It was what you’d call a truly pleasant day. The semester had just begun, old friends exchanged delightful salaams and warm embraces as they met in classes or hostels, thousands of tokens were being printed at the banks, new students rushed around nervously doing registration or asking for directions as they got lost, lunch was being served in all the cafeterias and dozens of fresh-juice orders were being made in HS to beat the heat, graduating students were waiting for their clearance at Admissions and Records, and in all this activity, I sat with relief on the stairs leading to the library and took in the lush green mountains before my eyes, having successfully registered for my very first semester in university. As I sat there admiring the gleaming white clouds as they floated in a brilliant blue sky, a soft breeze surrounding me; a most magnificent voice electrified the afternoon air:
“Bismillah Ar Rahman Ar Raheem. Praise be to Allah who has sent to His servant the Book, and has allowed therein no crookedness. He has made it straight and clear in order that He may warn the godless of a terrible punishment from Him, and that He may give glad tidings to the Believers who work righteous deeds, that they shall have a goodly Reward, wherein they shall remain forever.”
It was as if time froze. I found myself captured by the beauty of this surreal moment. As these verses of Surah Kahf resonated majestically throughout campus from the main mosque, I confessed to myself what has remained true for all these three years: this is exactly where I wanted to be.
On that beautiful Friday afternoon, I experienced what I never did before and what I never would in any other educational institute: I saw Muslims of every kind and color, I heard animated conversations in languages of the East and the West, I saw thobes and jeans;baju melayus and sarongs; abayas and flowing coats, songkoks and shimaaghs, brothers made cool wudus in the hot courtyards of the mosque, meals and classes had ended, the library and offices had closed and whiffs of Arabian perfume filled the air as people headed forJumuah prayer; the adhaan beckoning the students, the rector, lecturers, staff, cleaners and the guards alike as it proclaimed: “… come to connection with Allah, come to success, come to success, Allah is the greatest, there is no god but Allah.” I watched the scene below me from the women’s balcony of the mosque, every row was filled till the doors, the khateeb began his sermon and the angels sat to listen with us, having just marked thousands of us as ‘present’ on the Scrolls of Attendance.
Yes I was in a garden, just as the slogan stated. There was shade to rest under, a stream to sit and think by, lawns to relax on and new species of exotic birds and flowers to discover everyday. Yes it was a garden of knowledge; I have witnessed lecturers whose every word is like a pearl of wisdom, truth and empowerment that they give to their students with passion and humility. Yes it was a garden of virtue, it was here that I had the chance to experience I’tikaf in Ramadan, it was here that I had iftaars with Africans, Asians and Europeans together, it was here that I could give charity by donating blood, it was here that you could sponsor an orphan in Gaza straightaway, it was here that I learnt the greatness of the Shariah, it was here that I never had to compromise my prayer for classes, it was here that I learnt to be proud of my hijab, it was here that I met the potential leaders of my ummah, it was here that I found people with dreams like my own and it was here that I learnt that you will only find what you are looking for.
It was here that I learnt that even if you are caught in a storm of people’s opinions, judgments and pessimism; if you only look once for a place’s garden, the knowledge and virtue it has to offer – you will find it.
Written in 2010 about the International Islamic University, Malaysia.