Rooted in community

Stories from The Book

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Attending Ameens, events held for the completion of the Quran, always brings up a feeling of nostalgia for me. I can still remember my own Ameen. I was 7 years old, and I had been amazed by the turnout. I was humbled that so much of my community had turned out just for me.

The event was held at a local hall, and I had spent the weeks before giving out invitations, making sure that everyone from my mosque knew that I was to have a party and that they should come. I practiced reciting the ending verses of the Quran and did whatever party planning my parents would let a 7-year-old do. I picked out the lehenga I was to wear, bright red with gold stitching, and decided that I would keep my hair let down with a front braid.

The day of the event, the hall was packed, and some people even had to sit at tables outside to eat. From a young age, I knew the value of my Muslim community and what it meant to me. However, this need for community was never as strong as when I left my life, friends and family in Southern California to start school here at UC Berkeley.  

In the fall semester of my sophomore year, I remember doing particularly badly on a legal studies exam. I knew I had made a few too many mistakes, one of which was that I had misread a crucial essay question and hadn’t realized it until I had finished a first draft. In the midst of reworking this essay to answer the actual prompt, I was met with the all-too-familiar instructions from the professor to put our pens and pencils down and pass in our exam books. Leaving the test, I felt a pit in my stomach, afraid of what this performance held for my academic future.

The next week, I sat in one of my least favorite lecture halls of Kroeber Hall, staring at the legal studies notes that I had failed to take. At the beginning of class, the instructor had told us that we would be given our exam scores at the end. Knowing I had done terribly, I found it difficult to concentrate throughout this particular lecture.  

In the last few minutes of the class, I watched nervously as the GSI handed back the blue books. I tried to look calm as I asked the universe for a passing grade. “Please be a C, please be a C, please be a C … a C-minus, at least.” What harm could some last prayers be? The GSI arrived at my row and placed the midterm facedown on my desk. As I opened the booklet, I saw my raw score and was horrified to find that it was a D. There was then the sinking feeling of failure.

After that school week, wanting to detox from school and feeling a need to see my family, I went home for the weekend. This weekend in Santa Clarita, there was a community gathering at a local hall to celebrate an Ameen for one of the children at my mosque. I was eager to forget my school troubles and celebrate someone else’s achievement.

As I arrived, I was met with the familiar faces of aunts and uncles and old friends as well as new faces. As I make my way toward some of my closer friends, I was stopped and asked about how my classes at UC Berkeley were going. In response, I laughed nervously, recalling the unfortunate midterm score I had just received. Although these questions can sometimes be awkward, I am fond of these check-ins. It lets me know that there are many people vested in my education and my well-being. I am not alone.

I sat at one of the tables and looked around at the colorful hues of various desi foods. I saw the many seekh kebab piled up, trays of gravy chicken and stacks of naan. Chicken biryani, my mom’s specialty and one of my favorite dishes, caught my eye. To me, enjoying traditional food with my community is a reminder that I am among people who care. As we ate at this Ameen, I conversed with my friends about the difficulties I’ve had in school, and they listened, acknowledging that my feelings were valid.  

Even though I’m not at my mosque, I found an equally supportive community at university. I joined the Muslim Student Association, or MSA, my freshman year, and I found a family within the community-based organizations there. In college, I have been met with rigors in academia that I couldn’t have possibly foreseen in high school. While failed tests and hard classes are undoubtedly discouraging, I am grateful that I can turn to the community of my religion for support.

Zobia Quraishi writes the Wednesday column on being Muslim and first-generation Indian American. Contact her at [email protected].