By Maria Chowdhury
Before I start, I should mention that I’m writing this as a Muslim, but even if you’re not Muslim, hopefully you can relate to some of the things in this article. Religion and faith are constantly subject to scrutiny so it’s incredibly nerve-wracking to think that this will be on the internet for everyone to judge. Just as a disclaimer, I am in no way Mufti Menk  and this certainly isn’t a how-to guide. It’s merely to give an insight into my experiences with religion at university, something that isn’t really talked about despite it playing a massive part in a lot of our lives and something I personally wish I could’ve read about before starting uni.
My fears about uni started on results day. With my place at medical school confirmed, I started to worry about accommodation. Would there be boys in my flat? Would I have to whack a scarf on every time I wanted to refill my bottle in the kitchen? What would happen if there was a fire alarm in the middle of the night? (I always keep my hooded dressing gown within arm’s length of my bed). How would I put a stethoscope on with my hijab  ? (I still haven’t figured this one out properly- send me tutorials). Were there enough halal food places around? (This wasn’t a problem with the curry mile  being very -a bit too- close). Would it be another 7 years of: “No, I don’t wear my hijab in the shower”? 😊
Once I was at uni I quickly realised that my experience would be exactly what I made it- I could choose the route that I wanted to go down. One thing that I prayed for before starting med school was good friends and alhamdulillah  I have been nothing short of blessed. If I could give just one piece of advice for your whole university experience it would be to choose your company wisely. Because as much as we like to think of ourselves as strong, independent, determined individuals, we are inevitably affected by the people around us and falling into the wrong crowd can really influence the choices that you start to make. It’s really reassuring to have friends who you know will try their best to keep you on the right track- whether it’s to nudge you in the direction of the prayer room or to back you when you’re being peer pressured to go on a night out or to desperately recite Ayatul Kursi  with you outside the exam hall. They really are priceless.
Something I have found to be a bit of a myth myself, is that there is no peer pressure at university. With everyone away from home, most probably for the first time, there is a sense of newfound freedom; everyone is eager to fit in and try new things. My advice is simple: you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to. Stay firm with your beliefs, hold your head high and you’ll be absolutely fine. If you feel left out or alone, reach out to your friends and have a chat about how you feel- chances are they feel the exact same way too and are too afraid to discuss how they feel. Real friends will respect your decisions. If you find that you’ve no one to speak to or want some advice or someone to talk to anyway, please feel free to post on the forum or email firstname.lastname@example.org to speak to me directly.
In May 2019, I experienced my first Ramadhan  away from home. Whilst it sounds a tad dramatic to say this now, it was definitely one of the most challenging things that I have been through and something I never thought about when starting university. To say that Ramadhan colliding with exam season didn’t make things any easier, is an understatement, but God is the best of planners and everything works out the way it is meant to. All the things that would’ve made my Ramadhan easier and more enjoyable- doing iftar  with my friends, video calling my family and Taraweeh  with ISOC (Islamic society)- were more difficult to do when I was supposed to be revising for my exams and my first ever set of OSCE’s.
Whilst I have some practical tips, such as spending some iftars and suhoor  /sehri/fothas with your friends and finding a routine that works for you, the most important thing to do in my opinion is to prepare yourself mentally. If it is your first Ramadhan away from home: it IS going to be difficult, you may find yourself crying alone at iftar and wondering when this will all come to an end. One thing I wish I had done more would be to perhaps FaceTime my friends who didn’t live with me but were also spending their first Ramadhan alone, even if we enjoyed each other’s company studying in silence it would’ve helped a lot. Just know that you’re not alone, speak to someone, tell your family that you miss them, and you will see them soon. Your sacrifice will be worth it, you will be rewarded and you’ll come out the other end a better person, mentally, spiritually and hopefully physically too. On the bright side, you have Eid  to look forward to at the end of the month!
Whilst there are plenty of hurdles to face with religion at med school, there are plenty of good times too. Enjoy the moments with your friends in the prayer room, praying Taraweeh together, communal iftars and try your best to go to all the society events (e.g. ISOC). Best of luck to you all with your spiritual and medical journeys! 😊
 A famous and reputable Islamic scholar
 Head scarf
 Manchester’s famous mile long road of restaurants and takeaways
 Translates to ‘praise be to God’
 A verse from the Quran
 A month that Muslims spend fasting
 A meal to break the fast
 Special night prayers in Ramadhan
 A meal before starting the fast
 Festival/celebration at the end of Ramadhan