Exam Season; In Pursuit of the Ultimate Dream
It’s that time of year again. Thousands of students across the country are now engrossed with exam revision and have temporarily relocated their residency to the libraries. Exhausted, stressed and possibly regretting having not done more; the time of year when many begin to reflect upon their efforts and hold themselves to account.
However, for a Muslim, there is much more to it. Many a time, the exam season proves to be a blessing in disguise. A time wherein a Muslim turns back to Allāh, pleading for His aid, for Tawfīq to be able to smash their exams out of the park. A time which, if used correctly, can be a means of helping the masses turn back to Allāh once again.
The believer should remember the difficulty of the Ākhirah when he goes through anything in this life. When the believer enjoys something in life, one should remember the enjoyment of the Ākhirah. When the believer is helpless and cannot effect change, one should remember how they will be unable to effect change in the Ākhirah. This is the state of the believer. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) gave us an example of the believer and one of the disbeliever – he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“The example of a believer is that of a fresh green plant the leaves of which move in whatever direction the wind forces them to move and when the wind becomes still, it stands straight. Such is the similitude of the believer: He is disturbed by calamities (but is like the fresh plant he regains his normal state soon). And the example of a disbeliever is that of a pine tree (which remains) hard and straight till Allāh cuts it down when He wills.”
As such, the believer is affected by what is happening around him, and he uses this to improve his conduct and increase his Īmān. On the other hand, the disbeliever is like the trunk of a tree – it hardly thinks about or is affected by what is happening.
The Real Exam – No second chances
You may be anxious right now, but do not neglect the real exam – the exam of the Ākhirah! No doubt, there is a great need for us, as Muslims to not just be successful in our academia, but to also strive for Iḥsān (perfection in good-doing) and in doing so, to have ‘uluww al himma – high, lofty aspirations, for this is the very essence of our Deen, we do not settle for second best. As Muslims, we should not be content on merely scraping through, rather we should aim to be leaders and role models on our respective journeys in our lives, wherever that may be, whether at University, work or in your local community. Know, Ummah of Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), that every time you step foot into University or work, you are an ambassador for the Ummah. Never underestimate your role within society, for we have a huge responsibility to fulfil. Many of us, during our days in school, when we were not (although I hate to use the word) ‘practicing’, defamed Islām and its teachings by the way we behaved and treated others. Thus, it is our responsibility to put things right and reclaim the honour that we so carelessly threw away.
One would think that exam season is the time when all people return back to Allāh. However, in recent times, we have seen a rather bizarre dichotomy emerging from the horizons. We seem to think we are in control of time, such that one would not hesitate to delay the Salāh and even more worryingly, abandon the Qur’ān. The Barakah the Qur’ān gives a person outweighs the time spent with the Qur’ān. Think about that statement for a minute.
Know my brothers and sisters in Islām that Salāh and Qur’ān will only bring about Barakah in your time and revision; do not for a second think otherwise. This notion of ‘this is my Deen time and this is my study time’ is flawed beyond that which you could ever imagine. This model of time exclusivity for ʿIbādah and another time for fun is not one which is sustainable. ʿIbādah is holistic and this needs to be firmly incorporated within our mindset.
This is the model of the Saḥāba, they were mindful of Allāh all the time. Only those without a vision have this dichotomy. Certain acts of worship should take priority over others, given the time and the context. When you take your children out, you need to feel that it is an ʿIbādah and should not consider it a burden. At times, it may be more important for you than reciting Qur’ān, as you do not want your children to go astray. Everything in essence, is ʿIbādah and it all comes down to the intention.
The Façade of Sins
Know, glorious Ummah, that your sins will affect your path to Allāh, especially if you belittle your sins and begin to justify them inwardly or outwardly. Some people may have been so consistent in doing good at a certain point of time but are finding that things are going wrong and their path of doing good has been made difficult for them even though they have the time. It all comes back to one’s sins. Once a sin is committed, some good is taken away from your life. As mentioned, a good deed is followed by another and the opposite is also true. Allāh says:
“Then as for him who gives (in charity) and keeps his duty to Allāh and fears Him, and believes in Al-Husna. We will make smooth for him the path to ease (goodness). But he who is greedy and thinks himself self-sufficient, and rejects Al-Husna, We will make smooth for him the path for evil.”
Imām Shafiʿī said: I complained to my teacher Waqii’ about bad memory, so he directed me to leave sins and informed me that knowledge is light and the light of Allāh is not given to a disobedient slave. Furthermore, Ibn Rajab quotes Imām Mālik, that when Imām Shafiʿī came to study under him, he was extremely smart, and so he told him not to extinguish this light by sinning. A person needs to make Tawbah immediately if they are involved in any minor, let alone major sins. If something is going well for you, try to preserve that Barakah by staying away from sins and being grateful and remembering Allāh, above and beyond lip service.
Some people act as if Allāh is unaware, and we slip again and a third time and again, until minor sins accumulate and become major sins. Imām Qurtubi says regarding the verse in Surah Baqarah “and remember me, I shall remember you”, that what is meant by this Ayah is: ‘I shall remember you by rewarding you and by forgiving your sins.’ A person who does not obey Allāh, has not remembered Him. Even though you may be doing lots of Tasbeeh, Tahleel and recitation of Qur’ān, if you do not obey Allāh, this is all a delusion. This person has not understood remembering Allāh and the correct understanding behind doing so.
So you have worked hard, finished your exams and you find out you were one mark away from a first or an A+. Just imagine the regret for not achieving that one mark, you would do anything to get it remarked, sent away, whilst painfully lingering on the hope of some good news. Now picture the scene on Yawmul Qiyamah. If a person is just one deed away from entering Jannah, imagine the state of this person. To know that you came so close, yet so far. Not even your own mother, spouse or children will be willing to sacrifice their deeds for you, as Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says in Surah ʿAbasa:
“But when the deafening cry comes, the day on which a man shall fly from his brother, and his mother and his father, and his spouse and his son – every man of them shall on that day have an affair which will occupy him.”
The Salah teaches us a fundamental life skill – to focus. Now, apply this to your revision; when you are revising, focus on one thing at a time; avoid using your phone whilst in work mode, as this will inevitably stem your flow. Avoid unnecessary talking – the formula is obvious, you all know it – simply reduce the distractions around you. Another common recent phenomenon is that of revising with the opposite gender. The scholars mention that looking at Haram may affect your memorisation and thus one should strive to stay away from anything which displeases Allāh, at a time when we need Him (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), the most.
Practical Exam Tips:
Below, is a compiled list of practical exam tips, which we hope, you find beneficial, in shā Allāh;
i. Work smart as opposed to working hard.
ii. After researching the details of a module, try to summarise it without looking at your notes, or more effectively, teach it to someone else.
iii. Do not rush into the exam late – Panic can cause an entire influx of emotions that may have an adverse effect on your performance. Arrive slightly early to familiarise yourself with the surroundings of the exam hall.
iv. Make sure to begin with the name of Allāh, ‘Bismillāhir Raḥmānir Raḥīm’ (In the name of Allāh, the most gracious, the most merciful). This was a habit of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). It displays Tawakkul in Allāh and also relaxes a person before they embark upon their paper.
v. Do not be over-confident nor lack in confidence; strike a balance. Over-confidence is a sign of arrogance and implies you do not need to rely on Allāh, rather you are relying upon your own abilities.
vi. Once you receive your paper, skim through it and plan accordingly – it is from the sunnah of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to plan and organise one’s thoughts and activities. Jot down any ideas that come to mind.
vii. Start with the easier questions, as this will give you a boost of confidence and leaves you with more time to answer the harder questions.
viii. Ideally, leave 5 minutes at the end to review your answer and amend any errors.
ix. Lastly, if you find yourself bewildered and are struggling to recall your revision notes, send abundant Salāt and Salām upon the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Some scholars hold the opinion that if a person is placed in a difficult situation, the one who sends Salāt and Salām upon the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), believing in him and Allāh, Allāh will relieve them of their trials.
Do not despair if your exams did not go to plan. When trying to revise and nothing is going in, there is always a reason, and the majority of time, it is ourselves, either we have transgressed the boundaries of Allāh or if you have searched and you found that you did not do anything wrong, know this is a test from the mercy of Allāh to elevate your ranks in the next life. One of the scholars of the past, Sufyan b. Uyayna mentioned that; “the difference between a sinner of desire and a sinner of pride or arrogance is: He whose sin is out of desire; have hope for him. He whose sin is out of pride, then fear for him. Because Ādam sinned due to desire, and he was forgiven but Iblīs sinned due to pride and he was cursed for eternity. Stay far away from secret sins, my brothers and sisters, for this can lead to one’s destruction both in this life and the next.
May Allāh allow us to act upon what has been said and implement the little we know and may He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) allow you all to pass your exams with flying colours and make your final abode Firdaus al A’laa.
Wa billāhi tawfeeq
 Sahih Bukhari on the authority of Abu Hurairah
 Al-Qur’ān 92:5-10
 Al-Qur’ān 2:152
 Al-Qur’ān 80:34-37
 I would like to acknowledge the advice delivered by our beloved teacher, Sheikh Haitham hafithahu Allāh, in the writing of this article. I ask Allāh to accept it from him and from us.