By Imam Murtadha Gusau
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All Praise is due to Allah, We praise Him and we seek help from Him. We ask forgiveness from Him. We repent to Him; and we seek refuge in Him from our own evils and our own bad deeds. Anyone who is guided by Allah, he is indeed guided; and anyone who has been left astray, will find no one to guide him. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, the only One without any partner; and I bear witness that Muhammad (Peace be upon him), is His servant, and His Messenger.
O You who believe, – Be aware of Allah, with correct awareness, an awe-inspired awareness, and die not except as Muslims.
O You who believe, – Be aware of Allah, and speak a straightforward word. He will forgive your sins and repair your deeds. And whoever takes Allah and His Prophet as a guide, has already achieved a mighty victory.
“O mankind! Show reverence towards your Guardian-Lord Who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate and from the two of them scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;― Be conscious of Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual (rights) and (show reverence towards) the wombs (that bore you): for surely, Allah ever watches over you.”
Dear brothers and sisters, know that, sometimes as students, your years at school go by at break-neck speed. For that brief period in life, the world cuts you some slack while you meander through the meadows of your mind and make something of yourself. As a vicegerent, placed by Allah on this Earth, Allah has given you, the Muslim student, an even higher purpose than to become a breadwinner or careerist. As Muslims, we are charged with developing ourselves to the greatest extent that we can in order to carry out the work of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) on this Earth. This means becoming intellectual and spiritual forces to be reckoned with by nurturing the talents and creativity we have chosen to develop and using them for something beyond ourselves – for something that really matters.
You may be exposed for the first time to ideas and ‘isms’ that challenge your worldview and seek to discombobulate you as a believer. More importantly, you are now entirely responsible for staying disciplined, such as waking yourself up for Fajr prayer, especially if you are living away from home.
The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) is reported to have said:
“A time will come to people in which patiently adhering to one’s religion will be like holding on to a hot coal.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhi, and graded Sahih by Imam Al-Albani]
So how do you as a student safeguard your religion during these years of “self-discovery”? How do you emerge successfully and relatively unscathed, with an even stronger sense of identity? As a student of knowledge, here are my advice to you as follows:
• Be mindful of Allah
Keep in mind the advice of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) to his young cousin Abdullah Ibn Abbas:
“Be mindful of Allah and you will find Him in front of you. Get to know Allah in times of ease and He will know you in times of hardship. Know that anything that passes you by was never meant to come to you, and anything that happens to you was never going to miss you. Know that victory comes through patience, relief comes with suffering, and that with hardship comes ease.” [40 Hadith of Imam An-Nawawi]
Beloved brothers and sisters, being mindful of Allah (Muraqabah), means knowing that although your parents are not watching you, Allah, your Creator is. It means doing your best not to compromise on Allah’s commands and boundaries. It means doing the right thing in any given situation. You can and you must call on Him, speak to Him, cry to Him, complain to Him, and start your day by making mention of Him. Tell Him your dreams and heart’s desires.
• Be proud to worship Allah
When you pray your prayers, fast Ramadan, or observe the Hijab, you are doing so in worship and obedience to Allah Almighty. When the time for prayer comes, pray. Carry a prayer mat with you everywhere and be proud to pray in any safe place, even if people can see you (and even if you don’t have a mat!). You are a believer! It is precisely because you put that forehead to the ground in worshipping your Creator that you have the Allah-given right to hold your head up high before the Creation! Never imagine that people are looking down on you. On the contrary, you are piquing their fitrah (Fitrah is the inherent and natural inclination towards Islam that Allah has placed within all human beings). Wallahi they are secretly admiring you and wishing they had the conviction and connection you have with your Lord.
• Keep your guard up
Having a crush feels real (and can be very painful). Some day you will, In Shaa Allah, be happily married to someone you love, who is good for your religion and worthy of building a family with. Until then, protect yourself and your heart from the pain of prohibited relationships and everything that can lead to them. This is done by actively avoiding situations that ignite your desires. This means, for example, not uselessly and unnecessarily freely mixing with the opposite sex, not being in seclusion with your professor (of the opposite sex), not listening to lewd lyrics, and lowering your gaze. Our religion gave us these guidelines for our own protection.
• Find an Islamic mentor
The scholars of Islam are the heirs of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). We need to stay connected to them in these times of confusion, fear and delusion. Find a qualified, truthful and sincere scholar who you trust and attend their regular classes. Alternatively, find a trustworthy Islamic mentor who you can turn to for advice and guidance with regards to matters of spirituality – this should be someone who won’t sugar-coat things and can answer your questions. Seek knowledge of the religion, study the Qur’an, and don’t allow the knowledge of the world to be your only knowledge. It is usually because we lack knowledge and connection to the people of knowledge that the various and dangerous ideologies and ‘isms’ are able to affect us and sow seeds of doubt.
• Keep good company
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:
“A man follows the religion of his friend, so each one of you should consider (carefully) whom he makes his friend.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhi]
Surround yourself with a core group of fellow believers who have good character and get involved with your Islamic Society. A good friend will help you stay on the straight path.
• Know why you are here
You are not at school or university to mess around. These years are precious, but by all means enjoy them. Explore and experience life to the full. Have fun with your friends and get involved in extracurricular activities. However, don’t forget that you will probably never have the same level of free time again. As you get older, your responsibilities will increase, so value this opportunity and do the very best you can. The effort you put in will be reflected in your results. The boxer Muhammad Ali said:
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
You will thank yourself later. Keep in mind your specific aims for being here and keep in mind your greater purpose in life, which is that you were created to worship and serve Allah Almighty.
• Know where you are going
Formulate a vision for your life. How will you serve the cause of Allah? Where will you be when you are 40 and 60 years old? Beginning with the end in mind helps you to take the right steps today. You don’t have to know how you will get there yet, because you can (and will) figure that out as you go along. Your vision may also change, and it may seem impossible, but nothing is impossible if you have Allah on your side.
• Become a force to be reckoned with
The process of writing an essay well can teach you to research and think in a structured and methodical manner. Learning to think and express yourself are powerful skills for you to become a force to be reckoned with in this world. But you must develop these skills, which will take time, effort, and tawfiq from Allah Almighty. It also means taking the metaphysical means to success and blessing in your life, which comes through pleasing Allah. Get into the habit of giving charity from now – charity never decreases your wealth. Call up your mum ‘just because.’ Buy things for your parents. Help out and volunteer. You will see that the good deeds you do are recompensed manifold. Show Allah what you are willing to do for His sake and He will grant you success In Shaa Allah, here and the hereafter.
• Be patient as you formulate new thoughts
Everything seems so black and white when you start out, then you begin to see the shades of grey; the nuances and hidden aspects. Hold your judgment, take your time, and read between the lines. If you start to have questions about some aspect of Islam, or you feel unhappy with something, go seek knowledge about it properly from real-life, knowledgeable, learned Muslims, not from Sheikh Google and Mufti YouTube. Realise that you may have only been given part of the picture, or a biased version of something. Hold your judgement, be humble, and have faith that Allah will show you the way if you are patient, truthful and sincere.
• Speak up when you should
Ask questions in class to make sure you understand things properly. Be willing to challenge ideas, as this is the perfect practicing ground for you to build your confidence. If something inaccurate is said in class, don’t be afraid to respectfully speak up. You can politely email your teacher or your professor and give him or her evidence to back up your perspective. There are two types of people who cannot seek knowledge properly: the arrogant and the shy. The arrogant one thinks he knows everything already. The shy one is too shy to ask questions for fear of looking bad.
• Beware of becoming an ideologue
The university space is notoriously filled with isms and schisms. Whether it’s atheism, agnosticism, nihilism, capitalism, socialism, communism, orientalism, Marxism, feminism or terrorism, such isms tend to be ideologies: systems of ideas and ideals with their own architects, ideologues, and loaded language. Islam is the complete way of life revealed by our Creator, Allah. It is the source of our ideals and values. Remember that Islam contains its own framework for addressing issues surrounding oppression, the economy, women’s rights, politics, business, philosophy and more. Worldly ‘isms’ were formulated in the minds of fallible human beings and, at times, charlatans. Even academia itself cannot escape its internal conventions, biases, assumptions, and poor scholarship. Be careful before you innocently adopt trends such as ‘cancel culture’ or use the latest loaded buzzword. You could be sucked in to an ideology that is antithetical to Islam, which could lead to greater problems in your life and in your religion.
• Seek excellence in all you do
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) told us:
“Verily, Allah has prescribed excellence in everything…” [Sahih Muslim]
Excellence is an iterative process; you get better over time. By putting in the hours, studying smart, attending workshops that teach you how to write well, receiving feedback on your essays, and reading widely and around your subject, you will attain excellence. Go beyond the call of duty to add the X-factor to everything you do.
• Believe that you are originally successful as stated by Allah Almighty in the Qur’an, in Surah At-Tin, 95:4:
“Surely We created man of the best stature.”
This means Allah has created us with everlasting success and as vicegerents on earth we should know how to find and bring out the success ourselves.
• Know that your brain is divided into 2 parts: left hemisphere and right hemisphere. The right hemisphere functions to think logically, critically, think about science and anything that’s considered in this area. The left hemisphere functions to think creatively, literary and else that’s called creative. Normally, many students use the right hemisphere to learn but the fact is, learning is excellent and you’ll learn at the maximum stage when you use both sides of your brain. Here we can conclude than we should learn with both sides of our brain to get the maximum understanding when we’re learning.
• Don’t ever believe that you’re an ordinary person with nothing to be proud of. Here, I don’t ask you to be proud of yourself or what, the thing is, you must believe and feel confident that you’re created with success. You must believe that you’re truly a successful person. But you must find the success first before believing it that way.
• Remember these facts: We remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we read and listen (listen to teacher), 50% of what we read, listen and see (pay attention to teacher), 70% of what we read, listen, see and say (say everything we have learnt loudly), 90% of what we practice daily (do exercise after study daily, every time you’ve finished studying).
• Learn actively with your fingers pointing at what you’re learning to increase your attention. Draw a mind map every time after you’ve finished studying.
• Learn 2½ – 3 hours a day for high school students and 4-5 hours a day for those in university.
• Learn in a conducive surrounding: (a) Green/yellow/both surrounding (b) Sufficient light (c) A bit hotter (no air conditioned room please) (d) Lower noise (e) IMPORTANT: Don’t ever try to learn with music. It might cause your brain to be confused. You aren’t learning actually but reading! As said by many scholars, there’ll be no barakah (blessing) to those who learn this way. NO BARAKAH FROM ALLAH! SO, STOP LISTENING TO MUSIC WHEN YOU’RE LEARNING! (f) Paste motivation posters like Qur’an phrases (most recommended) and your own motivation like: I’m clever! I can do it! Of course I can! Allah is with me! (g) Learn towards qiblah. If you’re capable to do this (most recommended) change your table’s position towards qiblah. And if you can, please remove your table’s position to be near to the window as brain need oxygen and sugar to operate excellently. (h) Wear some perfumes (girls/women please listen. Do not wear it outside or when there’s ajnabi around (non muhrim men around) it might cause a big sin. Wear it a bit when you’re studying). (i) Smile when you’re studying.
• Don’t ever try to leave your class (when you’re in school or etc) without any good reason. This could cause the teachers to hate you and stop praying for your success or in the other hand: NO BARAKAH (BLESSING) FROM ALLAH! If you cannot avoid from leaving your lesson, you should ask for apology and notes from your teachers.
• Learn with output learning: (a) Read first (b) Try to remember back (c) Draw a mind map (d) Check your mind map and compare it to the real note. (e) Speak out loudly what you’ve learnt.
• You should know how to motivate yourself when you fail to get what you’re targeting to own.
• Write the positive deeds you’ve done in your diary daily. This could help to motivate you.
• Be friend with positive people.
• Try to help others to be the best. If you do it this way, Allah will help you to be best too In Shaa Allah.
• Pray to Allah every second… as possible as you can.
• Always be early in everything. For example, sit in front in your class. Prepare for your exam earlier. Read any related thing or the subject you’ll learn before being taught by the teachers.
• Always recite Surah Al-Inshirah ‘Alam Nashrah’ before you learn or sit for exam. Recite Surah Yasin or Qur’an daily.
• Learn in short session: Every 20 minutes, stop for 2-3 minutes to drink water and etc. You won’t feel bored this way.
• Revise as soon as possible before 24 hours. For instance, if you read Geography that morning, at night you should revise it back.
• You should know how to strengthen your memory. Some wise men said: (a) Do not eat fish head, internal organs like heart of animal (If you want to eat those food, please recite Bismillahil-lazi la yadurru ma’as mihi shai’un fil ardi wala fis-sama’i wahuwassami’ul alim. Please do not eat any food that’s being polluted… has ant in it (there’s a Sahih Hadith about it). (b) Drink one hour before/after eating as done by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Learn 2 hours after eating to avoid from being sleepy. Eat before iftar if possible. (c) Do not eat too much as Umar Bin Al-Khattab said it isn’t good for health and your mind. You’ll feel sleepy if you do it. (d) Do not look at your private part frequently. It can cause you to be an absent minded, and you might have sight problem. But you can look at your wife’s private part and she can look at yours. (e) Do not look at bubbles. Do not read dead people names at the graveyard. Scholars believes bubbles will cause your memory to burst like bubbles too and dead people names will cause your brain to be dead. (f) Eat a lot of nuts, peas and beans. Eat raisins, honey and dates too. (g) Wear hair oil. (h) Do exercise weekly to be fit all the time.
• Make a flexible timetable. You can have rest, study, and play in it. Include all good points like learning, your hobby etc. But remember do not do something like learning for a long time, it will cause you to be bored. And do not play for too long time, you’ll feel tired and you cannot study after that.
• Make night prayer and nawafil daily. Pray for every Muslim especially your friends, parents and teachers. Above all perform your prayer daily… And know that a person can not learn by two things: (1) Arguing with a Fool (2) Arguing with your teacher. Always respect your teacher as you respect your parents…
• Get Organised
Making a plan for what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it will make sure you’re always ahead of the curve – literally.
• Don’t multitask
Studies have shown that multitasking is physically impossible.
• Divide it up
Studying isn’t fun to begin with, and forcing yourself through a study marathon will only make it worse. Dividing your work into manageable chunks and rewarding yourself when you finish each chunk will make studying (more) fun.
Don’s underestimate the importance of those eight hours of zzz’s every night! Getting a good night’s rest will sharpen your focus and improve your working memory.
• Set a schedule
Do you work better right after school or after you’ve eaten dinner? Are you more productive in 90-minute blocks or half-hour spurts? Find a schedule that works for you, and stick to it.
• Take notes
Taking notes will not only keep you more engaged during class, but will also help you narrow down what you need to study when exam time rolls around. It’s much easier to reread your notes than to reread your entire textbook!
This one might be obvious, but did you know that there’s a right and a wrong way to study? Review your material several days ahead of time, in small chunks, and in different manners (for example, write flashcards one day and take practice tests the next). In other words, don’t cram.
• Manage your study space
Find a place that will maximise your productivity. Look for places away from the television and other distractions. Whether it’s your local library or just the desk in your bedroom, set aside a study space that you’ll want to spend time in.
• Find a study group
Sitting down with a group of people who are learning the same things as you is a great way to go over confusing class material or prepare for a big test. You can quiz each other, reteach material, and make sure that everyone is on the same page. After all, teaching someone else is the best way to learn.
• Ask questions
You’re in school to learn, so don’t be afraid to do just that! Asking for help – from a teacher, a tutor or your friends – is a surefire way to make sure you truly understand the material.
Ask Allah Almighty to give you taufiq to learn, to show you anything is hidden, to make things easy for you, to teach you what you do not know.
Lastly, I pray that Allah will bless everything that you do. I pray that you will grow intellectually and spiritually so that you can understand the problems of the world and where you fit into that world picture and I pray that all the fear that has ever been in your heart will be taken out… Ameen.
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: email@example.com or +2348038289761.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Safar 21, 1442 AH (October 09, 2020)