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Zuha Hameed initially studied the LLB at a teaching centre in Pakistan and was awarded the Undergraduate Laws scholarship, which provided her with the opportunity to study abroad at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.
Zuha looks back on her life defining experience at SOAS and imparts insights about her journey and future aspirations in law.
Why did you decide to study law? My family is originally from a quaint and conservative city in North Punjab. My parents moved to Lahore for a better life and to give their children a better foundation in education and opportunities.
My father was an influence, he was quite vocal about his views which were often controversial in the face of societal stereotypes. It made me think about the things that I saw around me. From a very young age I understood that there was so much that had to change for the better. Studying law was the first step that I took to better understand the intricacies of how the world works, how we fit into society and how it mirrors human psychology. My next goal in life is to become part of a system that can make the changes necessary.
How was your first year at SOAS? Were there any challenges and did the opportunity to study in London add to your experience as a student? It was a ‘once in lifetime’ kind of experience. When I first moved to London everything was so new and it took me a while to deal with things like the difference between the Pakistani and English education system. Overcoming the differences and learning how to fit in was the greatest challenge of all. Despite home sickness and the cultural shock, London taught me so much about myself – a life that I don’t think I would ever have learned had I stayed in Pakistan.
Sharing a creative and learning space with people from all over the world from diverse backgrounds encouraged me to look at things from a wider perspective and take into account the experience and opinions of people who are different from me. And of course, living on my own away from the society that I was brought up in allowed me to discover who I was as a person in a neutral setting which was incredibly enlightening and liberating.
How did you manage your study around your daily life? I’ve always been good at balancing my social life, extra curriculars and academics. I learnt to do it in school and it became a habit. My mother made me read an Urdu article when I was 13 years old. It highlighted how everyone in the world had the same 24 hours in a day and it was what we did with those hours that set everyone apart. I mentally divided my day into sleeping hours, studying hours, and relaxation down time. I’ve been doing this ever since and it works like a charm.
Which module did you enjoy the most? I enjoyed Islamic law the most. Professor Mashood Baderin’s work always stood out to me and I was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to study from him. I read many of his pieces before I opted for Islamic Law and all of them made me stop and ponder for a while.
As a Muslim, I think Islamic law was the closest I ever got to actually understanding how Islam works. I’ve always been curious about things like a Muslim woman’s right to divorce, Islamic penal rules, Islam’s stance on child marriages and the general idea of patriarchy in Islam. Being able to research and discuss these ideas with my tutors and peers helped me understand my roots and aided my self-discovery
What did you think of the study materials and what was particularly helpful? I was quite impressed by the study materials, especially on the Moodle. The best part about SOAS is the diversity of the reading material available. My lecturer would actively ask us to share pieces and examples from different cultures and countries to ensure we were not just limited to a Eurocentric or Western view of things.
What have you been doing since your time in London and were there any particular skills you learned that you think will be useful to your work? Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic I had to return home earlier than expected. With lockdown I haven’t had the chance to celebrate yet but hoping next year will be better! I am currently preparing for the Competition Examinations for the Pakistan Civil Service. I mentioned earlier, the dream to help change the society for the better. Becoming part of the Pakistan Civil Service will enable me to make grass root changes in many different areas from women empowerment to domestic laws and international relations. I have a year to prepare for my exams and I hope to be appointed into the Administrative Branch.
As a law graduate it is easier for me to now understand how different sections of society work together to create the whole. Being a law student polishes interpersonal, communication and analytical skills. And given the exposure I had in London and at SOAS, I know I can work with people who have different life experiences to mine. It also means I have a better understanding of ideology and theoretical ethos behind politics, international relations and internal administration.
My sincerest gratitude to the University of London, Undergraduate Laws for offering me the scholarship which made all of this possible. The last two years have transformed me and this opportunity has allowed me to be the best version of myself.