When my mom decided to pack everything and leave the United States for Jordan with me and my siblings, we didn’t quite understand her decision. We spent four years there. Yet, more than a decade later, I can say with certainty that it was one of the best decisions (if not the best) my mother has made for us. Those four years spent in Jordan shaped who I am in ways I am still realizing with each passing day.

Before deciding to come here, I had asked God to choose what was best for me. Georgetown was my dream school, mainly because it was a prestigious university and 10 miles from home. But upon arriving here, Georgetown was not what I wanted it to be, nor was it what I had been used to. It was nothing like my high school, J.E.B. Stuart, a school so cosmopolitan it was featured in National Geographic as the most diverse high school in the United States. I wasn’t so sure He had answered my prayer. Between bouts of tears and feelings of loneliness, I questioned this decision.

“You are clearly an educated woman, why do you still choose to wear the hijab?” A professor put me on the spot about my faith, for the umpteenth time. It’s as if the two were mutually exclusive. I answered with composure, but deep down, I was frustrated. If the people in Georgetown’s classrooms represented the most educated people in America, then I couldn’t imagine the stereotypes that needed to be challenged outside the classroom.

On the other hand, it was through these interactions with students and professors that I was inspired to learn about my faith and draw closer to it. I’ve come to realize that the Jesuit ideals of Georgetown have made it easier for me to practice my religion than at any other institution. I found a home within Georgetown. That softly lit, serene Muslim prayer room in the heart of Copley Hall became my safe haven throughout my four years. I also found a family in the Muslim Students Association, which has given me a more nuanced understanding of Islam. God has put the most wonderful people in my path, and I am honored and proud of those friendships. I have developed and fostered some of the best relationships I’ve ever had, with both students and professors.

I’ve found that the spirit of the Jesuit ideals is also rooted in the spirit of Islam – that social justice goes hand in hand with faith. “Men and women for others” ought to be incorporated into our lifestyles. After all, “a person is a person through other persons,” as Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said. We are made human by others. If I have one piece of advice to offer, it is to always keep in mind the humanity of others. We often become consumed in a culture of materialistic competition. We blindly seek the degree or the big paycheck, forgetting the responsibility and potential we have to make changes in the lives of others, which in turn changes our own.

y life was rocky coming into freshman year, and Georgetown made it a little rockier. As I cried in Dahlgren Quad, a great professor consoled me by reminding me that hardships in life make us stronger. I now realize that they also make us more understanding, more compassionate and more forgiving of others. It is through the challenges I faced both at home and at Georgetown that I’ve come to understand myself and others.

We often flourish in comfortable environments, but we can flourish more in challenging ones if we allow ourselves to do so. I often remember the verse in the Holy Quran that says “it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good” (4:19).

I would be ungrateful if I did not take what’s best out of this experience, learn from the rest and leave the baggage behind. People now ask me if I like Georgetown. I tell them it grew on me. There was definitely a lot of growing done, and I can say with certainty that God chose what was best for me. I spent four years here and have yet to realize the entire impact that Georgetown has had on me. But I can say now that, 10 years down the road, I will look back and say Alhamdulillah (thank you, God).

Mariam Abu-Ali is a senior in the College and the former president of the Muslim Students Association.

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