Whether you are living in dorms or stay at home while going to campus, college presents a new set of challenges for Muslim youth.
This type of environment has a lot of dating, casual sex, drugs/alcohol and challenges towards Islamic rules of interaction for genders. It doesn’t mean this environment is always a struggle and it doesn’t mean you can’t attend college.
Like any struggle in life, it is better to prepare yourself mentally and be ready for what will likely cross your path.
Integration vs. Isolation
It is completely natural to seek acceptance and a sense of belonging. In our hierarchy of psychological needs to attain happiness, feeling secure and accepted is part of that base. However, it is important to remember you don’t have to follow every movement someone else does in order to connect with them and build friendships.
Just as Muslims and non-Muslims are often friends and we don’t expect our non-Muslim friends to fast Ramadan with us, you should not be expected to follow the crowd as your only means of integrating. It is very possible to integrate into campus culture and be a role model of ethics while abstaining from haram activities.
Some go to the extreme right and begin isolating themselves as if the only way to handle struggle is to pretend it doesn’t exist. That won’t work and can actually lead to depression and lower your confidence. Repeated isolation is not healthy; human beings are social creatures with social needs.
This doesn’t mean you have to attend every event on campus or join clubs that don’t align with the Islamic belief system, but find ways to integrate into your campus culture without sacrificing your own beliefs.
“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah ]”[Quran 2:45]
Did men and women interact during the time of the first generations of Muslims? The answer to that is yes, HOWEVER, it was done in a safe and ethical manner.
I need to highlight safety on this because all too often our youth tend to forget that Islamic rules serve a purpose and gender interaction guidelines strongly protect women.
A reported 25% of female college students have been raped, 90% of campus sexual harassment goes unreported and two thirds of college students have experienced some type of sexual harassment. Do you still want to be alone with that guy in your biology class, because most assaults happen from people the victim knew.
It is not haram to interact with the other gender, but we have to follow guidelines. If you are assigned to a study group in class that is mixed genders and you cannot switch, instead of studying alone in a dorm room go to the library where it is public and safe. If you feel uncomfortable telling them it is because of your faith, then tell them it is better to study outside of the area you sleep in because your mind associates that room with rest.
If you are speaking with someone of the opposite gender, be aware of your choice of words and don’t take things like flirting lightly. If someone says something inappropriate then immediately tell them and leave the situation. This will make it clear you demand respect and will not tolerate anything less.
DO NOT BE ALONE WITH THEM. This is not negotiable and I cannot think of a situation in college where you are forced to be alone. College campuses have multiple areas students can meet in to study and be in a well lit, open and safe environment.
Your non-Muslim friends in college will be dating and some of them will have what is called friends with benefits (they are just friends but engage in sex). While you might feel a desire to try this, I would suggest you also pay attention to the effects these type of relationships cause.
You will notice many of those friends with benefits end up not being friends because one of them develops feelings and wants a commitment so they end up heartbroken. Unwanted pregnancies will be happening and undoubtedly some are getting abortions while others are becoming single Mothers.
You will see heartbreak, betrayal and regret played over and over with them. Not to mention the incredibly high rate of sexually transmitted diseases on college campuses. You are literally risking your fertility if you fall into this.
If you find someone you are genuinely interested in as a life partner then talk to your parents about it and see if this is a viable option for marriage in the future. It is not haram to get to know someone in a safe and permissible manner with families involved. Please understand love is not haram, but the casual dating you see on campus is more so lust than it is love.
College is full of parties, every weekend you will see them and likely will be invited. This type of environment is very dangerous, especially for someone who has never been exposed to it and doesn’t really know what to expect or how to react. Your best bet is to avoid these and find polite ways to decline such as “I’m sorry man but I really need to study for the midterms” or just casually say you prefer to be home relaxing.
“They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, “In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit…”[Quran 2:219]
Undoubtedly you will run into people that fail to respect your lifestyle choices and they will try to pressure you into doing something haram. Remember this is not a true friend if they are trying to manipulate you and pressure you into doing things you don’t want. That type of friend will only make your college experience more difficult and end up hurting you.
Make your choices clear and if they continue to pressure you despite asking them to stop, then walk away from that friend. A good friend will always respect your choices. Besides, do you care more about pleasing Allah (swt) or your friends?
Muslim Student Organization MSA
If you have never heard of the local MSA for your campus, look it up right now. Most campuses have a Muslim student association or religious clubs. This will help you meet more Muslim friends and like minded individuals that understand and respect your choices.
MSAs are also great for getting involved with other student organizations that are like-minded such as a Christian student club or student organizations committed to doing charity work. If you get involved with students like this, you will have less temptation and struggle around you.
Campus life can be challenging and rewarding, which is largely dependent on the choices you make and whom you decide to be around.
Carefully choose your friends and remember that true friends wont pressure you to do something you don’t want to. The dating, drugs and haram activities might look like fun, but I promise you it is hurting a lot of them and you don’t know to what extent. Stay focused on why you are there, to obtain a degree and advance in your intended career. This time of your life is about preparing yourself for real adulthood, stay focused and avoid temptations.