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.