In terms of actively practising my faith, this is seen most clearly in praying 5 times a day – something my course-mates are usually amazed by, but really is not as difficult as it sounds. The prayers are at set times through the day, (usually 3 to 4 hours apart, it changes with the length of the day), only a couple of the 5 are during hours I’m at university, and it only take 5 to 10 minutes to pray and get back to university, as thankfully we have a prayer hall 1 minute away from the Business School. We are working on a campaign to find a larger space to accommodate a growing number of Muslim students, as well as those on Birley campus 10 minutes away.
Thankfully, Ramadan did not fall on term time this year, starting less than a week after my last exam – instead it fell on the erratically hot days that followed in June, where a cold drink or some ice cream would have been lovely. But you can’t have it all. As it moves back by around 10 days each year (due to operating on the lunar calendar), I may well be taking next year’s exams while fasting, but again it is really not as difficult as it seems and by the time the month has ended I’m always sad to see it go.
In terms of maintaining the balance, my religion is not just another responsibility to think about alongside catching my next lecture and what to make to eat tonight – quite the opposite. The regularity of the prayers gives a structure to my day, and provides an opportunity to step away from the usual chaos and recollect my thoughts. It’s also a chance to bump into some friends and catch up or get something to eat, so it only adds to the university and social experience.
Those are just the individual aspects though. Where being a person of faith at university really differs from any other time of life is in the societies. Where do I start?
First of all, being part of the Islamic Society (ISoc) was one of the best decisions I ever made. It holds the title of not only the largest faith society at MMU, but largest society all round (Gamers are second) and it shows in the scale of events we aim for. This past year alone, we hosted our annual Welcome Dinner at the SU, bringing in over 170 people. We had our outstandingly successful Charity Week in November, raising over £5000 for Islamic Relief. We hosted speakers from around the world for a range of talks and events on every topic we had time for throughout the year. The talks addressed current stigmas including dyslexia and mental health, and we focused on tackling misconceptions in this year’s Discover Islam Week in March, on topics such as women in Islam, and Jesus. This earned us the “Most Socially Aware” award at the end of the year. We organised a food drive for the needy that our members made immensely successful with their generosity. We donated toys to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. Beyond that, we still had time for socials, go karting, weekly football, and going for meals. Aside from the organised events, talks, and socials, bumping into each other daily in the prayer hall made ISoc front and centre of the university experience all the time. ISoc gets to the point where actually university is a side thing. And I love it.
I could write this whole article on what ISoc did, but there are other aspects of being a person of faith at uni. As part of the Societies’ Subgroup Committee, I represented the “Faith, Belief and Culture” societies, and was tasked with organising and collaborating between a wide range of societies, from Christian Union (CU) to the Chinese Society. Finding common interests between such a diverse category of people at first seemed impossible. However, I very quickly realised that all these students were passionate about their respective backgrounds, whether religious or cultural, and were keen to socialise with others, as well as let other students know about their lifestyles. Focusing on this, steps were taken to build bridges between previously disparate groups, including collaborative events being held between societies, and general communication and friendships being formed - the Chinese New Year Dinner in particular was a huge success, which saw six different societies come together for food, quizzes and party games.
Being a person of faith includes showing that faith to others, whether directly or by representing at interfaith events, which in university I was happy to see in the form of talks and meals between CU and ISoc, inviting other societies to our talks in Discover Islam Week, and having conversations with/providing snacks to students at our stalls around university. Interfaith work opened my eyes to how faith can reflect on people’s university lives differently, and only encouraged me to do more (I plan to continue my position next year). It’s important to stay open-minded when being in these kinds of events, and remember it is all about raising awareness on both sides.
Uni is a great time for people to get involved with what they love and make lifelong friends, and the Student Union provides a brilliant platform for that with its vast range of societies, with new ones being set up all the time, and extensive support for them (including financially). This is no different in terms of faith, and I am happy to have been able to express that during my time at university – I aim to continue building bridges and making friends. If you’re a person of faith, make that a part of your university experience as soon as you can, you won’t regret it. If you’re not, go to the events too, you won’t regret it either.