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What We Have Lost


102999804_b44b3879f7.jpgAs a third-generation washed-out-Desi Canadian Muslimah, I feel that I – and others in my situation – have a lot to mourn. I listen to what my grandfather tells me about what life like was back in the day, and I feel that despite whatever my family has benefited from Canada, despite all our luxuries that we take for granted, we’ve lost a lot more.

We’ve lost the concept of hard work. These days, studying hard is what constitutes ‘hard work’ for us. I sometimes wish that I was back in whichever little village in Gujarat my great-great-grandparents came from, feeling the heat of the sun burning my face and hands, fetching water from the well, squatting in the dust and grinding herbs into pastes for our masaalas. I wish I could truly appreciate my meal by knowing that, by the Grace and Mercy of Allah, I was able to

grind the flour and roll the dough for my roti; that I killed and plucked the chicken myself; that I fetched the cool water myself.

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The palms of my hands have never been hard and calloused by hard work… which is perhaps also why

my mehndi won’t come out quite so dark on my city-slicker hands.

We have lost traditional values… or, if we have not totally lost them, we have lost something of them. We don’t seem to feel quite so strongly about them anymore. Honour, dignity, respect for authority – though they may be present amongst us today, we aren’t as passionate about them…

For example: As a daughter, I’m remarkably spoiled. Which I have, admittedly, taken advantage of, but looking at this from an “elder” point of view, I don’t approve of my behaviour at all. I don’t even know how to make roti. Any random girl in a small village in Gujarat would totally kick my butt. Ouch.

As for my brothers, I think that there are a few things they haven’t learnt yet either – as yet, I haven’t seen them exhibit the protectiveness that males are supposed to show towards their female family members. Nor do they show the proper respect that they should be showing their big sister… indeed, upon assuming my position as Chief of Siblings in my parents’ current absence, they have contested my authority and, in fact, outright denied and rebelled against said authority. How dare they!

Which leads me to my poor, poor parents… if the way my brothers are acting towards me is the way my brothers and I act towards them, I feel downright ashamed and guilty and henceforth resolve to improve my attitude towards my parents – may Allah forgive me and have mercy on them just as they show mercy to me, ameen!

We have lost the accent. I love accents. Arab and Indian accents especially. It saddens me immeasurabley that I and my brothers and others of my generation will never have an authentic accent… And related to the loss of accents, is the loss of language. I know approximately ten phrases (if that) of Gujarati. I’ve heard my grandparents lament, over and over, that all of their grandchildren are becoming goros – white people – and are losing everything of their culture except the mithai (sweets). Random girl in Gujarati village would fall over laughing in my face if I ever attempted to speak Gujarati.

We are becoming “educated,” “refined,” “sophisticated,” “integrating into society” – and while the religious aspect of it is something that’s been addressed and discussed by many others, today I just wanted to think about the cultural aspect of it… today, I realized how my grandparents feel: in having gained so much in this new world, we have lost so much more…

I will never be a real Indian. And while on the grand scale of things it really doesn’t matter, I still feel left out. *Cries*

Wondering where Gujarat is? Click on map for more info.


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Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of



  1. ExEx Bloger

    May 13, 2007 at 11:41 AM

    Gujarat seems to be quite costal. I must add that the place where you circled is just a small part of it. The “semi-peninsula” just west of the indicated area is also Gujarat. Wallahu Alam! =)

  2. SrAnonymous

    May 13, 2007 at 12:57 PM

    Wow that’s quite a lot of food for thought. But how do we measure competence and an authentic lifestyle? Like my sister in law was once challenged that her kids have not yet “finished” the Qur’an. “But they pray!” she insists.
    My point being that just because a girl can’t cook a roti or have the cultural smarts of a back home kid or feels so…hybrid, doesn’t mean that we can’t be complete.

    I betcha “back home” for all its wonderful authenticity, is going through its changes too, for better or for worse. And everyone’s childhood had an elder pining for their version of the good old days. But every day has had its traditions challenged. Take the example of the grandmother who refuses to turn on the overhead fan in Karachi – “we never needed fans in our day!”, the mother who refuses to sleep with the a.c on “we never needed a.c’s in our day!” and the daughter who is accused by both of being too modern & pampered, for she needs the fan and the a.c!
    But you raise good points about having a down to earth lifestyle.Everything nowadays, seems so ….plastic.

  3. iMuslim

    May 13, 2007 at 12:58 PM

    Salaams sis

    I hear ya… one second-generation Gujarati, in denial, over here. :)

    I am not sure how guilty we should feel though. I mean, why can’t we claim our current society as our culture? OK, so we do not fit it entirely with the Canada/UK scene, but why should we be ashamed of that, either?

    I think we should appreciate our heritage, without necessarily feeling like we have to maintain it, just for the sake of it. There are one billion, authentic, home-grown Indians to do that for us! If we were part of a dying breed, then yeah, we should take all this cultural stuff more seriously – but we’re not. So why not just make the most of both cultures?

    Let us learn how to cook roti, and make a decent curry, cos that’s a lovely thing to do. Let us appreciate the hard work of our ancestors, and those in lesser situations than us (in any part of the world, including the poor people of our own countries of residence), because that is part of being grateful to Allah. Let us make an effort to learn Gujarati/Hindi, so that we can still communicate with our relatives “back home”, so that we may be rewarded for maintaining the ties of kith and kin.

    But i am not going to feel guilty for the fact that i was born in England, and not Gujarat. I am not going to feel guilty that i can speak English with a clear English accent, rather than an Indian one. I am not going to feel guilty that i do not watch Bollywood films, but prefer a nice documentary instead. This is just who i am. To feel guilty for not being “indian” enough, is like saying that Indian culture is better than Western culture. And to feel excessively proud of being Western in culture, is saying the opposite. When in fact both cultures have something good to offer: both appreciate hard working, self-motivated individuals, good family values, and high moral standards.

    If we are not good children to our parents, we are falling short in our Islam, not our culture, astaghfirullah. Don’t feel guilty for the wrong reasons. Culture is nice, but i will not lament over not being Indian enough for my cousins back home (and the nosy aunties who live around the corner). I know they can kick my ass in the kitchen, any day. I also know that they are proud of me for being an educated, Muslim woman, mashallah, and they would love for their children to have the same opportunities as i have enjoyed by the Mercy of Allah.

    May Allah help us to appreciate all the wonderful blessings He has graciously bestowed upon us, and make the most of them for the benefit of mankind. Ameen.


    P.S., sorry if i came across as harsh; y’know i don’t mean it that way! xxx

  4. Faraz

    May 13, 2007 at 1:18 PM

    It has more to do with time then location. In large cities in Gujurat and elsewhere in India, they’ve become just as complacent as us, with technology taking over the hard work our grandparents used to deal with. Things have changed considerably in India over the last 20 years, and will continue to change at an alarming rate for the next 20 years at least.

    Of course, there are still places all over India and elsewhere where life hasn’t changed at all. I’ve spent time in some pretty tiny villages in India and Bangladesh, and electricity itself is a luxury that few can afford. And even those who can afford it have nothing to actually do with that electricity, aside from light a few bulbs. The rest of the way, it was candles and bonfires.

    Naturally, the people who lived in these villages were all in impeccable physical shape, eating only what was natural, working the fields themselves, and doing their own hunting on occasion for meat. They also happened to be the most humble and respectful people I’ve ever met, and treated us whitewashed kids with such kindness and reverence, it was amazing. We didn’t share a language, a land, or a culture; we only shared Islam, and for that they treated us like kings.

    Spending time in such places helped “ground” myself; I just can’t complain about things here anymore. But I do struggle with the language thing, still. I feel embarrassed whenever I need to communicate in anything but French and English, since my forefathers came from a land well known for it’s Urdu poetry. It’s sad, only one generation out of India and the language is lost. At least, it will be lost for my kids, most likely, if any family is willing to tolerate my poor language skills and accept me as a son-in-law.

  5. Umm Reem

    May 13, 2007 at 2:20 PM

    Often driving out of states, I love to see the farms, acres of land, grazing animals and a house in the middle, and I tell my husband that I would love to live this life, where I have to fetch my own water and kill my own home-grown-chicken and ride my own horse (the best part ofcrouse). He alwyas tells me that it ‘looks’ nice but I wont be able to live it!

    I’ve also had many discussions with my children’s pediatrician about how we lack the ‘natural’ food now and most of what we eat is a blend of artificially fed antibiotics and full-of-pastesides frutis and animals. We both always sigh and agree that we all should move to a farm and raise our own animals and frutis!

    In any case mouse don’t worry. You’ll learn to make roti. It aint that hard. When I got married, I only knew how to make tea and fry an egg and only knew about 3 spices: salt, pepper and laal mirch (red chili)! And now… :)

  6. iMuslim

    May 13, 2007 at 4:48 PM

    It’s sad, only one generation out of India and the language is lost.

    I understand what you mean… Urdu is a such a beautiful language. I’m not such a fan of Guju. I much prefer Hindi, and by extension, Urdu. They are a lot sweeter on the tongue, and softer on the ear.

    But last time i checked English and French were both languages, too. :)

    I love French. Anything you say in French sounds just… wonderful! I spent a lot of time at school learning it, only to forget 99% because i never used it. I have a French colleague, and i can sometimes pick up a few words here and there when she speaks on the phone, or to other French people (umm, not that i eavesdrop!). I even love the way French people speak English. Their accent is just so… i can’t think of an appropriate adjective. I just love it!

    Anyway, i have gone completely off track.

    One thing i’ve noticed coming up in this discussion, is the idea that poverty leads to humbleness, and strength of character. I don’t disagree. But how much has this to do with Indian culture? Not so long ago, the working class in the UK used to have this kind of strong moral fibre about them. The miners, the dockers, the factory workers. It was all about values, and working hard for your “bread and butter”. Even though there are still working class people about, i don’t witness this kind of earthy attitude so much.

    Isn’t it possible to have the best of both worlds? To have electricity and clean running water, maybe even a washing machine, and a fridge… but also have humility, modesty, and strong character? Does wealth and material comfort automatically corrupt?

  7. inexplicabletimelessness

    May 13, 2007 at 5:49 PM

    As salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

    Interesting post mashaAllah.

    Although I am not third generation Gujarati, I am close anyway. ;) I am second generation Pakistani and my relatives live in Pakistan but come from India (Bangalore and Hyderabad).

    I don’t feel as detached from the culture as you, since it was ALWAYS a rule in our house that we could only speak Urdu. Plus in the recent years we’ve been visiting Pakistan every summer and some people there tell us our Urdu is better than theirs. LOL (but when it comes to poetry…I cannot understand a thing, I wish I did! :) )

    Also, I grew up pretty much wearing shalwar khameez, eating roti and salan (bread and curry) and knowing the culture. There was always a high emphasis on treating elders respectfully and knowing your ‘roots’.

    In actuality, while growing up, my main identity that I could identify with was probably Pakistani/Desi rather than Muslim or American. Even though I was born and raised in the USA I had to take special English classes in Kindergarten because I didn’t know how to speak English! I would sometimes wear Shalwar khameez to school….etc. :)

    Later while growing up my identity became more firmly as a Muslim and sometimes I would frown upon culture getting mixed up with Islamic and customs and rituals preceding the Qur’an and sunnah.

    While visiting Pakistan in the last few summers my entire paradigm pretty much shifted: there was good and bad in both cultures and I was definitely gonna keep the good from both inshaAllah. Now I’ve decided I would like to keep ties from back home and not cut away my culture. InshaAllah I would like to teach my kids Arabic and Urdu and when I take them for Umra I’d like to take them to Pakistan/India too.

    Last summer I volunteered at a girls’ school in Karachi where the students aren’t as well-off as many others. The girls I saw did maintain strong values/traditions, but also had a zeal to learn more about Islam and were astonished that I wore hijab/practiced Islam while living in the US. Furthermore, they were, to an extent, affected by technology/media (esp of Western influence) too. But at the same time, they had relatives who lived in the village and all and didn’t have any of that.

    So really, things aren’t just black and white, village vs. city. There’s definitely (even back home) an increasing blend of the two and people from both, however seemingly contradicting lifestyles, are learning to compromise and in a sense balance the two.

    But overall, I agree; just thinking about Sh. Yasir’s last lecture series on “Muslims in the West” I can’t really imagine how the future generations will turn out. But just me personally, I would like to do my best to
    1) Of course, teach them Islam properly (this is the priority) and Arabic 2) Do my best to give them a sense of their roots. This doesn’t mean overglorifying one country or spewing nationalistic views on them. Rather, I think everyone should know where their ancestors came from and it makes them feel proud of their heritage and have a sense of identity.

    May Allah guide us and our future generations to what is best, ameen.

  8. Hassan

    May 13, 2007 at 8:35 PM

    Salam. Depending on your financial status, life in Pakistan (dont know about India) could be much easier than America. There is so many social classes, that the upper one can make use of one lower than them. Meaning, I have seen lower middle class people having 24hr maid available, then you would have someone to help you in cooking, cleaning etc. So life may be not that hard there sometimes. In America, most of the work men and women have to do themselves.

    I know a person who has masha’Allah 4 cute daughters. And I was talking to him, that why you teach your children urdu, rather than Arabic and English. He said, language is gateway to culture. For arabic, since he does not know arabic himself, so he said closest thing possible to muslim culture is then Urdu. And teaching English means more quicker assimilation in American culture. It has made me think….

  9. nuqtah

    May 13, 2007 at 9:29 PM

    How are we suppose to retain our culture and values, when we believe that a good portion of it is either backward or ‘bid’ah’ ?

  10. sincethestorm

    May 14, 2007 at 1:53 AM

    I don’t think all of the cultural values are backward. Just an observation, I feel people who were raised in the East have far better manners, more hospitable, and less selfish when it comes personal vs family time.We don’t discuss this enough but this is important as well…

    My fondest memories of my summer vacations are when I was visiting family back home that lived in the small cities with traditional homes….picking fruit from the tree, pumping the water from the well, using candlelight at night, and best of all sleeping outside under a blanket of stars. There’s something to be said for a simple life. There’s a level of peace that you can’t attain with our fast paced lifestyle in the EAST or WEST!

  11. Judge Dredd

    May 14, 2007 at 5:15 AM

    It is always good to remember what our forefathers did and to try to keep alive the best of their traditions. But culture is just a way of doing things and it evolves over time. God willing, things will evolve for the better. Our hearts may find the change difficult.

    As for Roti, I have tried to make it – it came out like big round hard pancakes – nowhere near like a Roti…at least not the way we know a Roti. I do like Roti. But personally I think it will live on. There are plenty of supermarkes that sell a version you can heat. You can always take time out from the slick city life and cook a meal from fresh ingredients and try and make a roti. Just make sure you have some roti from the supermarket in the fridge to cover all eventualities.

    As for grinding the flour for making the Roti, well that is another era altogether….an era of self-sustainability. To live that life is possible but takes serious committment and money to re-establish. But it is definately possible if one wants.

  12. mcpagal

    May 15, 2007 at 12:16 PM

    salaam, I’m going to agree with iMuslim on this one. I feel like looking back on a ‘lost’ culture is a bit of the grass-is-greener-on-the-other side syndrome. Personally I know I fit in with my ‘Western’ community better than I ever would with my extended family in Pakistan.

    Things like the respect for elders, close knit families and hard-work attitude that characterise our parents or grandparents cultures, are Islamic values, and should be retained for that reason. As long as you retain that, you can create a different and more Islamic culture by filtering out the bad stuff – social inequality, unjust treatment of women, family politics and so on.

    You can also pick up the good from your ‘new’ culture – courtesy, helpfulness, friendliness, concern for social welfare etc.

    I’m grateful for being raised in the UK. As much as people bash it and say how anti-Muslim it is, the fact is that I can contribute and make a change. I can get an education – which I probably wouldn’t in Pakistan. I can choose who to marry – if I was living in Pakistan, it’d probably be decided by my parents with little input from me. I think I know more about Islam than I would if I was living there too. Wallahu Alam.

    Muslims in the west have the opportunity to pick and choose what they want from their ancestral culture and their adopted one. You only lose as much as you want to.

  13. muslim_gal

    May 15, 2007 at 12:21 PM

    assalamu alikeum

    This is totally irrelevent to this thread in terms of topic, but why is it that on MM, the sisters only write the ‘soft, nicey nicey’ topics while brothers get to write about more in-depth deen issues, politics, international news (granted there is the exception on either side).

    From personal experience, alot of muslim publications operate in that way (i.e sisters only being able to write about ‘women issues’ and thats it, while brotheres cover all grounds). I’m hoping that isnt the case with MM.

    No offense intended.

  14. Amad

    May 15, 2007 at 12:27 PM

    I’ll let the sisters respond to this :)

    Lest I be accused of muzzling their voices ;)

  15. AnonyMouse

    May 15, 2007 at 12:59 PM

    Wa ‘alaikumus-salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatu,

    I dunno about sis Ruth, but personally I write about these things because I try to stick to the “write what you know” rule – and seeing as how I don’t know all that much, and totally suck at in-depth analyses, this is the sort of thing you’ll get from me!

    Mind you, I used to write about other issues on my old blog… perhaps I’ll scrounge up a couple that are still relevant… but part of the reason that I don’t write about those things now is that I’ve been neglecting reading the news due to being busy with other stuff (schoolwork, the Madrasah).

    Insha’Allah, if/when I have more time (Allah only knows when, though – summer’s going to be pretty hectic too because I’ll be working on other courses and we’ll be organizing programs for the kids at the Madrasah) I’ll try to sit down and write about something ‘tough’… (but don’t expect much!) ;) :)

  16. muslim_gal

    May 15, 2007 at 2:26 PM

    assalamu alikeum

    mouse: i used to read your blog before you moved and there was alot of good stuff on there :) i just wondered why we didnt see more of that (im not saying your stuff now aint good lol) :D

    amad: i wasnt implying that you brothers here or management are limiting the sisters thoughts/voices etc.. (although i know thats the case in other places- which is partly why i asked) but i just wondered why the sisters topics were a bit more limtied. But if they choose to do partcular topics and leave others for their own reasons- as mouse as said in her own case, thats fair enough.

  17. Ruth Nasrullah

    May 15, 2007 at 2:59 PM

    Walaikum asalaam, muslim_gal. MM doesn’t have a policy or guidelines for what any of us writes. I personally wouldn’t be involved in something like that. Political analysis just isn’t my cup of tea. I write primarily about my personal experiences. I would like to write more social commentary and should focus on that, although it still won’t be as “hard-hitting” as something Br. Amad, for instance, would write.

    I think there’s also a difference in tone between the brothers and sisters who write on this blog, and I don’t know if that reflects a gender difference or it’s just a coincidence.

  18. Amad

    May 15, 2007 at 3:47 PM

    I don’t have an issue with sisters doing hard-hitting commentary, but I think it will be a little too fruity for guys to be doing this one on ‘springtime blessings’.

    I mean instead of this, for instance:

    Abaayas flapping playfully in a tickling, giggling breeze

    Would you enjoy this from a brother:

    Koofis flapping playfully, beards tickling in the breeze

    Just doesn’t sound as good as the original, does it now? :)

    It’s okay to have a soft, sensitive side. When men start acting like women and when women start acting like men, we’ll have a big problem on our hand, wouldn’t we? I mean who would want a female Rambo or a lady Rocky? Similarly, you’d be hard-pressed to really appreciate Little Mr. Sunshine. :)

    I know Sr. muslim_gal, you didn’t mean it that way, I am just kidding….

  19. AnonyMouse

    May 15, 2007 at 4:06 PM

    Now I wish I hadn’t posted that Springtime Blessings thing… there’s nothing worse than writing some ridiculous, thinking it’s good, publishing it for the world to see, and then later realizing how ridiculous it is/was!

  20. Amad

    May 15, 2007 at 4:41 PM

    It wasn’t ridiculous at all. It was creative writing, and it is supposed to be ‘creative’.

    Now, my ‘male’ version was definitely ridiculous because it was intended to be :)

  21. AnonyMouse

    May 15, 2007 at 5:08 PM

    ExEx Blogger: Amad is the one who threw in the picture, so please do blame him for any geographical inaccuracies! :P

    “My point being that just because a girl can’t cook a roti or have the cultural smarts of a back home kid or feels so…hybrid, doesn’t mean that we can’t be complete.”

    Very true, and I definitely agree with you! I’m not in any way suggesting that without the culture, one can’t be complete; I guess I’m just doing what our elders often do: romanticizing the past/ ‘back home’. I reckon this post shouldn’t be taken *too* seriously; it was really just the result of a boring Saturday and random thoughts going through my head! :P

    iMuslim: It’s not that I feel guilty or ashamed of not having a ‘real’ culture… I just feel a little regretful, is all. BTW, jazaakillaahi khairan for taking the time to type out that whole comment – I think it was great, masha’Allah, and I’m gonna take the time to reflect on it properly… :)

    Faraz: “It has more to do with time then location.” Yep, now that you’ve pointed it out, I realized that…

    iMuslim (again! :P): “Does wealth and material comfort automatically corrupt?” Not always, I don’t think – but I also think that it takes a very strong character and will to resist the temptation. I think it’s within human nature for us to become complacent, lazy, and not 100% good when we have all that we want – being in a state of physical neediness makes us realize just how *spiritually* needy we are of Allah, and I think that contributes to the kind of “earthy attitude” we’re ‘mourning’ here…

    Inexplicable Timelessness: Wow, masha’Allah! Haha, I think I’m jealous of you know… ;)
    Jazaakillaahi khairan for that very informative comment… :)

    Nuqtah: I don’t think that all (or even most) of our culture is “backwards” or “bid’ah” – yes, there is bid’ah to be found, but that’s where we turn to the Qur’an and Sunnah… as with everything else.
    Like sis IT said, take the good and leave the bad, from both cultures.
    (Hey, wait a minute… this is starting to sound awfully familiar, eh? ;) :P)

    Sincethestorm: One thing I’m really envious of is how so many of you have managed to ‘go back home’ for a bit and experience life there, for however short a time it was… the problem with my family is that my great-grandparents stopped off at South Africa, which is where my grandparents and both my parents were born as well (although my dad moved here to Canada at a pretty young age and grew up here).

    Judge Dredd: “But culture is just a way of doing things and it evolves over time.” Yeah, I suppose so… and yes, insha’Allah things will turn out for the better – and for those of us here in the West, I’m interested in the concept of creating an American/ Canadian Muslim culture of our own (something which has, I think, been suggested and discussed by Tariq Nelson).

    McPagal: Masha’Allah, I think that you (like all the other commentators) have made some great points… insha’Allah I’ll think harder about this subject! :)


  22. AnonyMouse

    May 15, 2007 at 5:27 PM

    lol… y’know I didn’t get what her name meant ’till just the other day? That’s ‘cuz my dad pronounces ‘pagal’ as ‘paghal’… and I didn’t realize that they’re one and the same word!

    *Shakes head at myself and my linguistic ignorance*

  23. amatullah

    May 15, 2007 at 8:50 PM

    please translate for all us non-urdu speakers out here :-)

  24. Amad

    May 17, 2007 at 1:14 PM

    I am serious… I am really thinking of starting a ‘best nick’ competition… and actually have a material prize for the winner by reader-voting… :)

    what do you all think??

  25. iMuslim

    May 17, 2007 at 1:21 PM

    hmm… i don’t think i’d win, so i say it’s a rubbish idea. haha

    Whatever, Amad – it’s (partly) your blog! :)

  26. Amad

    May 17, 2007 at 1:25 PM

    Okay folks, one vote of confidence is all I needed… probably have something on it in a few days!!

  27. nuqtah

    May 18, 2007 at 5:02 AM

    [quote]I don’t think that all (or even most) of our culture is “backwards” or “bid’ah” – yes, there is bid’ah to be found, but that’s where we turn to the Qur’an and Sunnah… as with everything else.
    Like sis IT said, take the good and leave the bad, from both cultures.

    How do you decide what is in accordance with qur’an and sunnah, and what isn’t? Do you have some sort of monopoly over the understanding? Or, do you refer back to scholars who have never lived within that specific culture? Or do you refer to local scholars, whom you consider to be mubtad’i anyway?

    (These are rhetorical questions, you don’t have to answer)

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