A cold February weekend evening. Dressed in a black suit and bow tie, en route with friends to one of the poshest conference halls in the city for the most eagerly anticipated event of the departmental calendar year, attended by both students and lecturers alike. At 6pm a three course meal is served, followed by a short award ceremony and speech from the dean of the college. We all sit chatting contently and comfortably as the evening initially passes in a relatively tranquil fashion. However by 10pm the mood is very different.
I sit alone on a balcony, looking down at the desperate chaotic scene in the main hall below me. An evening of apparent class has descended into an alcohol-fuelled commotion. Their shamelessness strikes me the most, their adopting an attitude of living for the moment – forgetting the past and disregarding the future, lost in the life they consider so glamorous, like stray wolves wandering mountains, unaware of their ultimate purpose.
Such moments live inside me, as memories and as lessons. I realise now that to some degree all those that I watched from the balcony feel the same – joyful and excited on the exterior but secretly trapped inside their hearts like prisoners. I thought at that time of the blessing of the arrival of the Promised Messiah[as] and his mission to kill the swine – to destroy the culture of brazenness and flagrancy so that those who were imprisoned by this culture could realise the true meaning and purpose of life.
In many ways, there is a fine line between a heavenly and a hellish life. Sometimes the thing that you expect to lead you to happiness can turn out to be a source of pain and burning. When one seeks for superficial desires, and believes that something simple can fulfil the yearning of the heart, it in fact creates deeper holes and burns through the soul.
While I have been at University I have realised what my faith really is. It is not a source of oppression or rules or burdens; rather it bears my burdens and carries me through when I am lost, and picks me up when I stumble. For those who have not yet found God, who wander blindly from worldly pursuit to worldly pursuit, I realise that eventually it is they who are the losers. Living in their lusts and their drunkenness, they can gain temporary pleasure, but never peace or contentment or reassurance. They live a lonely life, really, moving from one temporary attraction to another, without goal, without direction, struggling through the difficult days and intoxicating themselves during the nights so they may push their troubles away. Moulding my university life in accordance with the teachings of God, or at least attempting to, liberates me profoundly. It means that my heart is at peace, that my troubles can be relieved by my prayers that I need not think of succumbing to the peer pressures that others have to face during their student days. It means that I can live my own life for the sake of God, and not try to live a more fashionable or socially acceptable life for the sake of others. And paradoxically, it means that others become drawn to the person who lives for God. Thus it enables me to set a trend, and not follow the sinful trends of others, even if it may only be to a small degree.
Making friends at university requires patience. To rush into attending freshers events as a desperate method of acquiring companions only leads to long-term failure. It may seem that you are an island, a lone wolf sheltered from the opportunities to meet people, but that feeling is only temporary. As the weeks pass, the realisation grows that the occasions to meet people are endless, without having to resort to being present at events in which alcohol is used as the only entertainment. University is about discovery. It is a crossroads, and enables one to make a choice about the kind of life one wishes to live. If we wish to forge friendships and be respected and admired by others, the tempting option will be to follow their tendencies and fashions and social habits. But what I have learnt is that only by following the path that God desires for us, and channelling our worldly passions according to God’s will, at a time in our life when they appeal to us most, can we ultimately acquire the truest friend and the most lasting peace.
“Verily, it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort” (13:29)
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