Success and struggle: Reflections of a University student
When I was in Sixth Form, I made the difficult decision to study English Literature and Linguistics at university. My father thought that would, at best, help me to become a shopkeeper.
During the first year, I heard about the competitive nature of the graduate job market and my cousin’s struggles in securing a job so I decided to find myself one. Or even three. This involved engaging in a battle with my mother as she thought I should focus solely on my studies.
Later that year, I went to a talk on student loans and found out more about why engaging in riba (loosely translated as interest) is impermissible. At that point, I vowed that I would self-fund the remainder of my studies. My mother said (later) that she never thought I’d be able to do it.
In 2016, I was getting ready to leave the house for an interview which formed part of the assessment for the Civil Service Fast Stream. I told my father that I had a one in ten chance of getting in. At this point, even I was sceptical.
Now fast forward to the present and what have I achieved? I’ve graduated from Queen Mary University of London with a first-class degree in English Literature and Linguistics and no, I’m not a shopkeeper, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m also free from student debt as a combination of grants, bursaries, loans from family and a partial scholarship helped me to pay off three years’ worth of fees in two. Within six months of graduation, I’d also repaid any money I owed to family. Job-wise, I’ve now finished my first placement on the Civil Service HR Fast Stream, with only 1 in 38 people that applied in the year I did having even secured a place, let alone stayed on. This is also in spite of encountering numerous obstacles and coping with the loss of my beloved grandfather last year. As difficult as it was, I can only say Alhamdulillāh for all of this as I’ve learnt a lot and it’s built my resilience. If there was a word more powerful than this to express gratitude, then I would use it.
Despite all of this, I’ve found that the path to success can often be a lonely and rickety road, filled with numerous dips and even potholes. Furthermore, as success differs from individual to individual, paths may vary and it can be incredibly to make others understand your journey, especially as each individual’s views are shaped by their own experiences or lack of them. It’s most difficult when these are your loved ones, certainly in my own case. But the fact that the Prophet (pbuh) encountered this too and at a much greater intensity gives me hope. At least my parents eventually came round. What if they didn’t, even in spite of my degree classification and job, as ridiculous as that may sound? Everything could’ve been so much worse!
Admittedly, getting through these challenges was really difficult and there were times where even I doubted myself. What helped me though were some very special individuals who understood and encouraged me when few others did. One of these was a friend who was funding her own degree and therefore really encouraged me to do the same. Another friend was ambitious in her own career and had achieved numerous successes herself through great struggles, so she consequently understood mine and supported me through them. When times were tough, even simple statements like “Tasnia, I’m so proud of you and what you’ve achieved meant a great deal” helped me. Without these inspiring ladies, and many more wonderful humans, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Relating this to the life of the Prophet, he had Khadija and Abū Tālib who supported him and defended/championed his cause. He loved them so much that the year both died was known as The Year of Sorrow. He also had his Companions in Makkah and then enjoyed the kindness and generosity of the Ansār in Madīnah. This just goes to show how the help of Allāh is always near, whatever form this may be in.
However, some of the most beautiful outcomes of both my struggles and successes are the legacies I’ve left for others. As the eldest child, I’ve inevitably ended up doing a bit of trailblazing, unbeknownst to me whilst I was doing so. My determination to fund my own degree led to two of my younger sisters doing the same. Because I’m so passionate about this, I was able to write what ended up being a successful scholarship application for one sister and financially aid the other. My successes in doing a humanities degree and ability to achieve this whilst working have also enabled one of my sisters to do the same, except no battles needed fighting because I’d already paved the way.
In any case, I never thought that my struggles and successes would take on the meaning that they have, but this just goes to show how truly worth it they were. Alhamdulillāh. And relating this back to the Seerah of the Prophet (SAW), look at his achievement. From being called a madman, sorcerer and all sorts of other names simply for declaring the Oneness of Allāh, 1,400 years later and this message has been embraced by 1.5 million people in all corners of the globe. This is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Lesson: challenges and lack of understanding from others may get you down, but Allāh will bless you with those who can actually comprehend it. Never underestimate the power and legacies of your successes and struggles – you may feel like they are nothing substantive, but you never know who they will inspire. Just push on and keep smiling whilst you’re at it!