After 16 years of Islamic Education I Went to a Mainstream University to Study Business

The hardest part was taking economics, finance and accounting modules.

3, 6, 5, 2.

These numbers signify each phase of my mosque (kindergarten) and madrasahs (primary, secondary, and pre-university) education. 16 years in total. Looking back, it has been a long journey of memorizations, tests, exams, on 10 and more subjects at each time. It also had a fair share of school trips, ‘qiyamullails’, special events and competitions. Collecting funds in mosques during Friday prayers is a particular rite every Singaporean madrasah student went through. Mass recitation of the Quran during assembly time, khatamul Quran during Ramadhan, and Maulidurrasul feasts, are among memorable souvenirs of attending a full-time madrasah –activities that set us apart from public schools students.

Imagine the valley of a transition it was jumping over to the ‘other side’! Flirting with the idea of pursuing my studies in Islamic Jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, I actually flew there, participating in its Singaporean students’ orientation program before having a change of heart. I decided to leave my comfort zone. I’ve been in the Islamic syllabus all my life, with the same set of friends.

There was no turning back; this had to be my final decision. The National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Business School it was. I wanted to be challenged by its rigorous syllabus, take on interdisciplinary modules, join a language program, and go for exchange programs and overseas volunteer mission. I was certainly not disappointed.

The hardest part -because I took no bridging classes- was taking economics, finance and accounting modules. The first time studying these subjects (they were not offered when I was in madrasah), the textbooks I had to study from were for Masters-degree students! (NUS Business School, of course, is one of the best Business school in Asia). The first two years were tough; the third was better. Fitting in too, needed some effort. One of only two ‘hijabis’ in a cohort of about 600 business undergraduates, I already stood out from the way I dressed. In addition, apart from a few neighbors and cousins, I didn’t know anyone from public schools –almost all my friends were from madrasahs. However, by taking interdisciplinary modules and joining events and activities, I found friends whom I could identify with well.

Did I regret my choice of joining a ‘secular’ university then? Definitely not! It presented to me opportunities I would never have imagined: being in business school granted access to company visits, meeting with CEOs, and having many resources and facilities at hand. Moreover, in university, I studied French, deepened my love for flora and fauna going on nature walks with a biodiversity class, performed with a Gamelan group, learned some Wushu moves, baked cookies to get an ‘A’ grade, met wonderful people. A plethora of experiences, most of them novel to me, that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

To those who want to take a plunge into the unknown: look before you leap, but he who hesitates is lost. A good friend once told me, you could never be 100% sure of a decision, thus put your trust in Allah. Certainly, Allah reminds us best: “And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him].” Ali-Imran: 159.

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