Miryam Amalou: ‘I have to teach myself to take moments of rest’
Ramadan is a time of both not eating and reflection. A good time to meet Miryam Amalou, chair of the Muslim Student Association MSA Tilburg and psychology student. She has two cats and likes to look at chocolate, what else is on her mind?
What are you most proud of?
‘That is a very difficult question. Maybe the growth of MSA Tilburg. I joined at the very beginning. Then we kept growing, and we can now offer more and more people a place where they feel at home. I think I contributed to that. Now we regularly have events where sixty people can attend, and at the biggest ones, up to one hundred and fifty people sometimes attend.’
What do you daydream about?
‘Mostly about rest and vacations. Apart from my studies and MSA, I work for KPN for three days, and besides that there is day-to-day life. So I also want to rest from that hustle and bustle sometimes. For example, with mini vacations, with my parents to the south of Spain or the south of France.’
What book would you recommend to anyone?
‘I don’t have a book that I can really recommend to everyone. I myself have benefited most from Reclaim Your Heart by Yasmin Mogahed. That is a self-help book aimed at Islam about personal experiences. You learn to discover yourself and how to deal with difficult situations. Maybe everyone can benefit from this book, but for me it is nice that I find things from the Koran in it.’
You have an unexpected afternoon off; how do you spend the time?
‘It’s Ramadan now, so then I’m usually with my parents. Helping prepare food, reading books, or the Quran. And otherwise I would also spend time with my family first.’
What do few people know about you?
‘How I got my two cats. My father preferred not to. Actually, we’re all allergic to cats, especially him. But after I talked to him about it, I went looking for a kitten the next day anyway. I actually wanted one, but I didn’t want to leave the last one out of the litter behind. When my dad came home and suddenly there were two little kittens running around, it was a big surprise. He does pretend not to care, but I think he likes the cats more and more.’
What should be common knowledge (but isn’t)?
‘That you don’t have to decide right away who or what you want to become. Adulting continues even after you turn eighteen. I’m twenty-five now and I’m still deciding where I want to go.’
Your house is on fire, and you can only save one possession. What do you take with you?
‘That has happened once before. Not a fire, but there was a gas leak down the street, and we had to get out of the house right away. The first thing I did was take one cat in a blanket. Then, of course, I went back to get the other one right away. I don’t want to leave any cats behind.’
What series do you watch to relax?
‘I like baking shows a lot. Like School of Chocolate on Netflix. In it, they make whole sculptures out of chocolate. It’s very relaxing to watch them do that. It’s something to watch and not to imitate yourself. The things they prepare are not exactly simple.’
Who is your great role model and why?
‘That’s my father. He has always continued studying. He works as a spiritual caregiver in the prison system, but in addition, he has continued studying. He also always tries to support us and make us feel comfortable. I have a really good relationship with my dad.’
What really needs to be different about the university?
‘How strict it can be in exams. For example, when arriving late if you can’t help it. For example, because there was a person or a tree on the track. Then it happens that they won’t allow you to come in. You then lose a whole exam opportunity. We experienced it once with a whole group of students also because of a tree on the track. That’s actually not fair, you can’t do anything about it yourself, but still your exam is in jeopardy.’
What should you actually be doing (more)?
‘Taking moments of rest. I still sometimes have a tendency to keep going and efface myself. Sometimes, I can even sacrifice sleep because someone asks me something. I have to teach myself to take a moment of rest. Then you can go on afterwards with new energy, instead of on the reserve tank.’
English or Dutch?
‘English. I chose a Dutch track. But in the end my preference turns out to be strongly in English. Now the lectures and exams are in Dutch, but most of the literature is in English. I don’t find that difficult, I often think in English myself. With some friends I speak half Dutch, half English. And at MSA there are a lot of international students.’
No more meat or no more flying?
‘Is that just about meat, or also about chicken? If it’s about steak, then never eat meat again. But without chicken… If you look at meat substitutes, they’re getting better. So then maybe never meat again after all. But I still find it difficult. Meat is something I eat every day and I don’t fly every day.’
Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel