With Eid Al-Fitr quickly approaching, Rifqi reminisces on his days as a Muslim in Europe.
Assalamualaikum and I hope you are all in very good condition.
With this piece, I wish to share with you a small part of my life’s story. Alhamdulillah, before IISMA, I had the privilege and also the opportunity to travel abroad with my family several times to different countries. I’ve experienced that for me, as an Indonesian Muslim, to stay for a long time outside Indonesia feels quite difficult. The food, the places to pray, the time differences, and everything in between — the infrastructure and system overall are just not as supportive as the ones we have as Indonesian Muslims. As such, I never thought of trying to live or continue my studies abroad. One might even say that I was never particularly interested. However, my parents always wanted the best for my education, so they wanted me to try applying to the exchange program which is IISMA. Long story short, Alhamdulillah, I got accepted for the program.
After 1.5 months as an exchange student in the Netherlands, I realize that it actually is not as hard as I imagined. I already know where to buy halal foods and where the mosques are, and I found myself already used to the changing hours of prayer times (which is more often compared to the hours in Indonesia due to the change of seasons). I won’t lie; it’s not as convenient as in Indonesia — sometimes I have to cook for myself, tend to extra preparations if I wanna travel to other cities, and can I eat as freely as my friends because of certain ingredients. There were even times in which I had to pray in certain places, such as in the fitting room, or maybe find a quiet place to sit and pray there because there are no musholla or prayer rooms. But again, it was not as bad as what I thought before. Should some negative thoughts come creeping back in, I remind myself that all this is temporary because I will return home to my country soon.
But how about the local Muslims who actually live here? How can they get used to this every day?
And then came the trip.
Me and my friends were visiting Gronau, a small city in Germany. It was very close to Enschede, about 15 km, and there were talks about a small zoo in the park. And so, we decided to go check it out. Before we went back home, I asked my friends if we could stop-by to any mosque to pray. I must admit that my intention is not just to pray, but also to find the local Muslim community to get to know them. Alhamdulillah, we found a mosque, decided to pray, and then rest there for a minute. I met some of the men who attend the mosque on a daily basis, and with limited English, they told us how the pandemic made the mosque not as crowded as it used to be.
Amid the story, about 4 youngsters around our age came out of a room. One of them was called by the mosque-man who was talking with us. The senior asked him to translate for us as many Germans don’t speak English, but apparently, the youngster can. His name is Siyar, the first young Muslim I met who later became my best friend. We did not talk as much during this first interaction, but we exchanged numbers. It wasn’t until about a week or two that he told me to come to Germany again to hang out. I use my bike to go to Gronau, but due to the distance, it can get quite tiring. Hence, I don’t go there that often.
After 3 months, I wanted to know more about local Muslims in Europe, especially in the Netherlands. So, I decided to always come to the mosque not only just for jummah prayer but for every prayer (if possible). I did that because, especially in Europe, you can only be sure if someone is a practising Muslim if they go to the mosque for prayers. A deduction that is very pushing, I know, but that’s that. After a few weeks, I did come to know some of the regulars there, but it was such a shame that there were no teenagers. As such, I didn’t have anyone to really get to know each deeper, even for small talk or mindless chit-chat even, because they were all grown men — the age gap was just too jarring. But I keep going to the mosque, hoping a kid might someday show up. In my spare time, I even go to the University of Twente’s main campus library so that when the prayer time comes, I will meet Muslim students and be friends with them (as there was a musholla in UT main campus building). But unfortunately, there are none of them. Later in the semester, I met one guy who told me that the lack of students was simply because of the pandemic, in which many students don’t go to the campus because certain courses are held online.
After several isha prayers in Islamic Association Mosque Enschede (where I usually go), came a day when two boys who I feel were the same age as I showed up, and I straight up went to them and ask their names. Alhamdulillah, they’re not the same as other Europeans, in the sense that they were much more open to new people compared to the typical European. We had a short conversation as it was already nighttime, but we promised to meet up again the next day.
On the next day, I thought they would be in the mosque for Isha prayers. I was surprised that they were already in the mosque too by Maghrib. Because of that, we had a long conversation while waiting for Isha. I asked a lot about them, including their ages, where they lived, what level of education they were currently in, and so on. I was surprised that they were much taller and bigger than me despite still being in Junior High (XD). They told me about the education systems in the Netherlands. They also asked me a lot of things to me but most of the time we were having fun wrestling around in the mosque. And later, almost every night after we prayed together in the mosque, we exchanged questions and sometimes hung out in the centrum. Their names were Abdi and Walid.
By meeting them, I learned a lot to be grateful for everything that Allah gave me through all this time, especially the people, the society around me, and the Islamic knowledge that I’ve learned since I was a kid. They told me their stories about how it was very hard for them to pray in school. Even when they prayed in the empty class, the teachers scold them and told them not to pray in school anymore. Sometimes, their parents were called to the school just because they prayed. It’s also hard for them to learn Islamic knowledge because there were no Islamic schools. And so, they have to learn Islam by themselves and from their families. There were also small occasions where they can talk about Islamic teachings and knowledge with their extended community, but they did not happen as often as they wanted them to. Reflecting on their struggle, Indonesian Muslims should really be thankful for what Indonesia’s culture has. Our brothers and sisters in Europe have literal difficulties doing ‘shalat’ and what Allah told us to do, and they always try their best to always do it. While we, with all the ease of access and information we have, tend to be negligent.
Finally, in my last month before I returned to Indonesia, I introduced Siyar, Abdi, and Walid together so that they could still be friends together even though I’m not there. Other than that, I wanted them to accompany Siyar because he is a Muallaf, and I wanted all of them to guide each other on the right path. I never expected that this exchange opportunity would bring me such an amazing experience. I feel like I can be closer to God, a lot of things that I should be thankful and grateful for, a lot of spiritual stories, and a lot of knowledge and life experience I get from them and from every person I’ve met. I hope that in the future I can meet these guys again, Insya Allah.
Created by : Rifqi Aushaf Hariprada
Rifqi was an Electrical Engineering student at Universitas Indonesia. He attained an IISMA scholarship to the University of Twente back in 2021.