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Growing Away from Home

Growing Away from Home

Issue 100

Words Rabia Barkatulla & Tamanna Rahman 

Photography - Claire Waffel 


The apprehension, particularly for students who are just starting university, is the same when they fi rst started school all those years ago. However, this time, the feeling is most likely juxtaposed with the knowledge that now, you won’t have a familiar face to come home to and tell ‘about your day ’.

For parents, the anxiety is of a different nature; when a child decides to live away from home, the alarm bells start ringing. How will the child cope with the freedom and responsibility that they have never before experienced? But it’s not all about buying milk and cooking pasta. Organising yourself, waking yourself up in the morning, doing your own laundry AND fi nding time to study makes the undergraduate an expert at prioritising (or not!)

As our interviewees explain, moving away from home to attend university is often an enriching and treasured experience that parents need not fear. Indeed, more youngsters should be encouraged to follow in the Islamic tradition to seek knowledge wherever it may take them. Perhaps then they can mature a little out of the school shoes and into the trainers and unwashed socks. 




I started my degree in Eco-Design two years ago at Goldsmith’s College in London. It has quite a small Islamic Society, but also a Muslim Women’s Society and this had a profound affect on me. I remember their table at the freshers’ fair because of a girl called Aisha who was really bubbly and talkative; she is a good friend of mine now. The prayer room was actually where I met a lot of my best friends at university, even though it was tucked away in the basement and extremely difficult to find.

 For the first year I lived at home with my mum but I wasn’t doing too well in my studies so for the next year I decided to live closer to university. My mum was fine about it because she’s quite liberal as a non-Muslim parent, and because she was a 60’s child. One of my classmates who was Muslim told me about this flat-share and I decided to move in. The University dormitories are not for me – students there feel so liberated from home and because there are no adults around they have a lot of crazy nights. That was unappealing for me and I wanted to be with more responsible people. My flatmates don’t have house parties or anything like that; they are reasonable people. It really depends on who you live with – some fl atmates like to nick each other’s food!

Now, I’m moving back home from the flat because my brother has gone to Wales and my mum will be alone. If I wasn’t a Muslim I don’t think I would have realized how important my mum is and I would probably expect her to live alone. I know that she’s not too keen on my Islamic practices but I'm hoping it will be alright. Living away last year was a good experience for me because I was able to grow and develop as a Muslim and not come against my family, but you can’t run away from them because the influences of your family are inside you and you’ve grown up with them. Now I feel ready to go back as I’m more secure in myself and my Islam.

Bysshe Wallace



Naveed Anwar 

Even prior to applying, I was acutely aware of what I then considered to be the inherent misalignment of my background to what was expected at Cambridge University. I wasn’t white or middle-upper class, nor was I educated at a public school. In fact I was of Asian origin, from a northern, working class background and attended a normal comprehensive state-school.

 When I actually started at Cambridge the self-constructed preconceptions gave way to a tangible reality. I soon realised that there were others like me. Within a few days I’d managed to discover other Muslim students who were not quite as few as I’d originally expected. As I was meeting these new people, it was becoming more apparent to me that the stereotype of the typical Cambridge student was far from true. After only a few nights into university life, I began to feel very comfortable.

I became heavily involved in running the Islamic Society, which is easily one of the University’s largest and most active student bodies. Add to this a very organised and substantial local community and you realise that it’s an absolute pleasure being a practising Muslim in Cambridge. There’s also the added bonus of having Abdul Hakim Murad giving the Friday sermon as he is a lecturer at the University’s Faculty of Divinity. 

I’ve always felt that as Muslims we often have a tendency to segregate ourselves from others around us. This doesn’t have to be, indeed shouldn’t be, the case. If we can’t partake in certain activities then it’s important that we make more of an effort in other circles. I personally found that sport presented such an avenue and was very active in both the football and cricket teams, eventually captaining my college for the latter. This was also an opportunity to express some of my beliefs to the non-Muslims that I got to know as a result. 

I have just graduated and been elected as vice-president/access officer of the Student’s Union for the new academic year. I am now responsible for informing school students around the country that Cam- bridge isn’t what the media makes it out to be. This was something that I was guilty of thinking probably more than anyone else. Partly due to my role, and mainly due to the amazing experience that I’ve had here, I’d recommend every Muslim to aspire and then apply to Cambridge. 

Naveed Anwar 


I’ve been teaching Naveed since he was six months old, telling him stories about the Prophet, reading him anything I could get my hands on, and he’s always been studi- ous and ambitious. When he was 12 or 13 he asked me if I had heard of Cambridge and Oxford, and I told him yes, but that they were very difficult to get into. He replied ‘I’m going to go for that, mum.’ So when he was accepted into Cambridge it was like a dream come true for me and him.

 I always expected him to go wherever his education took him, so I wasn’t really anxious about the fact that he was leaving home. You do worry about how he’s going to eat, and how he would fit in, but I used to send food down, and he would ring home every other day. He was always a quiet, shy boy, but after only a few months away from home I noticed a difference straight away. He became so much more confident! All he had needed was a little independence and to find his own way. He joined the Islamic Society as soon as he arrived and was always careful in choosing his friends so I wasn’t worried about the crowd that he might get involved with.

 When he graduated, it was the best feel- ing – I was over the moon and so proud of him. It depends on the character of the child of course, and the people he mixes with, but thank God, Naveed’s going away to university was one of the best things that could have happened to him.

Nasreen Anwar - Naveed's mum 





It’s been an unspoken rule in our house that we wouldn’t move away to university. I recognised that early on, but as I have always wanted to go to Oxford I have been hinting to my parents for a long time. My parents have always taught me to aim for the highest, and that’s been a driving force throughout my GCSEs and A levels. I think when they saw me working and concentrating really hard during my GCSEs, getting straight As (which I repeated in my A levels), they recognised my potential and when I told them I had been accepted at Oxford they knew they would probably regret not letting me go.

Primarily they were concerned about my safety, but they trust me and feel I am on the right track with Islamic work in the Young Muslims. They know that I’m a diligent student and I’m not going to university just to get away from home. My sole ambition is to learn.

My biggest worry in university is how to deal with all the drinking that goes on, especially since my college has its own bar. It’s going to be hard to interact and keep good relations with others when the common room empties at 8pm every night. I think it’s really important to have a good relationship with non-Muslims as well as Muslims so I am going to have to find new ways to do that. It’s all too common to see Muslims going into university and staying with the same group of Muslims all the time. I want to have as broad a range of friends as possible.

Mostly, though, I’m just really excited. It’s the chance to discover who you really are without the comfort of your usual surroundings where maybe you’ve done things because someone tells you to, not because you’ve thought about it. Hopefully it will make me stronger as a person and as a Muslim.

I feel parents should be more open about the possibility of going to university away from home and especially for girls. People should never put boundaries on ambition, because it can make people give up at the beginning. 



I always hoped Nussaibah would go to a local university, especially considering the choices here in Manchester. It never crossed my mind that she would want to go to university away from home, and it was honestly the most difficult decision in my life to agree to it. I had always told my children to strive for the best, but unless it was also good for them I would never allow any of my children to move away. So I prayed for guidance (istikhara) many times, searching for God’s help and I felt happier.

 Being away from home means not being able to talk to your children, not being able to communicate with them face to face everyday and understand what is happening in their lives. My greatest fear is the company that Nussaibah will keep. The same fear would be there if she went to Manchester, but at least she would come home every evening. It’s not that she doesn’t have a mind of her own or that I don’t trust her, but the Prophet said you will mirror your friends, so that’s obviously a concern. There’s the worry of relationships too, which have the potential to develop very rapidly in these situations, but when I prayed istikhara I al- ways felt positive, and that calmed my fears.

When Nussaibah said she wanted to study away from home she reminded me that I always told her to strive for the best. But it wasn’t so much the going away to university that I minded, but the challenges that she would face at university and the strength of her Islam. Going away to university is not for every child, and parents know their children. If you know that one child just wants to go to have a good time to get away from mum and dad, then I wouldn’t recommend it. Islam is crucial here. It is a shield. But by 18, you’ve hopefully done your best for your children, and you pray that they will not falter and will always turn to God. 

Naseem Yunus - Nussaibah's Mum 




My parents would have preferred me to study locally, but for me the whole point of going away to university was to leave home and become independent. I wanted to gain experience of life on my own, using what teaching they had given me. I explained my reasons to them, and although they were worried at first, they are fine with it now.

My Dad’s a doctor and I always knew that I never wanted to be one. I was interested in law from an early age after watching television and films, and the fact that everyday would present me with a different challenge. I did work experience in a set of barrister’s Chambers in London and enjoyed that but towards the end of the first year of A Levels I went through a phase where I wanted to study Geography. To be honest I wasn’t all that confident about getting the grades to do Law.

I was accepted to study Geography at Liverpool University, but I had already decided to take a gap year and learn Arabic at the Chateau Chignon in France. A few of my dad’s contacts had told me about the Chateau and it seemed like a good idea since it has a good reputation and was closer to home than Egypt for example, which my parents appreciated. I didn’t have any expectations of what life would be like abroad alone for a whole year, but I found it was difficult as there’s nothing to do after the lessons except sleep, and so I spelt a lot! The teaching was excellent though and I can now carry off a fairly fluent conversation with my Dad in Arabic. While I was there I decided that I would apply for Law and thankfully Liverpool allowed me to change. I also met Aisha who I am now married to. I was not look- ing for a wife there, but I had always wanted to get married young, and have always been mature for my age. She’s Spanish and a little older than me, and that’s good. Obviously our parents wanted to make sure that it was the correct decision and both sides questioned us intensely. In the end they decided that it was the right thing to do.

Society is difficult, and although I didn’t get married as a precautionary measure, it’s going to help while I’m at university. Aisha is an added incentive to do well now. It’s not only my own future I have to work for but our future together. I was worried about going away to university at first, but now, after a year of Arabic, I am looking forward to studying in English again. Aisha is now one of my main motivations to do well, and I look forward in the future to a stable job and family, as well as balancing that with involvement in Islamic work. 

Sulaymaan Ahmed Butt 


I feel fine about Sulaymaan going away to University simply because he’s already been away in France for a year although that was difficult at first. He used to ring every day, then every few days, then every week, so we got used to it. The University of Liverpool is not too far from home, which is a relief, as he was thinking of going to Newcastle at first.

I would have preferred him to stay at home if only for the reason that you always want your children close to you, but I like to think we have been supportive of him going to Liverpool. When he went to France I was anxious, but we always had in mind that we wanted our children to learn Arabic and I knew that it was safe, so I was okay after that.

Before he went to France, he did ask me to keep an eye out for someone, because he wanted to get engaged before university. Sulaymaan’s always been mature and as long as he did it through the proper channels, which he did, it didn’t bother me. There were initial concerns when he did mention getting married, especially since he’s only 19, but as a family we’ve sorted them out and we met Aisha and her family. She’s a lovely girl and we’re really happy.

I think every parent needs to make their own decision about sending away their children to university, as it depends on the family. I just hope and pray that in all matters of life, personal, social, and marital, that Sulaymaan keeps Allah as his main focus, and that he remains steadfast on the straight path.

Samaira Finn Caille - Sulaymaan's mum 


For lonely students beginning their university careers, the FOSIS stall at the Fresher’s Fair has been providing a friendly face for over 40 years. Esma Izzidien looks at what the Federation of Student Islamic Societies in the UK and Ireland has to offer. 

New students will begin their university careers with a variety of emotions – trepidation, expectation, hopes, fears... Some will come ready prepared to participate in or build an Islamic Society, others just want a friendly Muslim face. But where to go?

“The voice of Muslim students since 1962” is the bold claim which greets you on the home page of the student umbrella organisation FOSIS.

As you read on you find reports of meetings with government to represent Muslim students’ views on student loans, tuition fees and prayer rooms. Further on is a review of a co-ordinated mobilisation of 80 Muslim students to the National Union of Students Annual conference. 

Further still you can browse through photos of the FOSIS Annual Conference, which brought over 700 students from across the UK together to share ideas and experiences. Per- haps that bold claim that greeted you is in fact true?

FOSIS offers students a variety of help from visits by local and regional representatives to speakers lists; from resource packs filled with freebies to advice on getting halal meals or a prayer room on campus; from posters and exhibition material to advice on working with the National Union of Students. FOSIS activities are incredibly diverse and wide ranging.

Ultimately, each university Islamic society will be shaped by the students there at any particularly time, as well as whether the university is in an area with a strong Muslim presence or a mono- ethnic surrounding community. FOSIS’ job is to co-ordinate the varying work of Islamic Societies across the UK without pushing a particularly school of thought, political viewpoint or methodology, no easy task but the role of an umbrella organisation.

For new students and old FOSIS provides a voice and a place to participate in student activities whilst maintaining an Islamic framework of reference. 



0208 452 4493  

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