WHAT’S YOUR STORY?: Mahmood’s story: On a pilgrimage

Zach Mills

Hajara Mahmood is on a quest. It’s one fueled by her faith in her religion and her determination to tell the truth about it.

Mahmood’s heritage is Pakistani and Indian. She’s a sophomore from Prospect Heights, Ill., which is a suburb of Chicago. She’s majoring in biology and is planning on being certified in the area of secondary education.

Oh, yeah. And she’s a follower of Islam.

As a Muslim student at Western, Mahmood is striving for excellence in both her spiritual and non-spiritual lives. She wants to be a teacher, but she also wants to be the “best Muslim” she can be.

And Mahmood knows exactly how challenging it is trying to be a good Muslim.

“We pray five times a day,” Mahmood explained. “It makes it hard for us because not everyone does what we do.”

If Mahmood’s schedule will not allow for her to pray during Islam’s designated prayer times of morning, noon, afternoon, evening and night, she prays during breaks in her classes.

“I have to adjust my own timing,” she said. “I don’t want to forget about God. That’s my priority, too.”

Mahmood usually prays in her room in McCormack Hall, but sometimes she has to settle for a quiet floor in the library.

“I never really had anyone say anything to me,” she said. “I’m sure I got some stares.”

Mahmood has encountered several challenges as a Muslim and college student. One of those challenges has been trying to help eliminate the misconceptions about Muslims and Islam.

Mahmood is currently the president of the Muslim Student Association at Western. MSA exists to help Muslim students, as well as non-Muslim students, understand the teachings of Islam.

Mahmood said Islam is portrayed negatively by the media. She said she feels that women’s rights within Islam is an issue that tends to get distorted. But despite what people may think, Mahmood said Islam is not a religion that looks down on women.

Terrorism is another issue Mahmood wants to clear up.

“People tie in Islam with terrorism,” she said. “True Muslim people are nonviolent people. Islam is always attacked about this negative view. It’s false representation about it.

“Islam means submission, peace and your inner connection with God,” she said. “Patience. Having your souls connected with God and inner spirituality.”

Aside from Mahmood’s quest to set the record straight for Islam and Muslims, she also desires to make an actual pilgrimage to the city of Mecca.

“It’s required at least once in your life, if you are healthy,” she said.

Mahmood said one spiritual benefit of the hajj, or pilgrimage, is gaining a perspective of unity.

“The journey is to clean your spiritual soul and just to become one with your inner self and God,” she said. “At this point most people reach a great understanding of Islam.

“I feel I will be spiritually benefited as a person,” she said. “It’s a way to get away from the worldly life. You realize how simple life is and how short life is.”

Mahmood plans to make her pilgrimage to Mecca after she gets her career and her family life situated.

“Hopefully, (at) some point in that time when I’m settled down,” she said.

Each week, Zach picks a random person from the student directory and calls them to ask, “What’s Your Story?” His series runs every Tuesday. Zach can be reached at [email protected]