There is no doubt that seeking knowledge leads to being tested by Allah. Being patient upon these tests & trials is an important part of becoming a student of knowledge. Having said that there are certain issues that cause people to leave their study. Here are some that I have come across:

  • Not knowing what life is like over in Saudi. This is a major factor for people leaving their study. They go over to Saudi expecting that it will be just like life in the west. The sheer difference in culture is too much for them to take. Do some research, ask other students, and go over for a couple of weeks for ‘Umrah if you can. There are three particular aspects which people find very difficult to adjust to in Saudi:
    • The administration. There really aren’t any words to describe just how difficult it is to get anything done in Saudi. Imagine taking 2 years to open a bank account. Imagine a group of people whose sole purpose in their job is to make your life a misery – then imagine that they are put in charge of government offices. Imagine that the only word that many of them seem to know is “come back tomorrow”, which they use as a kind of self defence mechanism when the queue is too long. Imagine needing to get everything stamped at least five times by five people who don’t seem to ever turn up to the office. Imagine being told something is not possible, only to find that the person after you asked for and was given the same thing you asked for, then when you go back and ask, it isn’t possible again. To be fair to the university, the new head has made a lot of changes, and seems to be making a real effort to change the culture there, and there have been a lot of improvements…but there is still a long way to go, and even if the university got rid of the culture entirely, it still exists in many government offices and large corporations. I mention this for a reason. If you know about it, and you are prepared for it, it is much less likely that you will quit in frustration. There really is only one way to beat the system – adapt to it.
    • The weather. This may sound very strange because you would expect that most people would realise that Saudi is very hot – but still there are students who quit because they weren’t prepared for living and studying in the heat. In the summer the temperature on a normal day is 45 degrees centigrade in the shade, and the winter in Madinah can get very cold – some days around 15 degrees centigrade at mid day (which might not sound cold but the temperature change is a lot and Fajr time is even colder). Again, going to Saudi and experiencing a couple of weeks living there can give you a good idea, if you are able.
    • Being away from family. Most people will be away from their family for 9 months a year. If you are the kind of person who can’t bear to spend a weekend away from your family, then you need to reflect upon whether you will be able to handle 9 months. There are students who quit because they miss their family, and some who just don’t commit to study because of home sickness. Apart from the option of travelling home in the middle of the year for those who can afford it (subject to acceptance by the university), there isn’t any option to travel back during term time. There also isn’t a realistic option to take a ‘gap year’ or ‘term break’ – regardless of the official position that it is possible. Of the students who tried it, I only know one who was allowed back.
  • A lack of commitment to study. This is another major factor why people either quit, or do very little in their time in Madinah. I remember when I wanted to apply, I went to a Saudi scholar who was visting us in Newcastle. I brought a translator who knew the Shaykh well, and I came organised with my documents. The Shaykh gave me some of the most valuable advice I have ever received. He said: “What makes you think that you will be able to study over there, in the heat, away from your family, when you have not proven your commitment here? – you have not even learned Arabic.” The more time I spend over in Madinah, the more I realise just how accurate his statement was. Brothers, if you can’t travel 30 miles once a week to a nearby city to seek knowledge, then what makes you think you’ll be successful when you travel 3000 miles? If you can’t even go to a regular circle once a week for six months, what makes you think you will attend your lessons in Madinah…practical experience shows that most brothers who don’t show commitment in their own country, are not successful in Madinah, and they fall down at the first obstacle!

Note that my intention with this page is not to be negative, but to be realistic. There are so many amazing things about studying in Madinah, but you rarely hear the negative aspects. If you know these negative things and are prepared for them, inshaa Allah you will benefit a lot more from your study.

Now go on to Living as a single student.