Starting a new life University can be hard. You leave behind everything you took for granted at home and start again – new people, new ideas and new challenges. But for those with strong religious faith, how does the stereotypical student life of loose morals and booze based antics function alongside traditional religious devotion?
For some, their religious beliefs make University life incredibly difficult. Third Year Chemistry student Rashid Basim* explains how conflicted the time can be. “Being Muslim does affect my University life. People treat you differently as soon as they find out you’re Muslim,” he says. “I don’t fit in with the Muslims here either. I find them to be so judgmental and elitist because I don’t have a beard that goes all the way down to my navel. I’m not a perfect person, and neither are you. So cut it out with the holier than thou attitude!”
What Rashid has struggled with most with his life here, however, is having to hide his homosexuality. “I will be a social pariah if I were open about my sexuality. My family will disown me. I tried to approach certain Muslims here at Uni to ask them in a roundabout way what they think Islam has to say about homosexuality. I was told that it was a sickness and a mental disorder. How do you expect me to be openly gay in an environment like this?”
“I was told that it was a sickness and a mental disorder. How do you expect me to be openly gay in an environment like this?”
For Rashid, his religion is stopping him living the life he wants, and is ruining his University experience. “I’d love to have a boyfriend. I want intimacy,” he implores. “I want a relationship. I want to love and be loved. How can I accomplish that? I feel like I have to choose between being gay and being religious.”
The University environment itself can be the main challenge, which the President of the Catholic Society Hugh Potter admits himself: “It’s ridiculously hard living in an environment where all the temptations are so obvious. We have to look at the way the Catholic Church says we have to live. I mean the modern culture of university goes against that quite strongly – the drinking and the sex – these make things quite hard.”
“I want to love and be loved. I feel like I have to choose between being gay and being religious.”
But the focus isn’t all on sex and alcohol – there are minor inconveniences as well. Noura Rkiouak, a Muslim PHD student researching fluid mechanics, says, “I think the main thing is the fact that we don’t have a lot of access to food that is convenient for Muslims to eat.”
Going to University with a religious conviction can also be a massive source of comfort and support. Hugh reveals that he didn’t know how he’d manage Uni without it. “There’s no way in my head I could get through periods of intense stress and workload without prayer and the support of other people. When I have a very stressful day, I can go to the chaplaincy and sit down and have a cup of tea with people who will listen to me.” Noura adds: “I came to the UK last February to study my PhD. I’ve had a good experience – the Islamic society has helped me a lot because it stopped me feeling lonely.”
“There’s no way in my head I could get through periods of intense stress and workload without prayer and the support of other people.”
It isn’t just about having a large support network though- it can also lend new opportunities to practise and develop a religious faith. Josh Catchatoor, a second year English student, is currently a Christian Union rep in Ancaster hall and is enthusiastic about the opportunities to apply his Christianity in a practical way. “I’m happy that I stayed as a CU rep and followed what I thought God wanted me to do,” he says. “I’m having a really good time.”
Conor Gaffney graduated last year, and currently works as part of the Catholic Chaplaincy team – he agrees that you can be religious and live in halls. “It’s a great opportunity for students of faith to be a real life characterisation of what you believe.”
Uni has also provided Conor with an affirmation of his faith, telling Impact: “After three, going on four, years, I’m still pursuing it. That’s a positive sign that I’ve decided I want to follow this for myself instead of my dad and mum saying that I have to go to Church.” It’s not as though all religious students shun mainstream University drinking culture either; Rashid admits that “I drink! Not all Muslims have beards, go to the mosque every Friday, and pray five times a day.”
“Not all Muslims have beards, go to the mosque every Friday, and pray five times a day.”
The University culture of hedonistic debauchery is not as ubiquitous as it can seem. Despite the frequent claim that this generation is turning its back on organised religion, faith is obviously still central to the lives of many students- for better or for worse. For some, like Hugh or John, University has allowed their faith to flourish. For others like Rashid, it has caused them a great deal of hardship. Either way, organised religion obviously still has a huge role in shaping students’ university lives.
*Name has been changed.
Will Hazell. Additional reporting by Dacey Mormont, Sarah Dear and Millie Cepelak.
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