You are on page 1of 3


A personal experience – Mombasa to Allentown

By Aunali Khaku – A member of the Student Support Network (SSN)


Aunali Khaku is a recipient of the 2002 Brilliant Student Award. The Awards for
academically brilliant students was launched by The World Federation of Careers,
Education & Training Advisory Board in conjunction with the Africa Federation
Education Board. Aunali who is a member of the Student Support Network (SSN) is a
valuable contributor to the group. SSN aims to provide Services to worldwide
students in higher Education. SSN has currently 120 students in its database and
still growing. The students are actively exchanging information on their careers,
events at their towns, housing information on the SSN discussion group. We already
arranged CETAB representative to visit students at Cambridge and further pre-
arranged visits are planned for Students at other Universities. For further
information on SSN please email

I hail from Mombasa, Kenya and am currently studying for an undergraduate degree
(Pre-Med) at Moravian college – in Bethlehem, USA. Bethlehem, itself, is a small
city when compared to New York but quite large when compared against Nairobi. The
college is average in size, comprising two campuses (each a mile apart) and with a
student population of around 1400.

My family immigrated to the USA about six months ago and we currently live in
Allentown (approx. half an hour's drive from Bethlehem). The area is very pleasant
and the people are friendly. I have always wanted to study Medicine and was
directed towards the UK market primarily because my college was linked to the UK
system of education. As it turns out, my family was very lucky and we were able to
obtain the green card. Hence the reason, I am studying in America.

This is both fortunate for me as well as problematic. Fortunate, because I am able

to stay with my family whilst I study – therefore I have their total support.
Problematic, because US guidelines insist that I have an undergraduate degree
before doing medicine. This was further complicated by the fact that the
undergraduate degree had to be in subjects that involved the Arts more than the
Sciences – which is what I had undertaken during my A Levels.

The first two weeks at University were literally HELL!! – I'm sure most
international students go through the same. I was used to life in a small "Khoja"
dominated Muslim town like Mombasa and having fit into a non-Khoja (and non-
Muslim) western dominated environment was very daunting for me. This coupled with
the fact that I did not know anyone made me a little reluctant to become friends
with other people in my class. I therefore ended up feeling lonely and isolated.
To top it all off I was finding the use of so many electronic gadgets an ever
daunting experience.

For instance, in my electronics course each member of the class was assigned a
personal workstation which housed a computer, an oscilloscope, a function
generator, a digital complex power supply and multimeters. I had never heard of
these things before, nor knew their function. I was also finding it difficult to
do wudhoo for salaat. I am sure most of the youths, like me, have felt like they
were too embarrassed to do such things in public, especially when you know there
is no active presence in the college and knowing what people felt following the
events of 9/11. In Moravian there is neither a prayer area nor any Muslim
organization and so I would have to look for an empty room in order to perform my

However, by the grace of Allah I am slowly, but surely, beginning to settle down.
I have met several Sunni Muslims with whom I go for Jumah prayers with every
Friday and I have also made friends with the non-Muslims in my immediate
environment. My Sunni brothers and I are currently trying to get an Islamic
organization together to facilitate prayers and other Islamic education functions.
Please pray that we can achieve this dream.

I have also met members of the Shia community in my college and I'm saddened to
write that they are not true to the Muslim faith as they undertake a daily ritual
of drink, clubbing and no hijaab. They have a complete lack of interest – or
awareness – of their Islamic duties and this really annoys me. However, I content
myself in the knowledge that Allah has protected me as I turned to him in my hour
of need and did not rely on becoming a "Westerner" to protect myself.

As they say ''Islam is the fastest spreading religion in America DESPITE the

It's amazing, but there are also non-Muslims who really know the truth and try to
stand up for it. For instance there is a professor here who has been to Israel and
has seen all the injustices and atrocities being undertaken by the government. He
tries so hard to spread the truth. There is also a Jewish professor in my college
who teaches Islam (strange eh!!) and who is somewhat sympathetic towards Muslims -
not that he loves us or helps us, but he knows what Islam really Is all about.
I truly feel that in order for us Muslim youths to make our stay in the west any
fruitful, we have to be ambassadors for Islam. To do that we must understand and
believe in Islam with full conviction and confidence and be ready with the
knowledge to defend it in any way. We also have to get actively involved with
other Muslim sects and their activities (even if they are Sunni). The best way of
spreading Islam, without even opening our mouths, is to portray an immaculate
behavior, doing all the wajibaats and avoiding haraam acts, be kind, honest,
truthful and helpful to all and never getting into a situation where one
compromise one's 'deen'. However, I would not advocate the use of force or
violence against a non-believer.

I have also found solace in reading some good books. Ones that I would recommend,
personally, are:

"A young Muslims guide to the modern world" by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and
"Vision of Islam", by William Chittick, (Available in most libraries).

They really should be read by all of us as they will make one appreciate our
religion and feel more confident to practice it without intimidation!

Of course we should try to read the Quran daily – especially with the meaning so
that we can appreciate its meanings and truths. I, personally, have found that it
offers the best consolation and advice at all times.

Sometimes, when I have the time I listen to the Quran online on,
duas on and tafseers on, and these have really helped me
especially when I am feeling down – Try it and see how great it works!

I still miss Mombasa a lot, and sometimes I just feel like going back! After all
it's my birthplace and a town where I grew up!. The familiar streets of Kibokoni,
the mosque, familiar faces, my afternoon naps, the sound of Adhan (even if it is
over the loudspeakers); in fact, everything about Mombasa and especially how close
everything is – here, I have to travel for a minimum of an hour everyday and there
are no good bus routes so a lot of walking is needed if one doesn't have a car.
But, this is natural and to succeed one needs to persevere (not that I have a
choice anyway!)

In conclusion, let me say that living in the West, whilst striving for an
education, can be a both a stressful and enlightening experience. We have to open
ourselves up and avoid being shy. We should make the most of the resources
available in the western worlds - not only to gain knowledge or earn our rizk, but
also to spread the message of Islam.

For those who wish to contact me and find out more about my college or my
experiences, please email me at:

With Salaams and Duas

Aunali Khaku