Thursday, December 5, 2013

End of blog

Insha'Allah, I will be leaving my position at Brown University at the end of December 2013. I will leave this blog up for a little while, and then transfer the contents to my personal blog:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Seeking Sincerity

It is related in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and his family and grant them peace) once told a story to illustrate the importance of sincerity:

“The first person judged on Resurrection Day will be a man martyred in battle. He will be brought forth, Allah will reacquaint him with His blessings upon him and the man will acknowledge them, whereupon Allah will say, ‘What have you done with them?’ to which the man will respond, ‘I fought to the death for You.’ Allah will reply, ‘You lie. You fought in order to be called a hero, and it has already been said.’ Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face and flung into the fire.

Then a man will be brought forward who learned Sacred Knowledge, taught it to others, and who recited the Qur’an. Allah will remind him of His gifts to him and the man will acknowledge them, and then Allah will say, ‘What have you done with them?’ The man will answer, ‘I acquired Sacred Knowledge, taught it, and recited the Qur’an, for Your sake.’ Allah will say, ‘You lie. You learned so as to be called a scholar, and read the Qur’an so as to be called a reciter, and it has already been said.’ Then the man will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung in the fire.

Then a man will be brought forward whom Allah generously provided for, giving him various kinds of wealth, and Allah will recall to him the benefits given, and the man will acknowledge them, to which Allah will say, ‘And what have you done with them?’ The man will answer, ‘I have not left a single kind of expenditure You love to see made, except that I have spent on it for Your sake.’ Allah will say, ‘You lie. You did it so as to be called generous, and it has already been said.’ Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung into the fire.”

This is one of the most spiritually challenging hadiths that I know of. We are presented with three archetypes of people who devote their life to religious matters in an outward fashion. One has sacrificed their life, one has sacrificed their time, and the other has sacrificed their wealth. Each of them has made an extraordinary effort, and yet they have failed to reach the desired goal. This is because while their bodies were apparently with Allah, their hearts were with people.

What does it mean to do something purely for the sake of Allah? This question is as important for all of us to ask as it is difficult to answer. In the Qu’ran it states:

“Say: Surely, I am but a human being like you; it is revealed to me that your God is One God. So the one who hopes to meet his Lord must do righteous deeds and not associate anyone in the worship of their Lord." (Sūrah al-Kahf, verse 110)

We attend the Friday prayer out of a belief that it constitutes a "righteous deed," but our worship is not complete until it is for God alone. We could ask ourselves a variety of introspective questions: Do we pray so that we feel like a good person? To tell our parents or our spouse that we attend jumu’ah regularly? To reaffirm our Muslim identity? To see a friend, or someone that we are romantically interested in? To get a mental break from our daily schedule? Thinking about such questions helps us to understand why we do what we do. These other motives are not inherently bad; for example, there is nothing wrong with being excited about meeting up with friends at jumu'ah. But we should have a clarity in our hearts about our primary reason for attending jumu'ah, or engaging in any other communal act of worship. We must tell ourselves that we would still come to pray even if our friends chose not to.

Saying the phrase "lā ilāha ill Allāh," whether out loud or silently, is a powerful means to increasing our sincerity. It is a sword by which we cut through the various delusions that make us think that there is anything more deserving of our attention than Allah. Are governments to be feared? lā ilāha ill Allāh. Are beautiful people to be desired? lā ilāha ill Allāh. Is money to be sought after? lā ilāha ill Allāh. Is our well-being ultimately in the hands of a doctor? lā ilāha ill Allāh. As the Qur'an states:

“Say: Will you worship other than Allah that which has no power to benefit or harm you, while Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing?!” (Sūrah al-Mā’ida, verse 76)

Reflecting on this verse helps us to realize that everything we want, in this world and the next, is with Allah. This does not mean that we negate the "asbāb" (the proper means that are taken in order to attain a certain goal), such as going to a doctor in order be cured. But the doctor is not the one who cures; it is Allah who ultimately cures, by means of the doctor. And the more we realize this truth, the more we turn to Allah with sincerity, knowing that only Allah can give and take away.

We fear so many things. We fear getting cancer, we fear being harassed at the airport, we fear being alone, we fear saying the wrong thing - but it is only Allah who is truly deserving of our fear (khawf). We hope in so many things. We hope in our family, we hope in our friends, we hope in our careers, we hope in our religious leaders - but it is only Allah who is truly deserving of our hope (rajā’). If Allah is pleased with us, then there is nothing in the world to fear, and no need to hope for anything else. Allah has said:

“Behold! Truly, on the friends of Allah there shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (10.62)

This is an exalted level, and it is to this height that we are climbing. We must strive for righteous deeds, we must try to manifest sincerity, we must turn to Allah alone and ask for every noble quality. Along the way, we will begin to discover what little control we have over our own lives. Each step on the path will lead us further and further into Allah’s embrace, and further and further away from our own selves and our attachment to this world. We will begin to understand why we say, when someone passes away, innā li'llāhi wa innā ilayhi rājiʿun (to God we belong and to Him we are returning). We will willingly embrace the reality of our life and our inevitable death. And as we progress, we will begin to see that when we thought in the past that we had been sincere, we were actually far from sincerity. There is no fooling the One who knows every secret we have ever hid from others, and even the secrets we try to hide from our own selves.

As is stated in a well-known ḥadīth, Allah does not look at our outward forms. In our spiritual path, it ultimately does not matter whether we are a male or a female, an Arab or an ʿajam (non-Arab), well-dressed or simply attired. What matters is the state of our hearts, which is known as “amīr al-badan,” the commander of the body, and the actions that reflect the states of our hearts. And since even impressive outward actions, such as those mentioned at the beginning, are no guarantee that one is on the straight path, we must get real with our selves in the presence of our Lord. In many instances, sincerity simply means that we admit to ourselves that which Allah already knows. It is only after we see ourselves more clearly that we can walk more sincerely towards Allah. If I look within, and see doubt, then at the very least I can ask Allah to strengthen my faith. If I look within and see a desire to sin, then at the very least I can ask Allah to fill my heart with repentance. If I look within, and see a desire to be praised by people, then at the very least I can ask Allah for the inspiration to worship Him alone. But if I am veiled from the realities of my own soul, from what is actually going on inside me, then I am lost. I might end up doing the outward actions of the people of Paradise, but have a heart that is leading me to the Fire. May Allah save all of us, and our loved ones, from such a fate, āmīn.

“To God belongs everything that is in the heavens and everything that is on the earth. Whether you disclose what is in yourselves or hide it, God will call it to account. And He will forgive whomsoever He wills and punish whomsoever He wills, and God is powerful over all things.” (Sūrah al-Baqara, verse 284)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Contemporary Wisdom

The largest Islamic organization in the United States, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), publishes a bi-monthly magazine called "Islamic Horizons." In the most recent issue (May/June 2013), they began publishing Imam Zaid Shakir's contemporary commentary on the famous "Ḥikam (Wisdoms)" of Ibn ‘Aṭā’illah (d. 1309). I am reproducing it here so that it can reach a wider audience, ’in shā’ Allāh. May Allah bless ISNA, Imam Zaid Shakir, and Ibn ‘Aṭā’illah, and grant us benefit through them, yā Nāfi‘ (The Source of All Benefit), āmīn!

Wisdom #1: "Among the signs one is relying upon actions is a lessening of hope when a slip or setback occurs."

The principal lesson Ibn ‘Ata Allah conveys in this aphorism is a warning against relying on our actions, in the sense of believing they can ultimately bring about outcomes. God is the Ultimate, however, although our actions do have an important part to play in terms of both our spiritual progress and our salvation. When we believe that our actions affect outcomes, which are solely controlled by God, we might tend to lose hope in God when we perform certain acts and the outcomes we consider to be associated with those acts do not ensue.

This aphorism is orienting us away from reliance on actions and directing us toward reliance on God. Reliance on other than God, including on the acts we undertake ostensibly for God, can become a factor that erodes the purity of tawhid, or Divine unity, and, hence, sour our relationship with God. This is the great danger that Ibn ‘Ata Allah warns us against.

One of the signs that we are relying on actions is a lessening of hope when a slip or setback occurs. For example, we can find ourselves in a situation where we are undertaking all of our prayers on time, we fast Mondays and Thursdays, we read a regular portion from the Qur'an, yet we do not feel we are making any "spiritual progress." Therefore, our hope that God will elevate us is lessened; because we are doing what we believe is sufficient to obtain the outcome we desire, however, we do not witness the outcome. Something must be wrong. Something is wrong. Namely, while we are acknowledging it is God who elevates us, we may come to feel He must elevate us because of our deeds. Hence, it is our deeds that we view as the critical factor for our elevation, and not the grace and mercy of God.

In a somewhat related manner, when we are unable to perform our normal portion of devotional actions, owing to illness or lawful preoccupation, we may feel that we are not doing enough to invite God's mercy into our lives, and this becomes a source of lessening our hope in God. We should understand, again, that God knows our state and that it is He who has tested us with the situation that resulted in a lessening of our actions. If we persevere, and maintain a good opinion of God, we will find that our patience brings us greater spiritual benefits than our actions ever could.

Reflect on the saying of the Prophet, "When the child of Adam falls ill or travels the reward of the devotional actions he used to perform while in residence or in good health is recorded for him" (Bukhari). In other words, God, from the profundity of His grace bestows upon him the reward of those devotional acts, even though he has done nothing, other than entertaining a good opinion of God, and patiently enduring the trial that prevented him from acting. This narration clearly emphasizes the primacy of God's grace over our actions.

Overreliance on our actions can also prevail in our mundane affairs. We can work hard preparing for a critical examination. When we learn that we have failed the examination, we might feel that God has let us down because we did everything necessary to succeed. Again, we are subtly blaming God, because "we" did everything necessary to succeed. We studied hard, we reviewed with our peers, we took practice examinations, etc. Hence, we feel that we should have succeeded. In the face of our failure, our hope in God is lessened.

Ibn ‘Ata Allah is alerting us to just how important it is for us to rely solely on God. By so doing we actualize one of the critical meanings of tawhid in our lives. Namely, there is no source of harm or benefit except God. When we understand this we understand that our responsibility is to work. As far as the consequences or outcomes of our work that is something we depute to God.

This orientation, that it is grace and mercy of God that determines our success, is also relevant in salvation. In this context, one can point to the Qur'anic verse that mentions our entering Paradise based on our actions, "Enter Paradise because of the devotional acts you were undertaking" (16.32). This verse apparently contradicts the prophetic hadith, "No one's actions will enter them into Paradise." They said, "Not even you, O Messenger of God?" He replied, "Not even me. Only if God covers me in His Mercy" (Muslim).

The apparent contradiction between the verse and the Hadith is reconciled in the following way. Actions are only considered if they are acceptable and their acceptability depends on the grace and mercy of God; as does the propensity to undertake them in the first place. Hence, while actions are necessary for our entrance into Paradise, they are not sufficient. Sufficiency comes through the grace and mercy of God. As recipients of that grace we should be forever joyous. God reminds us in the Qur'an, "Say, in the Grace of God and in His Mercy, in this let them rejoice. It is better than anything they gather [from the world]" (12.58).

This orientation requires a very high state of spiritual maturity. Such a station is one that lies at the end of the spiritual path. Ibn ‘Ata Allah mentions it first to alert the traveler as to his or her destination. However, while journeying towards that goal actions are very important and should never be minimized or neglected. They are the foundation of subsequent spiritual stations. Ibn ‘Ata Allah alludes to this in a subsequent aphorism, "Whoever has an enlightened beginning will have an enlightened end" (Al-Hikam, no. 27). The enlightened beginning lies in consistency and vigorous enthusiasm in devotional actions. The enlightenment at the end lies in refined spiritual stations.

In fact, at the beginning of the spiritual path, the fear of disappointing God by falling short or displaying insincerity in our devotional acts pushes us along the way like nothing else. This fear is captured in the Qur'anic verse, "Those who offer what they offer [of charity and worship] while their hearts are trembling with awe, knowing that they are returning to their Lord" (23.60).

Hence, actions play a critical, necessary part in this life and in salvation. Sufficiency, however, lies with God. God reminds us in the Qur'an, "O Prophet! God suffices you and those who follow you of the believers" (8.34).

If we can look beyond our actions, we will never be disappointed or lose hope when we do not experience the outcomes we anticipate to ensue after the performance of those actions. We work as assiduously as we can in undertaking the worldly means normally associated with a particular outcome. However, we leave the outcome to God. This is not only a key to actualizing the reality of tawhid and maintaining good manners with God, it is also a great source of internal peace and tranquility.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Blessing of Daughters

In Sūrah al-Takwīr, God talks about the ending of the world, when all that we take for granted as fixed and stable is up-ended and destroyed. The translation begins as follows: "When the sun is shrouded in darkness, when the stars are dimmed, when the mountains are set in motion..." It is only our imaginations that can grant us access to the point that God is trying to make, as the Qur’ān speaks to our imaginations. We have seen something of this already in the world - one might think of the destruction of Mount St. Helens, and from that experience begin to imagine what it would be like for whole mountain ranges to begin to crumble. This is a manifestation of ‘ilm al-yaqīn (the knowledge of certainty), the first of three levels of certainty that the Qur’ān elucidates. The Qur’ān informs us of the inevitable destruction of the Earth, a fact confirmed by geological and cosmological science, and we strive to arrive at a mental state of certainty where we do not doubt this information. But we need to move beyond the realm of knowledge to the realm of imagination, for the eye of the heart can also begin to see these things in more vivid detail, and thus bring us closer to the next level of certainty known as ‘ayn al-yaqīn (the eye of certainty). But if our hearts are rusted over or hardened, then these things will remain mere words on a page, or mere sounds recited by our lips. Our inner eye will not begin to witness these realities until it is too late for that witnessing to be of any benefit to us. So we gather here, on the blessed day of Jumu‘ah, for precisely this purpose - to nourish our hearts. We do so, so that when we leave these sacred rooms, and go back to our everyday lives with our everyday concerns and our everyday behaviors, we do so with hearts that are open to the manifestations of the Real (al-Ḥaqq) that are always ever-present before us, but which we struggle to see, as through a glass darkly.

In the midst of this tremendous scene, where the stage upon which we have enacted the dramas of our lives begins to dissolve back into nothingness, God mentions one sin. The commentators of the Qur’ān, the mufassirūn, tell us that the placement of this sin amidst the destruction of the world is an indication of its immense gravity. This sin is so grave, that its effects remain without diminishing or being distorted, even unto the end of time, after all that we build our lives upon has vanished into thin air. God says:

"And when the baby girl who is buried alive is asked, for what sin she was killed" (81.8-9)

Burying baby girls alive, a sin that still exists in various parts of the world, is of such gravity that God chose to mention it in this context. Al-ḥamdu li'llāh, the advent of the life and message of Prophet Muḥammad (may peace and blessings be upon him and his family) brought about a destruction of this practice in the Arabian peninsula, but this work still remains unfinished on a global scale. According to the documentary film, "It's A Girl," there are more female infanticides every year in India and China than the total number of females born in the United States. But in order for us to continue this prophetic work, we have to go even deeper. The Muslim is not content with just avoiding the gravest of outward sins - we want to know the root cause, the diseases of our hearts that make it possible for human beings to kill, humiliate, one-up, rape, degrade, debase, oppress, or exploit other servants of God, other human beings just like them.

Why was it that these little girls in the time of jāhilīya (the pre-Islamic period, lit. "ignorance") were killed? Was it for any other reason than that they were girls? Was it for any other reason that, when the child was born, the hopeful anticipation of having a son quickly dissolved into shame and sadness at the birth of a daughter? Burying them alive was only the most visible aspect of the sin - at its root was a devaluing of the life and worth of daughters. When we look at human history, we see that, in general, men are more valued in society than women. It is a sad and painful truth to acknowledge, and we must constantly reaffirm that part of the mission of the Prophet Muḥammad (may peace and blessings be upon him and his family) was to combat this tendency. But the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him and his family) did not simply outlaw shameful cultural practices - he demonstrated the means to uproot them completely. He spoke very frankly about his love for his own daughters. In Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, in the chapter on the merits of Fāṭima (may God be well pleased with her), he states " daughter is part of me. He who disturbs her in fact disturbs me, and he who offends her in fact offends me." His love for her was so great that his heart was filled with empathy. He wanted to know her struggles and challenges and joys and hopes, as any parent should do so for their child. He let her know that he was on her side in the trials of life. In this way, he demonstrated to us that loving our daughters is not simply something that is done through feeding them, putting a roof over their head, and trying to find them a good husband. It is through having a deep emotional connection with them, so that they truly feel understood and supported by their parents.

In addition to demonstrating for us an exalted love of a parent for their daughter, the Prophet Muḥammad (may peace and blessings be upon him and his family) also provided us with many hadiths where he encouraged having daughters. In Imām al-Bukhari's book al-Adab al-Mufrad, it states that the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said, "There is no Muslim who has two daughters and takes good care of them but that he will enter the Garden." It is not often remembered that, by mentioning two daughters, he is in fact encouraging the parents who have only one daughter to hope for a second! Daughters are gifts from God that God gives to those God intends good for, for they can lead one to Heaven if they are appreciated, loved, and nurtured in the best of ways.

For the last 5 years, I have worked as a Muslim chaplain at two different Ivy League universities. In that time, I have helped raise the sons and daughters of the American Muslim community. They come to me with their deepest hopes and fears, at the threshold of adulthood and independence, having left their parents' homes behind. I do my best to be there for them, and help them through these crucial years. It is challenging and rewarding work, but the most challenging thing that I consistently deal with is learning from young women about how their parents mistreated them. Sometimes it involves physical violence, something which leaves scars on the psyche of a person for their whole life, and is completely unjustifiable. It is proof enough to know what is right and true to reflect on the fact that, to my knowledge, there is no mention of the Prophet ever striking his daughters Fāṭima, Zaynab, Ruqayya, and Umm Kulthūm (may God be well pleased with all of them). So anyone who claims to follow the Sunnah would do well to remember this fact. But it is not just physical abuse that is wrong and leaves deep scars. Verbal abuse, even subtle forms of it, can be devastating. It can make a young woman feel like she is never good enough, and that she is unloved and unloveable. It can make her feel like family life is a trial to be endured, not a blessing to be cherished. In very difficult cases, it can make her feel like the choice is between staying in an abusive family or simply cutting ties with them for the sake of physical, emotional, or even spiritual survival. And in the worst of cases, it can lead to a young woman feeling so trapped that thoughts of suicide, once only passing thoughts, begin to take root. May God protect all of our daughters from these pains, and open our eyes to the ways we may be subtly contributing to their pain, āmīn.

Can we imagine the Messenger of Allah (sall Allāhu alayhi wa ālihi wa sallam) belittling his daughters? Telling them that they are fat and need to lose weight? Telling them that they are not smart enough or good enough to do something they are excited about doing? Constantly fretting about why they are not married, as if their only purpose in life was to bring a son-in-law into the family, and produce some grandchildren? The Best of Creation, upon him peace, taught us that daughters are blessings from Allah as they are, not as a means to some worldly end, and we should tell our daughters that we love them just as they are. We have to really know them and listen to them, so that we are not projecting onto them our own distorted vision of what we want them to be. This is tough work, and it is almost always not resolved overnight. It often involves unlearning things that have been ingrained in us over the decades of our lives, things that make us mistreat daughters without even realizing it. But that difficult internal journey is worth it, because we do so in search of the exalted empathy of the one who said, "my daughter is a part of me. He who disturbs her in fact disturbs me, and he who offends her in fact offends me."

The sons of the family also have a role to play. In some of the hadiths about the blessings of daughters, sisters are mentioned as well, in part to remind the brothers of the importance of treating their sisters in the best of ways. Sons are often the object of their parents' affection, and given more encouragement and leeway in how they live their lives. It is often the case that much of the pain in the hearts of young Muslim women comes about as a result of many years of comparing the way that they were treated with the treatment their brothers received from their parents. As such, sons often need to help their parents to understand, treat, and love their daughters as best as possible.

I cannot stress how clear it has become to me over the past 5 years working with young adults how vitally important it is to have a loving home. If a child feels understood and loved within their home, they will usually have a natural and healthy love for Islam. And if a child feels abused and marginalized, then they will eventually lose their attachment to Islam unless they can find an alternative experience and understanding of Islam, different from what they were taught by words and deeds within their home. I deal every day with the way that Muslim kids try to make sense of the world in which they live, because America can be a strange place. And in this environment, we need a lot more love and understanding if we are going to thrive as a community. Islam for us is not a given, it is a choice - a choice that anyone, at anytime, in any generation, can decide is not worth the sacrifice. Young American Muslims actively choose to remain Muslim in adulthood, or they choose to begin the process of leaving it. Sometimes they renounce their faith overnight, and sometimes it just dwindles for years until there is nothing left. May the Guider of Hearts make firm and increase the faith that is in our hearts, āmīn!

Some of the people I admire the most are American Muslim women in their 20s and 30s who still love Islam in spite of the fact that they have experienced an environment of intense psychological violence simply because God, in God's expansive wisdom and loving mercy, choose that they would be born in this world as girls and not boys. These are human beings who make me feel like my faith is a little stream whereas theirs is a majestic river, and I draw sustenance from their perseverance. Women who choose to live within the broad limits of the Sharī‘ah, as best they understand it, because they believe that Heaven is real and that Hell is real, and that if it be that they have to struggle in this life, they will still try to do what is right even when it sometimes hurts so much. Women who still come to jumu‘ah prayers even though they may have never heard a khuba like this delivered from the minbar of the Messenger of God (may peace and blessings be upon him and his family). So may these words honor, in some small way, their years of silent sacrifice for the sake of the One they turn to in their deepest prayers, the One Who they believe hears them and understands, especially when it feels like there is no one else to talk to. These women are our imams who can lead us to understanding our own hearts, because they are human beings with living hearts, for only a woman with faith like an ocean has the spiritual resources to undergo all of this and still hold fast to the way of Islam.

I hope and pray that the new generation of baby Muslim girls grows up knowing without any doubt or qualification that they are loved so much by their mothers and fathers, their grandmothers and grandfathers, their aunts and uncles, and that we all want them to flourish in this life. That they can be whoever they are and do whatever they want, as long as it is ethical and within the limits of God's commands and prohibitions. That they were celebrated from the moment that they were born, because they were daughters, not in spite of it. And I want those who have endured abuse to experience relief, and ideally, with God's grace, full rectification and sincere resolution. If our understanding and experience of Islam does not provide us with a way to deal with the traumas of our life, then it will mean very little to us. And so the Qur’ān and the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him and his family) often speak about things that break our hearts. They do not shy from death, suffering, abuse and trauma, but they always put the onus on the ones who are wronging others. Children are innocent, and they do not deserve to suffer because of our pathologies, because of the diseases of our heart. God says, "when the baby girl is asked," which is a subtle indication that we will be asked about how we treated them. That little girl, who did not even choose her own gender, is blameless, and so she will have nothing to answer for when she is asked. But what will happen when the parents of that little girl, and the brothers, and the aunts and uncles are asked? What sort of hope can we expect to have on that day? If we were never willing to see things from her perspective, never willing to defend her, never willing to give her the love that she deserves, then how can we hope for mercy? The first hadith that is usually taught by scholars to their students is: "The merciful ones will be shown mercy by the all-Merciful. Be merciful to those on Earth, Allah will be merciful to you ( al-rāḥimūna yarḥamuhum al-Raḥmān irḥamū man fī'l-arḍi yarḥamkum man fī'l-samā')." Mercy begins in our families, and if we fail there, then we will fail everywhere else. We will miss the meaning of the life of The Mercy to All Worlds, (may peace and blessings be upon him and his family) and err in our attempts to follow his example.

I am just as much to blame as anyone else. I can think of so many times in my life when I have failed in this test, and I grieve for it. But I don't want to be that way any more, and that is why I am giving this khutba. These words begin, first and foremost, with myself. I don't want this sin on me anymore, because I don't want any little Muslim girl to go through the things that I have witnessed and heard from the daughters of previous generations. Nor do I want them to experience any of what I have witnessed throughout my whole life of the many awful ways that young women are treated in the wider secular American culture. I simply want them to experience the fullness of love as it was meant to be, as a reflection of God's immense love for them. God says:

"God is the One who shapes you in the wombs however God wills. There is no God except God, the Mighty, The Wise" (3.6)

God choose them to be daughters, and I want to be the first to honor that Divine choice. May I be forgiven for any way which I have contributed to a culture where young girls and women are made to feel anything less than the amazing human beings that they are, and may God inspire in me the wisdom to know the best way to being a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. This was my first attempt at consciously doing so, and I seek your forgiveness and God's for any ways in which I may have missed the goal of iḥsān (excellence), which we should seek in all things.

May Allah bless all of you in all ways, always, āmīn.