Studying at Oxford helped me love the Quran and change my life for the better
I’m known to many as an erratic, somewhat scatty individual. I’ve always found peace quite hard to come by, even though my troubles pale in comparison to others. I always found small thoughts would become seeds of anxiety that would haunt me for weeks, months and in some cases years. As a Muslim, I was always very narrow-minded and found myself unwilling to take advice from people I perceived to be ‘unlearned.’ As a result, I isolated myself from the wider Muslim community in a forlorn attempt to protect my own faith. This isolation had only served to destroy friendships and proved to be somewhat counter-productive.
Although I would try to carry out the ritualistic aspects of my faith, pray when I could and fast during the month of Ramadan, some of my practices become lax and I found myself compromising on some of the core tenants of Islam. If I missed a prayer I typically wouldn’t be too bothered unless it was during the month of Ramadan. I only read the Quran when asked to read particular surahs (chapters) by my parents. When I would attempt to read on my own account, I couldn’t sustain my efforts and, eventually, the reading would cease completely.
After a series of unfortunate/fortunate events, I found myself studying for a DPhil at the University of Oxford. This was the first time in my life I had to be completely independent. Being away from home proved very difficult and I was barely managing to have set meals, let alone carry out my other worldly obligations. These challenges made me question my choices, and I almost left Oxford and my DPhil in fear of it being detrimental to my physical and mental health.
When I started reading for my post graduate degree, I did engage a little with the Islamic society. I was struck with how different Oxford ISOC was to my previous encounters with ISOC communities, and I found Oxford ISOC to be tolerant, inclusive and largely welcoming. The general community was very interested in Islam and I was fortunate enough to meet many scholarly individuals who have the skills, knowledge, and wisdom to potentially become the future leading lights of our religion. Their views were less ‘extreme’ and it felt more brotherly than what I was used to. Thankfully, this environment eventually helped to soften my heart. I soon got to see first-hand how diverse, broad and tolerant Islam really was, something I hadn’t really experienced growing up in predominantly Pakistani Muslim community on the outskirts of London. I was being exposed to a plethora of opinions and ideas that challenged my understanding of the religion. I realised how little I actually knew about Islam and this compelled me to self-reflect and re-think my view of Islam. I slowly began to make more of an effort to practice Islam. I started with the bare fundamentals and re-learnt or revised everything I had ever been taught. Yet I still felt uneasy about Oxford and whether I could continue. At this point, I still hadn’t given much focus to the Quran.
The one major redefining moment was a Friday at Jummah in the prayer room, when a brother delivered a khutba (sermon) on our relationship with the Quran. I had heard many talks like this before but never really acted on them, and thought that one day I’d magically be able to read the Quran every day, especially since my dad seemed to be able to recite it daily so easily. He began by discussing how the Muslims of today seemed to have abandoned the Quran and this immediately struck a chord with me. When was the l last time I had read the Quran? I was suddenly filled with guilt, and as he went on I began to seriously reflect on what he was saying. He advised people who had difficulty to start by reading only a few ayahs a day, then building up to read more. He also discussed how it was more important to make reading the Quran habitual and consistent rather than trying to read a lot of chapters and stopping, as Allah like acts which are recurring.
You may have all heard the Hadith about the Quran testifying for or against us on the day of resurrection, but this hadith had never really registered with me until that day (truly “God guides to his light whom he wills”). I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t read the Quran, and it was all I could think about for the rest of the day. When I arrived home, I immediately made wudu and began reciting the Quran. I told myself that from then on, I would read the Quran regularly even if it was a single ayah every day. It sounds simple enough, but at the beginning, I would still miss a day here or there (but at least I was reading more regularly). I was soon consistently reciting a couple of pages every night and progressing through the first few chapters.
I suddenly found myself becoming stricter with salah as I was reminded we don’t have many excuses not to pray when we are in good health. The company I kept slowly began to change and this had a profound effect on me. I was accounting for prayer times when I would go out or making sure there was always somewhere to pray. I had even asked one of my younger cousins studying hifz to help me brush up on my recitation.
All too soon, reciting the Quran became the highlight of my day.
I eventually tried to read a few pages after every salah and could complete a chapter every couple of days. I also wanted to learn more about each of the surahs I was reading. Life began to feel less stressful, my physical health improved and I was coping better with work.
At this point, I recite the Quran every day, typically after every Salah and actually during any free time that I have. The Quran has become a shining light in a time of darkness. Anytime if feel pressured or stressed I simply recite the Quran and I’m instantly calmed. My friend circles are now predominantly practising Muslims who I keep for the sake of Allah. By Allah’s grace, I hope that I can continue to recite the Quran and learn more about our religion. My parents and siblings have noticed a positive change in my character too. I would never have imagined such a change could happen over such a short period of time. I’m much less erratic and a more controlled version of myself, although I am very much still a work in progress.
I would encourage anyone who feels they have something missing in their lives to take up reciting the Quran more often and I hope that it will help you in the same way it has helped me. We must always remember that it was the Quran and the character of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which changed the hearts of the companions, and by strengthening our relationship with the Quran and implementing the Sunnah, maybe we can also influence those around us and guide one another to the straight path.
“And We reveal of the Quran that which is a healing and a mercy for believers” (17:82).
by Hamza Khan
Hamza Khan is a British born Muslim Pakistani who is a current post graduate student at the University of Oxford studying a DPhil in Antibody Modification and holds an undergraduate degree. He hopes to one day have a positive impact on the field of Science.