Freshman Mustafa Bin Mousa wakes to the sound of his cell phone at 6 a.m. He peers out his window to see a cloudy day. Perfect weather for sleeping.
Right under the window, a black-and-white patterned mat lies on the milky wool carpet. He gazes at it for a few seconds and then throws his covers aside and gets up from his bed.
He walks out of his bedroom and turns right into the bathroom.
“I have to clean [myself] with water,” he said. “If I want to pray, I have to be clean and cover my body. I should have absolution if I will pray for something important.”
After ceremonially cleansing his face, mouth, hands, and elbows, he hurries back to his bedroom, stands straight in front of the mat, and reads the Quran. He kneels on the mat and places his forehead on the mat.
“After I finish the prayer, I can ask Allah to help me with something,” he says.
Just like today, Bin Mousa wakes up at 6 a.m. and prays for 15 minutes. He prays four more times during the day – two sets of prayers at 3 p.m. and two sets of prayers at 9:30 p.m. As a Muslim, he said that he needs to pray five times each day or he will be punished by Allah, who is called “God” by English-speaking Christians.
After the first prayer in the morning, Bin Mousa packs his books and walks to Huntington University, where he takes Bible classes. Coming from the city of Al Qatif in the region of Ash Sharqiyah, Saudi Arabia to Indiana, Bin Mousa said he is adapting to his freshman year at the university.
“I knew HU was a Christian university before I came here,” Bin Mousa said. “I came from an Islamic country. I know there are Christian people in the United States.”
Diversity among the student population
Huntington University had one student from Turkey in 2010 through 2014, one from Lebanon who attended from 2002 to 2004 and one from Jordan during the 2003-2004 school year, according to the registrar office.
“Many international students come from countries where people of the Muslim faith make up a large part of the population such as India, Nigeria and Turkey,” Sarah Harvey, registrar, said.
Not all of those students declare a faith affiliation, “so the official numbers we have don’t include everyone,” she said.
“Some may feel uncomfortable declaring their faith at a Christian institution, and some may just not have much commitment to the religion,” Harvey said. “At any rate, I would estimate that we typically have three to eight students on campus who identify with the Muslim faith to some degree.”
Bin Mousa came to the United States – not for himself but for his sister, who is attending college in Michigan.
“She wanted to study in the U.S., but she can’t come alone because she’s a woman,” Bin Mousa said.
In Saudi Arabia, women are not permitted to go abroad without a male family member – either her brother or husband.
“I started to study English in an English Learning Center in Michigan because I came here with zero English,” Bin Mousa said. “I only knew ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Right now I’m still not ready to speak too much.”
In 2013, when his sister married a man from Saudi Arabia, Bin Mousa traveled to the Learning Community in Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne. He could have stayed in Michigan and studied with his sister, but he chose not to.
“I wanted to go to a better school,” he said.
He studied in Fort Wayne for six months. After he finished his last class, he was granted a language certificate and a list of universities.
He chose HU from over 20 schools for the purpose of improving his English and to choose biology as his major.
What bewildered him first was chapel, he said.
“I was surprised I have to go to chapel 30 times every semester,” Bin Mousa said.
The more he went to chapel, the more he has learned about Christianity, he said. He said he was not uncomfortable at all but was refreshed by knowledge about the faith.
“I thought Christians were O.K. to drink alcohol because it’s not O.K. for Muslims, and I thought we were different,” he said. “Then I came here and learned Christians shouldn’t either.”
The Christian faith has both similarities and differences with the Muslim faith which also surprised Bin Mousa. For example, he found that the Christian and Islamic creation stories are the same. However, in the story of Abraham, Isaac is the one to be sacrificed in the Bible, while Abraham sacrificed Ishmael in the Quran.
Learning the similarities and differences is interesting for him but hard, he said. Sometimes he says he can’t understand because he is still not completely fluent in English and is sometimes confused by the different names he encounters.
“Moses, we call ‘Mosa,’ and God is ‘Allah,’” he said. “Lord is ‘Lorbi.’”
Living in Huntington
Once his classes were done on a Friday, he drove to Walmart for groceries. Bin Mousa passed right by the meat freezer because he brought enough meat from Michigan.
“Muslims can’t eat pork,” he said. “And the oil made by pork is not okay, so I don’t eat fast food.”
Chicken is fine, but he needs to see some part of the chicken when it’s alive before it is killed and mention the name of God while it is killed. Those are called “Halal” food.
Having selected some nutritionally balanced food and laundry detergent, he paid and pushed his cart to his car.
This black car is not bought by his family but by his government. In addition to the car and gas, his government also pays for his tuition and living expenses in the states.
Bin Mousa said the government paid $13,000 for this semester and also gave him $1,800 one month for living expenses, including rent, food, car, and gas.
Graduating from the university in four years is still far away for him, but he still thinks about it even today.
“I’ll go to graduate school here, and I want to go back to my country after graduation,” Bin Mousa said. “I want to be a doctor and focus on lab, especially xeroradiography.”