Muslim student grapples with her faith in What Matters to Me and Why talk

By Benjamin Hellwege

For Javeria Qureshi, the most important events in life are not the momentous occasions, but rather the small and forgotten kindnesses of everyday life. Qureshi, a fourth-year biochemistry concentrator in the College, spoke Thursday afternoon as part of the “What Matters to Me and Why” series sponsored by Rockefeller Chapel.

“We think it’s important to encourage student voices on this question as well as faculty and staff, and so we ask students who in particular they would like to hear from who they’d find interesting on this topic,” said Alison Boden, dean of Rockefeller Chapel.

“In particular, we’re looking for student speakers who are involved in and committed to various things related to our common life at the University. Students indicated an interest in hearing from , and she’s been involved in numerous things at Chicago.”

Qureshi is an active member of the Muslim Students Association, volunteers at the University of Chicago Hospitals, and works closely with a Jewish-Muslim student dialogue group.

Besides discussing the value of mundane affairs in everyday life, Qureshi spoke about how mortality, memory, Islam, and her interest in poetry have shaped her views of the world.

“I like to think of life metaphorically as a journey, and myself as a traveler, with the realization that at any moment the journey could be over,” she said. “All big events come from small ones, and for me it is important to have memories be about little moments used for good, and to promote positive change in society beyond the mere and artificial boundaries we create.”

According to Qureshi, her primary motivation for social action comes from the vast inequities and disharmony that beset both America and humanity in general. “The idea of injustice crosses every human boundary,” Qureshi said. “I want to work towards a type of justice, a great mobilization to harmony–that is why small kindnesses count, because I believe that is the way to try and improve the world.”

Qureshi’s relationship to her Muslim faith has not always been an amicable one. “I went through a rough period during my high school years, but I eventually came back. Now religion carries a great influence in my life,” Qureshi said. “I have always had a strong faith in God, but I had at that time a fear of organized religion, and so I avoided overt religion during my teenage years.”

However, Qureshi never completely withdrew from her faith. She continued to read about Islam and eventually came to believe that there was a definite limit to human reason. In trying to separate culture from Islam, Qureshi discovered that there were many things she could not make sense of at times, but she assumed these issues would one day resolve themselves. Gradually, her life choices came under greater influence by the Muslim identity that she now embraces.

Among the most important choices in her life, Qureshi cited her decision to concentrate in biochemistry. Inspired by her biology teacher father and a lifelong love of observing and trying to understand the world, Qureshi initially became a biology concentrator. Eventually, though, she came to the conclusion that biology lacked an interdisciplinary scope that was present in biochemistry.

“While I was still a biology concentrator, I took a chemistry class that completely changed my view of biology–namely, it showed me how chemistry, as well as other sciences, helped to bridge the gaps in biology,” Qureshi said. “I have always been interested in the idea of science, of trying to understand the world quantitatively, and I am hoping to one day enter the field of medicine, so as to combine my desire to heal others and to enact change in the world around me.”

Qureshi is the second student to speak at the series.