For the latter half of my life, I had denied the existence of an otherworldly power. For over a decade, this has been my reality—yet, as of this summer, I came to the decision to let Him back into my life. For a long time, I convinced myself that I would never explore my spirituality. Ever. But I did a lot of thinking over the summer, and in time I developed a rapidly growing interest in Islam. I discovered a beauty in Islam that simply cannot be quantified; I admire the message of love that it teaches a great deal, and I am newly awe-stricken by stories both past and present. Yet the surrounding culture seemed so distant to me, and I hadn’t a clue where to begin in truly understanding it all.
I had originally intended to focus all of my time and energy into finishing organic chemistry this summer. But by some miracle, Ramadan fell completely within the bounds of Summer Session II, and I realized that there was no better time in my life than that period for me to take the first step in my spiritual journey. Ultimately, I made the decision that, alongside one of the most demanding courses Duke offers, I would fast for Ramadan for the first time.
Though it wasn’t easy, this past Ramadan was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever been through in my life. The Muslim Student Association and the local Islamic community all welcomed me with open arms and were thrilled to hear my story. Never will I forget their hospitality and unconditional support. From the very beginning, I felt right at home, and my time spent learning about Islam far exceeded my expectations. I loved every second of it.
The month I spent fasting was an incredible emotional and spiritual experience for me. Through it all, I found a comfort in Islam I couldn’t find elsewhere, and it had an unquestionable impact on my thoughts and actions. I have been told by my friends many times that I am truly blessed—that I can achieve a genuine, intimate understanding of Islam, devoid of cultural bias, that so many of them never could. Insha’Allah (God willing), I will take advantage of this opportunity to read more of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, to better understand my own perspective of the world and guide me towards choosing the right path.
To this day, willful ignorance has been a characteristic I vowed never to exude in my lifetime; yet for far too long I had resolved to leave so many important questions unanswered. And while I had been brought up as a Catholic, I had spent the entirety of my teenage years wondering if I even really was agnostic, without ever acting upon it. But after just one year at Duke, my freshman counterpart has almost entirely faded away from existence. What was supposed to be a transition into college life became a complete transformation of my being. I may not be the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but my life most definitely “got flipped, turned upside down.” While this thought has been a troubling one, I realize now that these four years may very well be the most dynamic of my lifetime. There is no better time than now to become the person I aspire to be.
I implore anyone who is even remotely hesitant to go step out of his or her comfort zone to embrace every new and exciting opportunity Duke offers. From learning about the Power of Maps to pledging a fraternity, my last year has consisted of a wide spectrum of unexpected experiences, which all have had a tremendous impact on discovering not only who I am as a person, but also who I want to become. When I reflect on the last year, I realize that what they say is true: Duke is indeed comprised of students from a wide range of cultures and varying degrees of talents, and I can tell you with confidence that, in time, every person eventually finds his or her place. And for me, the MSA has just become another huge reason why I can proudly call Duke my new home.
For all the blessings Duke has brought me, and for the strong arms of my Duke family around me, I say with the utmost humility and gratitude, Alhamdulillah!
Bryan Somaiah is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs every other Thursday. Send Bryan a message on Twitter @BSomaiahChron.