There are over 4,000 recognized religions in the world, with the most popular religion being Christianity. Followed by an estimated 2.38 billion, it is followed closely by Islam which is practised by over 24% of people in the world.
There are different teachings within each religion and some of which may influence what you do and how you act during your time at university.
We talked to three individuals – Ibtehaj Khalid @ibi_khalid (who is a Muslim) Selena Tammy @aforgottenwriter (who is a Jehovah’s Witness) and Harinder Saif Kaur (who is a Sikh) – who all follow different religions to see if their religion had any effect on their university life.
Do you think you missed out on University opportunities because of your religion?
Ibtehaj – “I don’t think I’ve missed out on any university experiences based on my religion, but there have definitely been times when the experience I had has been severely worse. This is mostly due to a significant amount of events being related to drinking. Fresher’s week was a prime example of this, and although there were non-drinker alternatives, there was simply not as much time and effort placed into organising this.”
Selena – “I don’t really think I’ve missed out on academic University opportunities, and I’ve always gone for what I think will be fun and a good experience. As a Jehovah Witness, I couldn’t attend many of the festival events that took place. I’m used to this, however for many people, that doesn’t have to include us Jehovah’s, there could be more events that are social rather than festive.”
Harinder – “No, there were no University opportunities I missed out on because I am a Sikh. The opportunities I missed were based purely because I am lazy or that they weren’t of any interest to me.”
Do you think universities do enough to allow you to fit in?
Ibtehaj – “No, I don’t feel my university does enough to let Muslim students fit in. As a member of the University Islamic Society, they are still a crucial society for the provision of basic amenities needed by Muslim students, be that prayer rooms or halal food. Also, as there is a very small minority of students who are from the same religion and background as myself, it can be quite isolating as there are not very many students that some students can relate to… This applies to other minorities also. The way to make students fit in is by mixing up the demographic, which of course, requires a massive commitment that the university needs to make.”
Selena – “It’s funny because, throughout my entire journey of education, no one really knew what a Jehovah’s Witness was. At one point in my life, it did get tiring trying to explain to people why I didn’t celebrate my birthday or festivals such as Christmas and Eid. Here at the university, I think it good to get to know other religions that are present, what we do, how we work etc. Now, I’m not talking about Religious Education lessons, nope, not them. Just simple articles, get to know events etc.”
Harinder – “I think the university does, and then it doesn’t at the same time. We have our Sikh Soc which is cool because I get to meet others just like me. But when I first started there was no help finding my local Gurdwara’s, which would have been nice. Obviously, it may not be the most important of factors when starting university, but because I was new to the area, I had no idea what was going on.”
Do you have any suggestions that your university could implement?
Ibtehaj – “To better accommodate Muslim students, Universities should offer halal food options and prayer facilities within the colleges at Universities. This should be in a decentralised manner rather than having a singular prayer room for the whole university. Furthermore, increasing outreach efforts to Muslim students, as some Universities have done, may be a good way of increasing the feeling of ‘acceptance’ for students such as myself. This is also a great way of allowing non-Muslim students to dispel the presumptions of Muslim students as a greater variety of students would undoubtedly increase awareness.”
Selena – “I think the first and foremost thing our university and even the Universities around the UK could do is educate people about the different religions outside the popular ones. As I said before, I’m not saying sit us down and give us an RE lesson, but things like posters, articles on the intranet or even sessions where you can learn more would be so helpful.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean every student following the above religions will feel the same way and will each have their own different experiences. But what we have learnt is that religion can have an effect on a person’s university life. Universities around the UK should always have alternative support and activities in place because university life (minus the workload) is about making the most of our time and having fun!