So, a Muslim and a Christian Move into a Dorm Room Together at Calvin College…
Going away to college can be tough on any student — even more so for an international student moving to the U.S. for the first time.
But Anika Farhan had an extra level of difficulty when she moved from Bangladesh to Grand Rapids last year to start school. She enrolled at Calvin College, one of the state’s best known Christian schools.
Farhan, though, is Muslim.
Dustin Dwyer spoke with her and her roommate for the latest in our series Muslims in Michigan.
First off, it’s not as if Anika Farhan was sitting in her house in Bangladesh, threw a dart at a map, hit Grand Rapids, and decided to move here. Her sister was already a doctor in Grand Rapids.
And she wanted to be close to her sister, so she applied to several universities in Michigan.
“I got acceptance from all the universities,” she says. “But I chose Calvin because I wanted to go to a smaller school. I knew it was a Christian school, but I didn’t think it would affect me that much, you know.”
At first, though, it did. It really did. Calvin is one of the leading universities in the country that’s affiliated with the Reformed tradition in Christianity. When you walk into Farhan’s residence hall, one of the first things you see is a board with today’s scripture quote.
And on her first day at Calvin, Farhan found herself in a kind of prayer group where she was asked to take part.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I’m not a Christian,” Farhan says. “People ask me, do you want to do this, do you want to do that, and I’m like, ‘No.’ I don’t know what to say.”
So, at first, things were just really awkward for her.
But let’s also not forget Farhan’s roommate.
That’s Katelyn Fuller. She’s from Chino, Calif., raised in the Christian Reformed Church, went to Christian school growing up. She’s gets accepted into Calvin. Then she gets assigned a roommate.
“I friend-requested her on Facebook,” Fuller says. “Then I saw under her information that she was Muslim, and I was like okay, I’m going to have to ask her about this and see how it’s going to go.”
And she had to ask her parents about it too, because after all, they’re footing the bill for this Christian education.
“We talked about it a lot and we prayed about it,” Fuller says. “And it was something we decided all of us together that it was a good thing that I’d be roommates with a Muslim. And it was a good decision. I’m really happy about it.”
So, though it was a little awkward at first, these two have become good friends. Katelyn’s given Anika fashion tips for how to fit in on an American college campus. Anika teaches Katelyn about Bangladesh.
“She’s been teaching me a little Bengali,” Fuller says. “So that’s been cool. Learned a couple words.”
This kind of cultural exchange also includes talk of religion.
“One time she came back from the church, and she was like, ‘Oh, I learned this about this, so what do you think about it?’” Farhan says. “And then we just were carried on, and we talked about all the differences and similarities between Islam and Christianity.”
In one sense, it’s been easy to find common ground. Farhan says she grew up in a conservative household, so she and Fuller have many of the same values. Neither spends too much time with the boys, or goes out to bars.
But there are still real differences. Belief in Jesus is a big one. For Farhan, Jesus is a prophet, for Fuller he is God made man. And neither one of them is going to change their mind.
“I think we’ve had those moments in discussion, where we just kinda agree to disagree ’cause we know it’s not going to get anywhere,” Fuller says. “But, I mean, that’s fine. I’ve definitely learned a lot, so that’s good.”
And despite these disagreements, Farhan says being in this place, surrounded by Christians, living with a Christian roommate, it’s forced her to take her own religion more seriously, and brought her closer to Islam.
“I was born a Muslim, so it was just by birth,” she says. “But now I feel like, no it’s by my choice. I think it’s the truth, and I will stay true to it.”
Contact Dustin Dwyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.