Faith and community central for Khadijah

  • 31 March 2022

Simple pleasures are enough for Khadijah Chaudhrey (History 2020), who enjoys the sense of community at Cambridge and exploring the city and her faith away from the University.

Khadijah is a Gonville & Caius College access ambassador and secretary of Cambridge University Islamic Society (or ISoc for short).

“One of the things I wanted to look out for when I came to university was having a familiar network. And for me my faith is at the centre of my identity,” Khadijah says.

“One of my main fears was losing that part of me, so I was very glad during freshers when I got to meet some of the ISoc executive committee members, who gave me advice, where to find the Halal butchers, places to go and eat, people to contact with any issues.

“The stereotypical image of Cambridge doesn’t fit anymore. There’s a lot of people coming from diverse backgrounds.

“And this applies to Cambridge in general: once you find someone with similar interests to you they will then pass you on to someone else and your network expands.”

ISoc had around 200 sign-ups during last October’s freshers’ fair and had to restructure its committee to share the workload. Khadijah enjoys the society, and attending Cambridge Central Mosque and the many Halal restaurants on the city’s Mill Road, which runs for a mile or so from the north-east corner of Parker’s Piece.

“Mill Road is the Muslim hub,” says Khadijah, who will be observing Ramadan when it begins this weekend.

“The mosque is a very beautiful eco mosque. To experience that is amazing.”

Khadijah Chaudhrey outside Cambridge Central Mosque

Extravagant timber pillars inside a mosque, with people praying

Khadijah Chaudhrey pictured outside Cambridge Central Mosque (top), and a prayer room in the mosque

ISoc has a prayer venue on the University’s Sidgwick site, near Caius’ West Road campus, and there are prayer rooms in Caius and other Cambridge colleges for their respective students, offering alternatives to the city mosques on Mill Road.

This year Ramadan begins during the Easter vacation, and will run into Easter Term, but not over most students’ exams. Khadijah plans to amend her routine to have her pre-dawn meal, suhoor, and prayer, before returning to bed for a short time, awakening to start the day later than usual and then fasting until dusk and iftar, when the daily fast is broken.

She adds: “The main challenge is having Ramadan away from home. It was isolating last year due to Covid-19 restrictions, but ISoc helped.

“The advice I’d give is figure out your routine – and it’s OK for it to be very different to others and even out of the ordinary – and understand when the best time for you to study. Eat healthily and have fulfilling meals.”

ISoc is organising free or subsidised iftar meals, and also asking colleges to be flexible with their dining timetables, where possible. Last year, during the pandemic, Caius provided takeaway boxes during Ramadan.

Khadijah likens fasting to intermittent fasting, which has grown in popularity for health purposes in recent years.

For Khadijah, Ramadan is “a month of spiritual growth”. She adds: “The main reason why we fast is so we can show empathy.

“It’s about understanding how fortunate we are to have food on the table every single day.”

Khadijah grew up in east London and attended Clapton Girls’ Academy in Hackney for sixth form. She returned there recently in her role as an access ambassador for the Caius Homecoming Initiative.

“It was really nice giving back to the community I benefited from,” she adds.

“Once they see someone who has come from a background like them, they find it motivating. They can think ‘if she can do it, so can we’.”

She enjoys sharing her knowledge of Caius and Cambridge to interested school pupils, who ask about personal statements and practical advice, such as living away from home, welfare and student support.

Khadijah was attracted to Caius by the History cohort – the subject has a large intake in College each year – and the library. She adds: “It gave me the feeling I’d be studying somewhere where I’d fulfil my Harry Potter fantasy.”

Her longer-term goal is to teach abroad in developing nations.

She says: “I’m very much grounded by the simple pleasures in life and helping people; it’s very far off from what I thought a couple of years ago when I thought I’d chase the corporate life!”

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