Finding their faith
Despite pressures, many students still find time for religion at MSU
Each morning, Mohkam Singh brushes his hair for 10 to 15 minutes before he wraps it all into a turban.
His hair, which falls to the middle of his back, has never been cut. And Singh, a human biology senior , doesn’t plan on cutting it in the future.
“It gives me my identity,” Singh, president of the Sikh Student Association, said.
In Sikhism, it is believed that cutting hair alters the image that God had intended for men. Turbans are worn as a sign of respect for God.
Singh is one of many students on campus who have refused to let their faith be deterred by the pressures of college life.
International relations and marketing freshman Leonard Gross, left, and no preference freshman Matt May enjoy a meal after Shabbat services Feb. 21, 2014 at the Hillel Jewish Student Center. The Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest. Casey Hull/The State News
Finance freshman Mohammed Alnuaimi bows in prayer Feb. 21, 2014 at the Islamic Center, 940 S Harrison Rd. The Islamic faith requires followers to pray five times a day. Erin Hampton/The State News
Sneha Abraham , a religious advisor for University Reformed Church and an MSU alumna , works primarily with Christian students, but has seen the general impact college has had on students’ faiths.
“It’s a time to search for truth,” Abraham said. “It’s a great opportunity for people to discover things on their own.”
For some, the search means continuing what they’ve known their entire lives. For others, it means finding their faith.
New ways to worship
When Charley Dever, an interdisciplinary studies in social science and health studies senior, first came to MSU, he was on the hunt for a community that would foster his Christian faith.
“In college, you have the opportunity to make a whole new group of friends,” Dever said. “It’s a test (to seek out) what’s really important to you.”
He tried out several different campus ministries in an attempt to find that missing puzzle piece.
Dever eventually landed on Athletes in Action, a interdenominational Christian fellowship for student athletes. Dever, a lacrosse player, found his niche and has been involved with the organization for the past three years.
Athletes in Action has weekly worship meetings and provides mentors to the members. Dever, who is also no w interning with them, leads the Bible study for other lacrosse players who are involved with the group.
Dever said his experience at MSU has only strengthened his resolve in his faith.
“Obviously my relationship with God isn’t dependent on Athletes in Action,” Dever said. “But it gives me a community of people who will encourage me with it.”
Samantha Bentzel, a computer science junior who’s been involved with Spartan Christian Fellowship since her freshman year, also has grown in her faith.
She reads four chapters in her Bible from different passages on a daily basis and leads Bible studies with Spartan Christian Fellowship.
“Christians can’t be Christians alone,” Bentzel said.
A thriving culture
Every Friday evening, Cheryl Graff’s voice rings out in Hillel Jewish Student Center.
Graff, an elementary and special education senior, leads the center’s Kabbalah Shabbat service on Friday nights. The hour-long weekly ceremony is comprised of prayers and chanting to welcome in Shabbat, the day of rest.
“It’s supposed to be me leading the service with my voice,” said Graff, a professional singer.
Aside from being a student leader at Hillel, Graff is a regular visitor at the center, located at 360 Charles Street.
In May 2012, she took her Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel through Hillel.
Robyn Hughey, assistant director of Hillel, said Taglit-Birthright is a free 10-day trip to Israel that is available for Jewish students between the ages of 18 and 26.
Hughey said the center offers much more than the trip - it is a community for Jewish students to connect with their culture and each other. She estimated there are about 3,500 Jewish students on campus.
Miki Levran, an African studies senior, is at the Hillel every day. Levran, president of the Jewish Student Union, often is there working for her organization or just studies there.
“At a big university ... you really want to find those who you really relate to,” Levran said. “Being involved with the Jewish community makes the college seem much smaller.”
Zahra Mukhtar covers herself from head to toe, with the exception of her face.
When the premedical freshman first began covering up in elementary school, her peers asked her if she was bald.
Now a Muslim student at MSU, Mukhtar has found the community to be welcoming.
Mukhtar, who has always connected with Islam, said she planned her classes around the daily Islamic prayer schedule. If she cannot make the prayers at the proper time, she makes up for it at the end of the day.
Rafiah Anjum, a Lyman Briggs freshman, has also incorporated prayer into her daily schedule.
The Quran has 30 main chapters. Each morning, Anjum reads two pages and translates it into English from Arabic.
For Anjum, this has become her personal project to gain fulfillment within her religion. Prior to college, Anjum was not religious for herself - she went through the motions for her parents.
“When I came to college, I realized that there’s nobody here to tell me to pray,” Anjum said. “It became a task for me to find my spiritual place.”
“It’s definitely opened my eyes that religion is bigger than the bubble I came from,” Anjum said.
Manasee Bharathan brought a piece of her childhood with her to college.
Bharathan, a biomedical laboratory science junior, went to Bal Vihar, a Hindu Sunday school, throughout her childhood. The class taught stories from Hindu mythology and tied it back to the students as spiritual values that could be applied in daily life.
Bharathan now teaches Bal Vihar at the Bharatiya Temple of Lansing to children.
"(It’s) the connection to stay in touch with my culture,” Bharathan said.
Bharathan is also a discussion leader for the college-level version of Bal Vihar, Chinmaya Yuva Kendra, which is better known as CHYK.
The organization serves as a forum for the group to discuss philosophies and their personal issues. Bharathan said although the group is not religiously oriented, the values discussed by group members stem from Hinduism.
Vaishali Kapila, a neuroscience sophomore, also teaches Bal Vihar and is a member of CHYK.
Kapila enjoys being involved because her beliefs are constantly challenged.
“Religion is a guideline in spirituality, but I don’t think it’s concrete in black and white,” Kapila said. “You get to build on what you think.”