With today marking Bath’s first community Iftar, it is important to be aware of its symbolic significance. This event will not just be a gathering of people coming together to break their fast. It will be so much more than that; this event is a symbol of hope and an indicator that things are moving in the right direction. As a Muslim student at this University, I feel it is crucial that we reflect on how far we have come, so here is my personal journey.
21 September 2015
The day that everything changed.
I remember being so petrified when I was packing my bags to move to Bath. The thought of being away from home didn’t phase me, neither did the thought of having to make lots of friends. Being aware of the huge drinking culture surrounding university and freshers’ week in particular made me slightly anxious, but what scared me the most was the fact that being Black and Muslim meant I was going to be a minority within a minority.
23 September 2015, Eid al-Adha
It is easy to feel isolated and different when you are the only person of colour. Being visibly Muslim also means that it can be hard to engage with people because of the billion and one presumptions people make before getting to know you. Freshers’ week, up until this point, really wasn’t great. Not knowing what to do with myself, I had second thoughts about whether the university environment was for me.
Eid is a celebration usually spent around friends and family, therefore the thought of having to spend it alone with no one else to celebrate with would make anyone homesick. However, coming across Islamic Society was a turning point for me.
Finding this society was like finding a needle in a haystack. Yes, it was small, but nothing can ever compare to having a place where you do not have to explain yourself. A place where you feel welcomed and at peace. The society has such an important role, especially for students who felt like they couldn’t really be part of the ‘wider community’ at university.
After being inspired to join the committee, which consisted of numerous incredible individuals, I was privileged enough to see things change. Winning the fight of having our prayer room renovated, for example, really changed things for staff and students alike and helped us grow our society further. When I look at the society now, I have no words to describe how proud I am. I do not think that there is anything more powerful than people from so many different backgrounds coming together and setting their differences aside to create a shared space where everyone feels at home.
There has been a huge shift since the day I came to University – I know I’m not the only one whose experience has been increasingly improving, something I find endlessly encouraging. There is such a huge sense of community on campus now, and I do not think anything illustrates this better than the Iftar that the SU is hosting in collaboration with the Islamic society. This is something I would have never thought would be possible in 2015.
Ramadan started a few days ago and having to fast away from home is always hard. Being a minority, the fact that you feel like you’re alone in this makes it even harder. If Ramadan fell around this time in 2016, fasting would have felt much more difficult, but having so many people come together makes things easier.
Keeping in mind that it was practically impossible to get halal meat during my first and second year, its availability on campus right now has also made a huge transformation. Every time I go to fresh, I still have to double check that I’m not dreaming. Even though it is something so small, it really has helped to make a minority group feel more welcomed and at home.
It is so important that we recognise the value of faith and cultural societies at this University. I’m not just talking about the Islamic society, but I am talking about the African and Caribbean Society, the Arab Society, the Asian Student’s Society and more. These societies influence the student experience substantially and really facilitate their transition to University. I can personally say that my University experience would have been much more difficult without them. Having a place to go when you feel like you can’t fit in anywhere else is vital and it makes the role of these societies critical. There is nothing more powerful than students leading other students and I truly think it is important that we recognise this. These societies are incredible and have made such a huge difference to so many students’ lives and I’m sure they will continue to do so in the future.
Yes, there is still a long way to go. However, I am very excited to see how things will develop and look forward to seeing more inclusivity in the growth of these communities. I am very thankful for those who have been part of this journey, and I hope more people feel encouraged to join this journey to improve the University experience for all people of colour.
We must remember that in this world, all we have is each other, so let’s work together to make this a better place for everyone.
We all belong at Bath.