Muslim college students are facing uncertainty and difficulties as orders for quarantine and safe shelter are being declared across the country. In Michigan, Governor Whitmer’s stay-at-home order includes the entire month of April, which is the end of the semester for many colleges and universities. For Michigan Muslim college students, the grueling news coverage of COVID-19 unsettles their mood, and the changes have created additional pressures that can make fulfilling their academic responsibilities all the more difficult.
According to a sophomore at the University of Michigan, Mishaal Yazdani, “Among other worries, my main struggle has been channeling my anxious thoughts into productive work. I am constantly thinking about the number of individuals who have been infected and those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic.”
Healthy ways to cope with stress such as reaching out to a support system can reduce the burden of the collective stress of this pandemic. “I find it hard to focus on my school work amidst the news. To combat my nervousness surrounding COVID-19, I have taken more time to self-reflect and spend time with family,” Yazdani said. Besides turning to loved ones, faith has played a vital role for students at this time.
Many students including Fatima Ali, a junior at Michigan State University, and Yazdani have turned to self-reflection and prayer. Total reliance on Allah has allowed Ali to find solace.
“One thing that has helped me cope is with the more free time I have been praying more and solidifying more my relationship with Allah. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters and will help with my struggles is Allah (SWT).”
The act of submission yields strength. Zainab Fatima, a sophomore at Michigan State University, adds that “it’s also an important time to connect with your spirituality and religion, which has given me a lot of inner peace and reassurance.” As Ramadan approaches, students will have ample opportunities to worship.
However, while faith serves as a cornerstone of support for many, challenges persist in terms of helping students who endure common mental health issues such as anxiety.
Ali shares her personal experience as she is “currently a Junior in the James Madison College (JMC)[at Michigan State University], which prides itself on its rigorous courses. Dealing with taking a lot of difficult courses with anxiety is extremely difficult. With COVID-19 this has hurt my mental health even more. My parents do not understand anxiety to the fullest so it has been hard being back home and dealing with the anxiety of school. In a way, it feels like I am battling two battles yet I am drowning in both.”
Stigma and a lack of mental health awareness can make it difficult to support one another. For students interested in receiving counseling, many of their universities’ therapy resources have moved online.
To respond to the disruption of quarantine, students have prioritized scheduling their days out to maintain a sense of regularity in their lives. Moving back home has removed important cues to study that students must substitute on their own.
A junior at the University of Michigan describes his experience as such: “I’ve found that the hardest part of this quarantine for me has been conjuring up the motivation to do anything, really…with discipline, I am teaching myself to work even when my mind is coming up with a million more ways to spend my time. It is the pursuit of engagement in whatever it is I need to complete, regardless of the easier alternatives,” Yousuf Khalil said.
Generally, students cite setting a routine as a staple for success. Zainab Fatima says,” I try to keep myself busy and have a loose routine that I like to stick to for some order. I spend time with my family, work on schoolwork, and have taken on some hobbies that I find myself often neglecting due to lack of time.” Having more leisure time has enabled students to prioritize family time and passion projects as well as their usual responsibilities.
Some students such as Bilal Hussain and Naheel Hussain, sophomores at Wayne State University, view quarantine as an opportunity to pursue their career goals with an added sense of urgency. Quarantine introduces a host of changes that these content creators have observed closely with a mindset of proactively in order to increase their clientele.
Bilal clarified: “Istarted my business [with Naheel] about 6 months ago, and it’s called The Digital Marketing Solution. It’s a marketing firm, and we are leveraging quarantine by marketing to people who are staying home. So that when lockdown ends those companies can see an abundant amount of customers coming to their business. Before quarantine there were about 100 million users on social media, now during lockdown the number of users shot up to about 250 million users per day.” By adapting to these social shifts, Bilal, Naheel and their team have demonstrated flexibility and insight.
Clearly, Muslim college students have responded to the current crisis by pairing necessary social distancing precautions with empathy, creative initiative, planning, and a prioritization of their faith through prayer and contemplation.
About the author: Salman Pervez is a Senior at MSU studying public health and neuroscience who is one of the founders of Spartan Shifa, a community-building group that empowers Muslim students by promoting self-knowledge, help-seeking, and the will to combat social issues. Spartan Shifa holds workshops on topics such as healthy relationships, spiritual wellness, and the lasting effects of historical trauma.