving those that use it from its inception.
Maintaining a relationship with the mosque, and ensuring one attends halaqas every week is important for continuity; finding a mosque (preferably local) that is covering a book or course that will instil regular attendance. One of the many fruits of this is the blossoming of new relationships with other brothers or sisters, and surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Fasting Mondays and Thursdays should also be incorporated into our weekly regime, as well as daily allocated time for Qur’ān.
Finally, the association with youth, daʿwah and/or charity work is an arena that many of us fail in. Given the dire state of the ummah, there is a real need for young professional Muslims to give back to the society for the nourishment of others. Whether as a youth worker helping students in a homework/sports club, or a dāʿī on a daʿwah stall disseminating the truth of Islām, or as a fundraising officer raising money for those in need, the list of possibilities is endless. Use the skills that you acquire and are invested in you to serve a wider circle than merely your company’s shareholders.
Community organisations are in need of the very same expertise in accountancy, management, marketing, sales, and so on, that many of our brothers and sisters in the corporate world have, who also feel the need and desire to give back to our communities and work on projects for their Hereafter. All we need is a spark to catalyse this natural symbiosis. But why stop at volunteering? We all have a part to play in the empowerment of the ummah in the long term. As individuals we need to think about our career choices; as a community we need to strengthen our institutions and empower them to be able to employ talented youngsters instead of losing swathes to giant—often unethical—corporations.
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To reiterate, this article did not set out to stigmatise, incriminate or victimise any person. Nor did it intend a judgemental tone, or aim to expound upon deep and complicated knowledge. Rather it looks to remind myself and others about the simple, basic and fundamental steps that we should all take, and integrate within our weekly timetables and daily practices.
 Sunan Abu Dawud
The views expressed on Islam21c and its connected channels do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation.