Home, Sweet Home!
Growing up in Queens, New York I was lucky to live in a predominantly South Asian neighborhood with a mosque down the block. Community and faith were intertwined and I never questioned why I was Muslim or why I should continue being Muslim. Instead I embraced my Muslim identity openly and threw myself into all the things I could find that had “Islam” or “Muslim” attached to its name. As a result I found wonderful friends and mentors and discovered many things that I’m passionate about, but each experience sparked more complicated questions about why and what I believe that I felt severely ill-equipped to answer. It was harder to find a spiritual connection to God than it was to continue going through the motions and keeping up appearances. And so when it came time to decide where to go to college, I felt a profound sense of uncertainty and wavering faith that I hoped the “right school” would put to rest.
Enter Princeton – the sunshine-filled and stone-paved bubble I’d be spending the next four years in. I was, like many of you probably are, extremely excited but also worried about who I would become in those four years. My Muslim identity was so integral to my life that I shuddered to think who I would be if I were to lose that aspect of myself. Islam was all I’d ever known yet I was afraid that my faith was not strong enough to withstand being away from the community I’ve always known. But I soon realized that Princeton is the place when my faith is most secure and supported.
The Office of Religious Life (ORL) instantly became the center of my Princeton bubble – my days revolved around going to work as an office intern and studying on the cozy couches in Murray-Dodge, home of the ORL. I loved to sit in my favorite blue chair on the second floor and greet anyone who came up the creaking wooden stairs, chatting with them about anything and everything and feeling rejuvenated with every encounter. I met students who quickly became some of my closest friends and I began to better understand people’s unique journeys with their faiths, ambitions, and dreams at Princeton and beyond. Compassion and enthusiasm glowed in the faces of students and staff members in the office, each person a reflection of the vibrancy of the campus.
The ORL also pushed me to see beyond my particular faith and cultivate greater respect and appreciation for other beliefs. I looked forward to hearing songs of praise being sung by Christian groups during the weekdays, their voices rising up to the third floor and filling the building with unabashed joy and reverence that was so infectious I couldn’t help but hum along! Hearing the soothing bell rung by the Buddhist students during every mediation always caught my attention and prompted me to also drawn inward for a moment and reflect. And my favorite was walking up to the third floor and hearing the gentle rhythm of the Qur’an being recited, the rustle of clothing as people bowed in worship, and feeling the breeze through the open window. It was so surreal to spend every day surrounded by a plethora of beliefs and connections with the divine and unseen, all without a hint of judgement or exclusivity. Everything I experienced in Murray Dodge can be characterized by one word: warm. Like the fresh-baked cookies that tempted everyone in the office whenever their scents floated up from the café below, the Office of Religious Life made anyone who walked in feel safe, welcome, and at ease.
I am especially grateful that I discovered an even more close-knit and inclusive Muslim community than I’d had at home, thanks to the vision and ambition of the Muslim chaplain Imam Sohaib Sultan and the Muslim Students Association. From day one, they welcomed me with open arms, encouraging me to come to their multiple events and programs and taking great lengths to make me feel included and wanted on campus. The conversations and spiritual experiences I had with the MSA during my freshman year were unlike anything I’d ever experienced before and for the first time in my life, I truly felt God with me and sought comfort in Him. Now as a senior I reflect on the difficulties that I’ve faced and look ahead to my remaining time here with overwhelming love and gratitude for the people who kept me going and helped me see wisdom in everything. Had I not gone to the ORL barbeque in September or walked into Murray Dodge that afternoon during Preview and had not sought out the religious community on campus, I don’t know who I would be or whether I would be as happy as I am now.
So as you count down the days until you walk on this campus as full-fledged Princetonians, I pray that you, the wonderful class of 2021, will take the paved path into Murray Dodge, walk up those creaking wooden stairs, and feel like you’ve come home. And you can bet you’ll find me, in my favorite blue chair, waiting to say hello and hear how your day has been!
Check out this amazing video about Muslim life on campus!