Surviving school as a Muslim youth in the West is not easy. The social requirement upon youth to not only excel in studies but also to exhibit ideal, Islamic behavior outside and inside the home makes leading a healthy student life a truly daunting task. With the combined social pressures of school, family, and friends many youth wonder if it is even possible to balance school and Islam. Sadly, the question is now being increasingly asked: “Is it even feasible to practice Islam in the West?”
It is important to remember that today’s problems are not new nor are their solutions impossible to find. While admittedly the situation of students in the West is far from ideal, all hope is not lost. Here are some quick and simple tips to help the average Muslim student survive school:
- Find a good social circle: The most driving influence in the life of a student is his social circle, upon which he depends for fulfilling his social and recreational needs. Depending on one’s group of friends, a person is likely to make strikingly different choices in life. A good friend is one who can entertain you and at the same time bring you closer to Allah. If you cannot discuss serious, personal, or religious issues with a colleague, it is likely that your relationship with him is shallow and improvident. Pick friends whose company will improve your character and provide you focus and direction in life. Do not be afraid to lose friends in pursuit of saving your iman. In the end, it is your religion that has priority.
- Halal-ify your home: Half of a successful student life involves improving the environment outside the house, while the other half depends on having a healthy and Islamically-conducive home. In order to make your home free from distractions, create a quiet and comfortable workspace for yourself. Avoid at all costs the proximity of a television and the internet. Limit your useless activities on the computer by placing it in a high-traffic room. Try to spend as less time alone as possible. Study with someone nearby who will not distract you from your work but will also prevent your mind from wandering and engaging in harmful activities.
- Spend quality time with family: An important aspect of improving the home environment is improving one’s relationship with family. Avoid domestic quarrels and familial disputes by spending quality time with parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, etc… Take out a half-hour daily to sit and converse with parents. Let them know what you do outside the home and you will gain their trust. Talk to them about your problems and personal dilemmas even if the solutions they provide seem wrong. If individuals inside the home seem unapproachable, look for counsel outside the direct family. Most importantly, if you yourself are an older sibling, make the effort to be a good adviser and counselor for your younger brothers and sisters.
- Guard your gaze: The most common cause for loss of focus and poor memory is negligence in guarding the gaze. When a student’s mind wants to concentrate on reading, lectures, or work, his evil gaze forces it to daydream about sports, movies, cars, the opposite gender, etc… Avoid these distractions by looking down in the hallways at school and spending as little time as possible in mixed settings. Free yourself from television and internet addiction by simply ridding yourself of access to them. Have a parent regulate and supervise your internet usage through parental control software. Share your passwords with family members to avoid the possibility of engaging in illicit relationships.
- Go to the masjid at least once daily: Make it a habit to visit the masjid at least once daily. If you live near a masjid, attend as many congregational salats as your schedule allows. Sit in the daily and weekly halaqahs conducted in the masjid. Make your local masjid the centerpiece of your social activities. Do not be afraid to sit down and discuss personal issues with masjid imams, community leaders, and even just fellow musallis. Sometimes good advice comes from the least expected places.
- Assert your identity: Youth is the time for recognizing and developing a strong sense of Muslim identity. Reading books on the Prophets, Companions, and pious predecessors will help tremendously in this respect. Read a book of sirah (prophetic biography) at least once a year. Keep the company of friends who are proud to be Muslim and do not shun their religious culture and beliefs. Be careful not to get lost in pop-culture, fashion, and in ever-changing, anti-Islamic social trends.
- Complete your daily tilawat, dhikr, and ta’lim: Key to surviving student life is regularity in good actions. The habits that you develop as a youth and as a student will stick with you your entire life. Develop the habit of reciting the Qur’an daily (half a juz to a full juz is ideal). Perform the daily dhikrof (1) istighfar, (2) salat, and (3) the third kalimah at least one hundred times each before going to bed. Collectively read a book of hadith on the virtues of actions daily with the family at a time when everyone can be present.
- Find a good adviser: Hired school counselors often do not provide the help you need or the constructive advice that you seek. Do not let that prevent you from seeking good advice from knowledgeable community leaders, wise relatives, and even your parents. Make sure that the adviser has no motives other than wishing the best for you. If you find a good and trustworthy counselor/adviser, hold onto him and do not let him go.
- Du’a! Du’a! Du’a!: In the end, your survival in school and in life in general depends solely upon Allah’s acceptance and mercy. Always supplicate to Allah for His help and trust in Him to be sufficient for your needs. Make it a habit to spend fifteen minutes a day conversing with Allah in any language that you are comfortable with and at whatever time is convenient for you. Developing a relationship with Allah is the secret to true bliss and felicity.