As the days grow shorter and colder, it’s easy to find yourself housebound and reminiscent. For those particularly forward-minded, maybe you’ve already begun setting goals and intentions for the New Year.
As you prepare your list of goals, I have a suggestion to add: go back to school.
Perhaps you already hit this moment in your stroll through the halls of time: do you remember when school was not simply a routine but a profound chapter of our lives? Hopefully, this reminiscing comes with an outpouring of happiness, and maybe some cringe. What we often forget, though, is also how fundamental those years were for shaping who we are today, and how far we’ve come.
For some, this realisation comes with a sigh of relief and gratitude, for others, a pang of longing. Rather than dwelling in the past, let’s embark on a journey to create new memories in the present.
Consider this an invitation: Go back to school, or at the very least, think about it. This is a call to action that could initiate a transformative exploration. Read on for five compelling reasons that may reignite your passion for learning, particularly as a Muslim woman seeking empowerment and inspiration.
Let’s seize the opportunity to shape our narratives, not merely relive them.
If you’re no longer legally required to study, it can be on your terms, your timeline and your topics of interest.
Before delving into the reasons why you should consider going back to school, let’s dismantle some of the most common barriers you might be facing:
Maybe this “self-betterment” thing sounds like a farce to some of your loved ones. In the case where these are unsupportive thoughts and feelings, rather than actions, surround yourself with other thoughts and feelings.
In today’s digital age, online communities abound – for every passion or practice, there’s a blog or forum. This is where you can rant and rave about that thing you learned yesterday. If you’re facing words of discouragement from others, it is crucial to enjoy your passions with like-minded individuals.
However, if you’re blessed to have some friends and family who encourage you, open up to them about your thirst for knowledge. Be as intentional as you need to be, to counter those less supportive views and voices. Perhaps find an accountability partner in your sister or a friend with whom you can schedule a weekly call dedicated to discussing your progress. If you’re open to a whole new journey, maybe follow in the footsteps of Abdul* and Amira* and work towards your goals as a team.
In Amira’s words: “Going back to school after a significant life change, like moving to Singapore for my husband’s MBA, has been quite an adjustment. Balancing our married life with his academic commitments requires constant communication and organisation. It’s not always easy juggling our time between his studies and our life together. But, we’re not alone in this, many couples go through similar experiences. The key is to stay connected, plan properly, and support each other through these changes. It’s definitely a big shift for us, but it’s also an exciting opportunity to explore new surroundings and create adventures together. As a Muslim woman in a new city, I’m also learning to navigate and respect the local culture while staying connected with my faith and values. This move isn’t just about his studies; it’s a fresh start for both of us, a chance to support each other in pursuing our dreams and balancing our responsibilities.”
You cannot control other people’s thoughts and feelings, but you can control and protect who you share yours with. A like-minded partner can add value to your life in so many ways, as exemplified by Amira and Abdul.
Surrounding yourself with positive sentiment and supportive champions is only part of the solution. Equally important is what you tell yourself. Regularly remind yourself why you embarked on this journey and the value you’ve found in it so far. If you want to put it into action, maybe curate an inspiration board or list, being sure to detail the reasons that set you on this path in the first place.
If you face active discouragement from loved ones, can you have a conversation about where the reservations are coming from? Is it possible there is some disinformation to address, to de-stigmatise this particular topic? Maybe share this article with them!
If the lack of support is more than that, speak to someone whose guidance you can trust, like your local imam. If you’re feeling isolated or unsure, there are others you can talk to.
This logistical issue is probably the biggest barrier in your path to further education, not only because of the limited resources you have to pursue studying but also the mental stress that comes with it. If you’re finding yourself chronically stressed by money and household finances, seek all the advice and support you can – whether that’s from your local council, citizens bureau, family, or banks (please do just give them a call – the majority of people working there are human too and understand the times we’re living in).
If it’s less stressful and more “would it be a waste of money?”, start small – or should I say, start free. You can audit (which means to attend without certification) courses online with both edX and Coursera, as well as in person at some local colleges if you prefer.
You can also maximise the resources you already have. Do you have friends or family with a particular skill and time to spare? Maybe you can arrange some sessions where you observe or copy their craft – with many skills, it’s simply a case of “practice makes perfect”. Having an expert voice to call on while you practice is always helpful, but even without this, YouTube has a wealth of free content where you can begin following and learning from others in various practical and creative pursuits.
If time constraints are your biggest obstacle, ask yourself ‘why’. Is it fulfilment or busyness that’s keeping you occupied? If it’s the former, and you’re simply having too much of a great time to make time, the straightforward solution comes down to making the choice: enjoyment or evolution. I imagine for many of us in the real world, the answer is not as heart-warming as we’d like, but the key advice remains similar: make a choice, but do so with a generous amount of grace.
Nothing will suck the joy out of a new pursuit faster than unnecessary pressure. If you are already strapped for time, guilt-tripping yourself over missing days of study will not make you feel better or increase your effectiveness.
With all that you’re juggling, let’s break it down practically. Start with the smallest chunk of uninterrupted time you can afford and build from there. If it’s the first 10 minutes of your day, while you’re still lying in bed, go for it. Whether it’s opening an app (ever heard of DuoLingo?), browsing a website or flipping through a book, take that moment to practise or learn something. Use these 10 minutes to give yourself a sense of achievement. Trying to be overambitious, or a perfectionist, is the quickest way to veer off your path.
Often, this small-but-frequent approach might feel frustrating, particularly if it’s a creative or physical pursuit you’re interested in, if that’s the case for you, you can change your metrics. Find that 1 hour in the week, and do it.
Hopefully, this will have put some of your doubts to bed, and allow you to get excited about the world of learning that awaits, whether virtual, self-paced or micro-studies of 10 minutes a day.
If the excitement and nostalgia aren’t fuelling you already, read on for 5 reasons that might persuade you, especially if you’re a Muslim woman:
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)
This hadith encourages us (very clearly) to pursue and value knowledge.
In a world as connected as ours, it’s easy to feel like you’re constantly learning new things and new topics. However, beware of the false expert. Seeking knowledge for yourself, from verified and authentic experts, is a distinct and intentional practice. Islam not only emphasises the importance of knowledge and learning but also its authenticity.
Going back to school or continuing your education is a great way to learn new skills and knowledge that can benefit you personally and professionally. Making dedicated time for it simply means your knowledge-seeking is backed with intention.
If you find yourself regularly in “unsolved crimes” TikTok, maybe try out that investigative journalism certificate. Don’t be afraid to study something perhaps less conventional and expected of you by others. Aray, 30, told me of her growing desire to strike out against the mould and go back to school for a second Masters in engineering. Which engineering, you ask? Motorsports.
“I enjoyed working in oil and gas, but after I quit my job in January, I realised I want to do what I want to do. It wasn’t easy giving up such a good job, and my family were angry at me too. But I was purposefully holding myself back, simply because I didn’t want to deal with the drama of managing people in such an industry. Quitting showed me I really can do anything I want.”
Aray’s words will likely resonate with many for several reasons, the biggest of them being that doing things differently is scary. If it were easy to do exactly what we want, all the time, the world would likely look like a different place. But we can take heart in the knowledge that when it comes to bettering ourselves, it’s expected of us by the only judge that counts, Al-Hakam, Allah SWT.
This hadith by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is most often interpreted as guidance to use your money responsibly. Education, formal or informal, is undoubtedly a sensible form of spending. The list of studies correlating formal education (or years of experience) with earning power goes on forever.
The average annual earnings of employees with a degree or higher qualification were £48,098, compared to £29,202 for employees with only a high school diploma or equivalent. (UK Office of National Statistics, 2022)
Education means Employment Opportunities: If a full degree feels costly, consider specialised certificates relevant to your role or industry. Reputable virtual offerings from the likes of Oxford University and Stanford mean you can add impressive additional qualifications to your CV for free. Recruiters pay attention to this nowadays. I recently heard the best advice from the careers department at the world’s 2nd best business school, “It is better to be different, than to be the best”. Differentiate yourself.
Often, it’s not a willing choice for many when it comes in the middle of a job search. Especially if you didn’t enjoy your first go at higher education. Monsurat, 24, told me of her reluctance to go to Law School after finishing her undergraduate degree in Law. The indecision was enough to procrastinate for almost 3 years until she felt like she had no other choice: “I just don’t want to, and I don’t know why”.
The truth is she knew why, and it was fear. The stress of her first time at university was not something she wanted to repeat, and she felt that failure was inevitable.
The key is to not focus solely on the outcome but on the many unknowns of the journey.
In the face of the unknown, fear might creep in. But ponder this: Isn’t faith about trusting that, no matter the hurdles, Allah SWT knows best? Take inspiration from Maryam رضي الله عنها in Surah Maryam. When uncertainties loom, choose faith over fear. It’s not about being completely fearless; it’s about letting trust in Allah SWT guide your decisions. Take that leap, knowing your trust in the Divine surpasses any fear.
“Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:286)
When you embark on the journey, the experience could just as easily surprise you! Ayesha, 31, spoke with greater passion about her second time at school:
“From a young age, my ambition was to attain financial independence and excel in any chosen career path. After completing high school, I decided to pursue undergraduate studies in Computer Engineering. In the penultimate year of the program, I realised that my true passion lay in finance, and understanding that my current degree wouldn’t sufficiently position me to achieve my goals, I decided I needed to study further. To validate my affinity for finance, I pursued some related certifications before embarking on my journey towards an MSc in Finance. The Master’s program proved to be both rigorous and rewarding. It not only aligned with my interest but also deepened my understanding, propelling me towards my dream job.”
Specific knowledge has specific advantages: Maybe you don’t know what your dream job is, but you know what some “pain points” are when it comes to your daily routine. For example, do you find yourself spending hundreds on hair care every month? Have you considered learning how to care not only for yours but your sisters and daughters, with some study of trichology or styling techniques? If you can justify the long-term savings from the initial investment, the case to learn that skill or practice makes itself. Not to mention the abundance of free resources available online and in your local library.
Islam teaches us that we are all part of one community and that we should support each other. Going back to school or continuing your education is a great way to meet new people and make new connections. This can help you to build a stronger support network for yourself, at the same time as creating an opportunity for you to make a positive difference in the world.
“The believers are like one body; if one part of the body is in pain, the whole body suffers.” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Sahih al-Bukhari)
As someone who recently spent a significant amount of money to pursue an MBA, I can safely say the community has been worth every penny. I am surrounded by new and exciting people, who I’m regularly learning from, even without trying. They push me to try new things and try old things differently. I’m a firm believer, and product of, formal group-based education.
Having met and worked with people I had never imagined I’d get to know so closely without this shared motivation of completing the MBA, I can confidently say that the experience has gone well above my expectations, which were quite high to begin with.
As Muslims, we are encouraged to strive to be the best versions of ourselves.
Going back to school or continuing your education is a great way to challenge yourself and grow as a person. This can help you to reach your full potential and ultimately enable you to live a more fulfilling life.
Challenge is often associated with difficulty and pain, but when you think of all the things you have achieved and are proud of, how many came eventually versus easily?
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, although both are good.” (Sunan Ibn Majah).
The difficulty we face in the pursuit of honour is rewarded both in this life and the Akhirah.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “The best of people are those who are most beneficial to people.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Going back to school or continuing education presents an opportunity to make a positive difference in the world by acquiring knowledge and skills that we can share with society in various impactful ways. You can participate directly by offering a service, or guidance, or indirectly by contributing to a larger business or community because of your own increased personal effectiveness.
“If you can dream it, you can do it.” Coco Gauff
Remember Amira, who shared her experience sharing this journey with her husband? She added,
“This journey has also opened doors for me. Islam encourages the pursuit of knowledge, and as a Muslim woman, I believe in the importance of education, whether married or not. Many Muslim women balance family life and education, and I’m inspired by their accomplishments. While adjusting to life in Singapore and supporting my husband, I’m also exploring opportunities for my growth. This could be through online courses or engaging in the local community. It’s important to communicate with my spouse about my aspirations and find a balance that works for us. In Pakistan, where I’m from, perspectives on women studying or working after marriage are evolving. Families and in-laws are gradually becoming more supportive of women’s ambitions. My journey here is a reflection of that change, and I’m excited to see where it leads.”
Echoing Amira, it might not seem obvious just about how you achieve your learning goal, but if you set out with the intent, and are blessed to have the support – it’s never too late!
Another example, Gani, (who happens to be my mother) is a testament to this fact. At 55, she has taken the difficult step of reorienting her career entirely (again!), in an industry that intimidates most people: data science and engineering.
When asked, “Why?” (And note, the “why” was about why she does this all the time rather than this last specific pursuit), her answer lit me up.
“We are given so much in this life, and we can only truly appreciate it when we understand it.”
Ultimately, going back to school or continuing your education is a great way to please Allah, to improve your life, and make a positive difference in the world. After all, “You are the caliphs of Allah on earth.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:30)
Let us inform our actions and spend our time righteously.
*Some of the names of people mentioned throughout the piece have been changed to maintain privacy
Kudirat Olateju, CFA, is an experienced finance professional and founder of MWHQ, a UK-based organisation that is dedicated to providing financial education and investment advice to women and underserved communities. She is the head writer of the blog over on www.mwhq.co.uk/blog. Prior to founding MWHQ, Kudirat worked as an analyst at JP Morgan and in investment research and strategy at T. Rowe Price. Through her work at these institutions, she gained valuable experience and insights into financial markets, investment strategies, and financial analysis. With MWHQ, Kudirat is passionate about helping women and underserved communities to achieve financial independence and security.