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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Exam stress leads students to spirituality
By M Hanif Lakdawala

Mumbai: Imran Baig is doing his post-graduation in Finance Management from Mumbai University and has failed twice. The upcoming final exam weighed more heavily than the others and would decide Imran's future.

Imran felt alone and inadequate. He could not think and concentrate. He was even unable to sleep soundly. It was not as though Imran had not slogged or worked hard. The exam stress generated loss of confidence and he was feeling miserable.

This is invariably a stressful time for students- a time when they face what is popularly called 'exam fear'. Exam fear can vary from being mild to intense and unmanageable. According to Rani Raote, a Mumbai-based psychotherapist, exam fear manifests itself physically with nausea, fever, stomach upsets, headaches and irregular menstrual periods for girls "Also, students experience restlessness, agitation, sleeplessness, irritation and an intense feeling of panic during which the mind can go blank. In some cases, the fear expresses itself in uncontrollable crying spells and an inability to carry on with regular activities," she said.
The Holy Qur'an teaches man to work hard for success in life and it says, "therefore man can have nothing, but what he strives for." These verses combine to inspire the believer with a serene mood, and perfect peace of mind and in God's remembrance are at rest the hearts of those who believe. We are met, everywhere, by instructive examples of the change within the soul from darkness to light, even instantly, by God's guidance.

"Will I pass?" "I am not prepared at all," "My mother will be very angry if I do not stand first in the class" - these are just some of the worries plaguing students. Says Dr Harish Shetty, member of the Counsellors Association of India (CAI): "School mental health is an area of great concern worldwide. The World Mental Health report states that 15 per cent of school children, including India, suffer from emotional problems. Schools abroad are focusing very much on this aspect, but it has been completely neglected here." "The fact, however, is that even pre-primary students could show behavioural problems and may need counselling," points out Shalet Fernandes, a counsellor to St Xaviers at Bhandup and St Josephs at Vikhroli. "School children, between five to 15 years, can be going through considerable stress because of their studies, peer pressure, relationships or trouble at home. In fact, it is found that in schools where counselling facility is available, students in the eighth standard and above approach the counsellor on their own," she says. 

"As the exams approach, a large number of students depend on spirituality and prayers to overcome examination fear. Hussain Merchant, a final year B E student has gained tremendous self-confidence after he started offering prayers regularly all five times." Last year I failed in two subjects because of loss of confidence at exam time. This semester, I have done extremely well after I began to offer prayers on the suggestion of my elder brother," confesses Hussain. As is said in the Qur'an: "Nay, whoever submits himself entirely to God and he is a doer of good to others, he has his reward from his lord and there is no fear from such nor shall they grieve. Among the five fundamental duties recognised by the religion of Islam, prayer undoubtedly occupies the most important position and is given great prominence in the Holy Qur'an.

The place of prayer in the self development of man is given such prominence in Islam that in the call to prayer (azan), the words "come to Falah" reflect that self-development is attained through prayer and the Quran says, "successful indeed are the believers who are humble in their prayers." Again, the word used for being successful is 'Alfalah' carrying the significance of all round self-development. Through the daily discipline of prayer and self-development, one can manage the stress of examination. This leads to decreased psycho-physiological arousal with what has been called "relaxation response". Abbas Kazi, appearing for the CFA final exams suffered a bout of amnesia during exams last year. Inspite of studying 20 hours everyday, he could not clear the final exam. "This year, I offered Tahajud, and prayed to my Almighty to help me. After Tahajud, I used to start my studies, which gave me self-confidence and this year, I cleared the CFA final exams," he said.

The Holy Qur'an teaches man to work hard for success in life and it says, "therefore man can have nothing, but what he strives for." These verses combine to inspire the believer with a serene mood, and perfect peace of mind and in God's remembrance are at rest the hearts of those who believe. We are met, everywhere, by instructive examples of the change within the soul from darkness to light, even instantly, by God's guidance. A prominent example was that of Omar Ibn-al-Khattab who, during the life of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) instantly changed from a life of pagan cruelty and iniquity to one of exemplary and perfect justice. 
"We have shed away all rancour that is in their breasts" (Qur'an). Such is the kind of instant psychological cure which we learn from the Ouran and which is not to be found in any other secular discipline and this can also be used to overcome the fear psychosis related to exams.

Salim Siddique always used to fall ill during the time of exams, which worried his parents. This year Salim appeared for the HSC examination and he did not fall ill. His father Razzak revealed that he convinced Salim to offer prayers and read the Qur'an everyday. "Everyday after Isha prayers (night prayers), I read verses from the Qur'an with translation to my entire family. Salim used to go to bed after that and start his studies after Fajr. Mashallah, this year he did not suffer from any illness and he appeared for the HSC exams," he said.

One day while discussing his problem with one of his close friends, Imran Baig was advised to pray regularly. Within three weeks, there was a tremendous change that Imran experienced within himself. The stress vanished and he slept well. "I have regained my confidence and inshaallah will clear my exams" he said.

While prayers and Quran are parts of life and not a crutch to be used by youngsters only during exams, it goes without saying that the youth in the community are now becoming far more aware of the role of spirituality in their lives. The fast-paced life, competition and the worldly stress all around have to be dealt with if one has to live a peaceful life. And there is no better way than following the simple way of prayers and pure thoughts of the Almighty at all times-exams or no exams.
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