August 25, 2003

Approaching University Education: Take the Essential Step


There is a lot of advice that high school students can receive from their teachers
and guidance or academic counsellors regarding how they should prepare for a
university education. Application instructions can be obtained from the university
website or at the registrar’s or the student affairs office. In addition, attending
the orientation sessions of the Muslim Students Association or other appropriate
organizations of the particular university that a student has planned to attend
is beneficial. The specifics of how to prepare for a university education depend
on where one wants to study and in what field (although some things are common
like maintaining good grades in high school and submitting complete applications
by the university application deadlines). However, there is one step of preparation
that all of us, as Muslim students, should take and that is common for all Muslim
students regardless of where we may be in the world. Unfortunately, teachers
and guidance counselors frequently ignore this step when giving advice to their
students, even in Muslim majority countries. That step is to have the proper
intention for pursuing a university education.

Actually, we should have the proper intention for pursuing any form of education,
whether it be high school, undergraduate, postgraduate or any other type of
education, just as we should have the proper intention for pursuing any activity
in our lives. However, most students make a decision regarding their career
choices around the time they start university (perhaps a few years before or
a few years after) so it is best for us to purify our intentions at this stage
if we have not done so already.

We might be tempted to neglect our intentions when preparing for university.
After all, there is more important and pressing work to be done, right? We have
to study hard for our high school examinations, fill in all of the (sometimes
complicated) application forms and prepare application packages and so on. In
reality, however, having the proper intention is the most important step. This
is one of the reasons that the first hadith that is mentioned in Sahih Bukhari
is about the intentions. Narrated ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab:

I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “The reward of deeds depends upon the
intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended.
So whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration
was for what he emigrated for.”

Our intention for pursuing anything should not be to gain worldly benefits
such as living a luxurious life or attaining fame. It should be to gain the
pleasure of Allah(swt) and hence, to become of those who are successful in both
this life and the Hereafter. Allah(swt) has said in the Holy Quran:

“Say: ‘Truly my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death
are (all) for Allah the Cherisher of the Worlds: No partner has He: this am
I commanded, and I am the first of those who bow to His will.'” (6:162-163)

We must remember that both religious and secular knowledge are important but
that secular knowledge should be pursued with the intention of benefiting humanity.
Whatever program we are pursuing in university, we should be doing so with the
intention of using the skills and the knowledge that we acquire to help the
Muslim ummah and to help humanity and our ultimate purpose for doing so should
be to attain the pleasure of Allah(swt). Some of us might find it a little difficult
to relate our program of study to benefiting humanity. There are some fields
of study that are directly related to service to humanity such as Medicine and
Law. There are others that are not so directly related such as Mathematics,
perhaps. We should remember, however, that most fields of study will give us
the ability to help humanity and the Muslim ummah in some way. (For example,
it took some applied Mathematics to determine the direction of the Qiblah from
a North American city like Toronto!) Also, we should remember all of the great
Muslim scholars who were not only well-versed in the Islamic Sciences but who
were also well-versed in other fields such as Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics,
Geography, Sociology, History, Medicine and so on and they were able to contribute
a lot to humanity through their knowledge.

There is another aspect of helping humanity and the Muslim Ummah that all of
us can relate our program of study to, no matter what field we are pursuing
and that is to support just causes and to help our Muslim brothers and sisters
around the world with whatever wealth Allah(swt) provides us with after we have
finished studying and go on to apply the skills we have learnt in the ‘real’

Narrated by Abu Khudri(RA): The Prophet(SA) said: “How excellent the wealth
of the Muslim is, if it is collected through legal means and is spent in the
way of Allah’s cause and on orphans, poor people and travelers. But he who does
not take it legally is like an eater who is never satisfied and his wealth will
be a witness against him on the Day of Resurrection.”

In summary, we should purify our intentions and keep checking them throughout
our academic careers (and, indeed, throughout our life) no matter what field
of study we choose. InshaAllah, there will spring up from amongst us Lawyers,
Computer Scientists, Economists, Engineers, Scientists, Mathematicians, Doctors
and so on but we should not aim to be all these things for the sake of fame,
wealth or some other worldly benefit; rather we should aim to be all these things
for the sake of pleasing Allah(swt). If this is our intention, then since deeds
depend upon intentions, InshaAllah we will be rewarded for every minute we spend
studying and pursuing our education and for every minute we spend burning the
midnight oil to study for exams and to complete assignments.

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