Meet brother Radwan, a 21-year-old Muslim from Cabramatta in Sydney who 12 months ago made the brave decision to travel to Mauritania in northern Africa to study our religion in-depth.

I use the word “brave” because in heading overseas, Radwan left behind a successful business and far more importantly, he bade farewell to his loving parents and three siblings.

Born in Sydney of Lebanese parents, Radwan was raised in the tight-knit OBA Cabramatta Mosque community so it also meant saying goodbye to most of his friends.

“I grew up in Cabramatta in very close proximity to the masjid and mine was one of a few families who were involved in building the mosque, so I have a lifetime attachment to it.”

“That influence and that passion is still very much with me today,” Radwan, who is currently on two months leave back at home in Sydney, told AMUST.

“Whether it’s academic-wise, whether it’s brotherhood-wise – you find the brotherhood is stronger at the masjid as we are all there for the sake of Allah.”

“I have a number of role models; academically my role model is Sheikh Abdul Moez Al Nafti (I studied under him for many years and I am amazed by the amount of knowledge he possesses); in terms of volunteering I hold my friend and brother Salim Allouche as a fine example while my father is my role model in terms of good manners and being someone whom I look up to.”

“And when it comes to instilling confidence and encouragement, I can’t go past my mother.”

“Mum is a student of great knowledge herself and throughout my upbringing, she taught me all of the basics that I learned from home – Arabic, recitation and memorising of the Qur’an and Islamic studies during Ramadan.”

“She also always encouraged me to participate in public speaking and Qur’an competitions, even away from school, and sometimes against my wishes at the time – but looking back, this is what instilled my confidence.”

“Growing up, I did a lot of Qur’an and Islamic studies with the Mashayikh at Cabramatta, be they resident or visiting imams, and I benefited a lot from their knowledge and teachings.”

Br Radwan’s beloved OBA Cabramatta Mosque attracted 800-plus mainly young attendees to a lecture by Mohamed Hoblos in mid-2023.

“My parents would always strongly encourage me to learn from these men of great knowledge.”

“The scholars say there is a time for benefiting and a time for giving so I try to give back to the mosque whether it is lecturing or teaching or translating for the sheikhs or sometimes leading the Taraweeh prayer or helping out however else I can, as it is our duty as Muslims to give back.”

“The younger brothers at Cabramatta really appreciate the translations into English as it’s easier for them.”

“After completing my HSC I was both working and studying but I knew that University wasn’t for me; however, I always had a vision that I would travel overseas one day and was able to save some money whilst working to do this.”

“But my actual decision to travel to Mauritania to study was quite sudden.”

“Sheikh Abdul Moez advised me that his son (who is a good friend of mine) planned to travel there and after discussing it with my family and others close to me, I decided to accompany him.”

“But whilst I had always planned to travel, Mauritania had never been on my radar so I had a lot of reading to do!”

Over 90 percent of Mauritania is within the Sahara Desert.

“Arriving in Mauritania, it was a huge culture shock as it’s a very different culture and a very different mentality over there.”

“Life there is very simple and the people are not about the materialistic things we take for granted; there is also a lot of poverty….it is very different.”

“The Mashayikh who teach us are very humble and their dress code is the same as the rest of the community….you could be travelling somewhere, sitting next to a scholar and you wouldn’t even know it.”

“And for the local students, study is a way of life, not a career/job vision.”

“Whether people are doing business or teaching or working a 9 to 5 job, seeking Islamic knowledge has to be a part of it. “

“Studying there is also very different to how we know it as a lot of the texts are in poetry form. They are very big on poetry and indeed Mauritania has been described as ‘the country of a million poets’.”

“Students learn in poetry form; they memorise everything so that it can ‘sink in’ and so that if they forget something, they can recall it.”

Students sit with their teachers in Mauritania.

“Classes are a maximum 25-30 minutes. The teachers are completely focused on the text and don’t get distracted from the topic. They talk very quickly so you have to be totally focused on what they are telling you and make notes and ensure that you understand what is being said.”

“The teachers in the villages allocate a time, say between Fajr and Dhuhur, where they sit in their house and the students know that they are available so they come in and line up and the teacher will have a pile of books in front of him – and whichever book the student wants to discuss, the teacher will teach him from, as a one on one.”

“Sometimes if the students are studying from the same book, the teacher can address a larger group which saves him time.”

“The oppressive heat (temperature is 35-plus degrees for much of the year) also means it isn’t practical for lengthy classes to be held.”

Radwan has been living in a university dormitory in the capital city Nouakchott but when he returns to Mauritania next month, he’s made arrangements to live in a village.

Village life is very simple and furniture is sparse….there are no creature comforts.

Radwan says it is impossible to sleep outside a mosquito net and these blood-sapping insects are a fact of life in Mauritania, as are a variety of other bugs, scorpions and snakes.

Mauritania has a population of around 4.5 million, predominantly Muslims.

There is no manufacturing so much of the food is imported from Senegal, Morocco and Turkey which makes it very difficult for the locals to afford.

For most, meals mainly comprise simple meat and rice dishes.

“Interestingly, in Mauritania, a man is not referred to as a Sheikh until he has reached an extremely high level of knowledge which may take most of his lifetime….until then, he is just referred to by his first name, even if he has been studying for 15 or 20 years,” Radwan revealed.

“This is a concept I like, as even the companions were just known by their first names….being called ‘Sheikh’ is something which is overdone in Australia.”

“My first advice to young brothers who have ambitions to study overseas is to memorise the Qur’an, as this is vital in terms of Islamic studies and is something which Sheikh Abdul Moez always reminded me never to underestimate.”

“I actually completed my own Qur’an memorisation in Mauritania as Allah had ordained for me.”

“Step two is to seek knowledge locally; the scholars would never travel abroad to seek knowledge without first seeking it from the Mashayikh in their own area.”

“Step three is Arabic – seeking knowledge to master subjects Islamically can only be done in Arabic and of course the Qur’an was revealed in Arabic so you must understand the Arabic language very well – have the vocabulary, understand the grammar – and know the basics  before you go abroad to study.”

“People should also understand that going overseas to study isn’t easy; you will experience  hardships….days when you don’t want to get up, when you don’t want to study, when you don’t want to memorise.”

“And going to a country where life is already tough is going to make it harder as well.”

“My main issue, especially when I first arrived in Mauritania was missing family and close friends but eventually you get used to it, you get to adapt to the conditions, and to the people.”

“But family and friends I missed a great deal as it was very tough to leave my circle at home as I wasn’t used to doing this.”

“However, in terms of seeking knowledge, Mauritania is ideal as there are no distractions and everyone is  very religious.”

“You jump in a cab and the driver is reading his daily Qur’an or you may be in the masjid and an old man will come in carrying a pillow and he may lie down between Dhuhur and Asr and fall asleep reciting from his Qur’an…it’s beautiful.”

  • Such is brother Radwan’s humility, he requested that his surname be withheld, which AMUST readily agreed to, in order to provide such a fascinating story to our readership and one which will hopefully inspire other young Muslims to follow a similar path.