Finding my faith

What does it mean to practice faith as a student? Altaf Kazi, a 24 year old Muslim studying MSc Publ

Over the summer before I started my Masters, I had decided to make some changes in my life. I had decided to make an effort to get closer to my religion. What inspired me? The realization of knowing that I needed to be closer to my Creator before I returned to Him. I thanked Allah for the fact that I had found my faith. Never before had I felt more at ease and comfort. However the changes I had made so far had been in the confines of my house.
 
And so I started my first day of University thinking to myself if my experience be different from my times at Birmingham as an undergraduate? Would people recognize me and what would they think? For now I was wearing a white robe and had a beard growing. I knew that for my mid afternoon prayer, lunch and just walking around campus, I would have to confront this and have those awkward conversations with people.
 
My first major test came on my first day when I had to go to the prayer room. I can remember it quite vividly. As I reached the prayer room, I saw many smiling faces leave the prayer room which put me at ease. I had already preformed my pre prayer ablution in the gents' toilet downstairs only to realize that the prayer room has a ablution facility provided! I thought argh! I didn’t have to struggle in the sink!  But that was my first day, and I blame my nervousness and lack of confidence to ask others. So I lined up in prayer, but before it started I knew that trying to practice my religion at University wasn’t going to be as hard as I thought.
 
I thank Allah that after that first day my fears have been put aside. Through the Islamic Society I got to meet a lot of like-minded people. The people I met shared their experiences and I drew strength from their confidence. It's true that being alone is better than bad company and being in good company is better then being alone. This is something that I experienced. Being a part of the Islamic Society meant that I could feel comfortable discussing issues that faced young Muslims such as how bad the weather was, how we wanted a pizza from Broadway 2 or Pizza Haq; we also discussed other issues like identity and the world and how it is today.  
 
My experiences of the role of faith as a student has led me to strongly believe that only a shallow person judges a person on appearance; a wise person waits for him to speak and watches his actions. My experiences in University and more importantly with my Creator have enabled me to be the strong and more confident person that I now am. I have met many talented Muslims and non Muslims and had many conversations with them. I feel confident about the future of this country in knowing that people understand the role that faith can play in life and how they should not simply tolerate it but accept it for the value that others hold.

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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