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Back to School: Ramadan in Public School

This year Ramadan coincides with the first day of school for many families. Realizing that many of our Muslim brothers and sisters do choose the public school system for their kids’ education, this is a resource to help make the best out of Ramadan in public school. This blessed month is such a vital part of being Muslim that enjoying it and sharing it with others, instead of hiding it, goes a long way in maintaining Muslim children’s Islamic identity while attending public school. After the will of Allah, it begins with parental involvement in the lives of their children. You owe it to them.

Elementary School

Send in a letter or email to the school principal and the classroom teacher introducing your family and informing them about Ramadan. This sample letter to your child’s principal includes an offer to come into class and do a presentation on Ramadan.  You can correlate it to the phases of the moon in science especially for first and third graders as it is a part of the curriculum. One year, we did the phases of the moon craft and asked the kids to watch out for the waxing and waning of the moon throughout the month.

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To preempt any misunderstanding, meet with the teacher and/or principal and show her your material. For example, the Adam’s World Ramadan DVD is a great resource, so I asked the classroom teacher to preview it beacuse she is more familiar with the school disctrict’s rules; she chose to show the second stanza onwards of the nasheed “We scanned the sky” by Dawud Wharnsby Ali – it was such a hit!! The kids kept asking her to replay it over and over again.

There are several great books on the subject that are perfect for sharing during story-time.

My First Ramadan by Karen Katz – this little book is perfect for preschoolers – 2nd graders and makes a great gift for the class library.  You can mix in a nasheed. It was amazing watching my daughter’s preschool class holding hands in a circle singing along to the chorus of ‘These are the days of Eid.”

Hamza’s First Fast by Asna Chaudhry – I read this book to my daughter’s third grade class, which led to a great discussion where kids of all different faiths talked about how their parents fast too. “Oooh, my mom fasts too, on Lent! Mine fasts to lose weight! We do it too on Yom Kippur” The kids gushed after I finished my presentation. My daughter loved being the center of attention and the discussion was alive for days.

The Three Muslim Festivals is a beautifully illustrated book that has stories of Muslim kids celebrating Ramadan, Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha in a western country. It is a must-have for every Muslim kids’ library, and to educate others, gift it to your school library.

Print out some Ramadan activities for your kid’s classmates to color or crafts that they can make.

Send in Eid gifts – its great dawah. It’s the beginning of the school year; it will break the ice and help your child feel special. Alhamdulillah, the children in our elementary school look forward to being in my kid’s classroom and remember that Zahrah doesn’t celebrate Christmas. They don’t have to be elaborate; pencils, dollar-store toys, chapsticks, a handmade rendering of their names in Arabic, etc. Attach a tag that says Eid Saeed/Happy Eid.

If your school has a newsletter and the administration wishes the students on their religious holidays then do ask for Muslim holdays to be acknowledged as well.  This little note started the beautiful tradition of wishing Muslim students Happy Eid in our elementary school.

For Middle/Junior High and High School Kids-

Fasting is fardh for most Muslim youth this age. A letter should be sent to the principal, homeroom teacher and especially the P.E. teacher. In this letter, explain your child’s physical and spiritual needs. This sample letter for high school can be adjusted to fit your family.With so many Muslim kids participating in team sports, coachs have to be included in this conversation. They are often concerned out of care and liability issues but a friendly letter or talk can ease their worries.

If your son wants to  follow the example of Muslim atheletes i.e. Hakeem Olajuwon and Husain Abdullah and man up to attending P.E.class, then let them. It is hard being the only guy in class sitting on the sidelines. (My maternal instinct says no way in this 102 degree weather, but  I give this advice based on talks with Muslim teens).

Make sure you make them get up for suhoor – if they are in the pratice of getting up for fajr this should be easy if not, use these tips for waking them up. Have them eat a healthy breakfast, say yes to the smoothies, multi-grain pancakes, oatmeal, and eggs their way. This is not the time to insist on a traditional meal from the home country. Keep them hydrated through the night with a water bottle designated just for your teen at their bedside.

Don’t go back to sleep after fajr – this is a great oppurtunity for family time. Read Quran together. It is one thing to tell your kids “Go read Quran” and quite another to read Quran to each other. They can also study at this time and do homework as well. This frees up the afternoons for dhikr, helping around the house, reading Quran and napping so your teenager is fresh for taraweeh.

Empower your children with information. When they are younger role-play with them so if friends ask them why they are fasting or if they are made fun of, they have some standard answers to give. For high school kids, have honest discussions about Ramadan, its virtues and its spiritual aspects; listen to or watch a lecture together.  They want their whys answered – so talk to them about the psychological aspects, about reflecting on their lives, about cleansing their spirit, about using this time to set up good habits for the rest of the  year.

Ask you teen to go to the library during lunch time or help out a teacher in class. Staying away from the cafeteria helps makes fasting easier.

Urge them to have a good attitude – “If you complain and say I am hungry – that’s just not good dawah and frankly people don’t care or will urge you to eat.” Listening and sharing other Muslim youths’ stories on how they handle Ramadan in school can spark great dialogue between teens, their parents and siblings.

Teens want to see you “walk the walk not just talk the talk.” Organize an event with your teen, i.e. an interfaith iftar or initiate a recycling drive at the masjid. My friend N and her 17-year old daughter bond over long drives to the downtown Los Angeles to feed the homeless for Humanitarian Day.

Suggest your teen host a fast-a-thon and  donate the money to charity. I remember many non-Muslim dormies fascinated by the concept; who wanted to experience fasting. Hungry for Change is an interfaith initiative run by the Muslim Student Association, the fast-a-thon encourages non-Muslim students to fast for one day in the month of Ramadan. For each student who pledges to fast, local businesses make a donation. MSA students then donate the proceeds to a local food shelter or soup kitchen.

Bring them to the masjid – they might whine and not want to go but remember you are the parent. Once they are there, they meet friends, some they haven’t seen for the whole year. It is halal fun. A student of mine told me that the largest dance is held on the first Friday after her school starts. “If I go to the masjid instead of going to the dance, its halal fun, I won’t be bombarded with texts from school kids because they know I am at the masjid.” Even though it is unconventional, encourage this line of thinking, at this age, peer pressure is momentous. The idea is to make their moral compass swing back to Islam regardless of what is happening around them.

Let them invite their friends to the masjid. Many times, I have witnessed non-Muslim kids at our masjid experiencing what Ramadan is, first-hand. The young Muslims who invite them have the most wonderful look on their faces, an awesome pride often missing in Muslim youth.

The Muslim Council of Britain is very active; they issued guidelines about Ramadan based on parental concerns. Using these guidelines, Stoke-on-Trent city council has advised the Staffordshire schools not to hold swimming lessons in Ramadan and informed teachers that Muslim kids’ sleep schedules may be disrupted due to late taraweeh and early suhoor. Here in the U.S., Council of Islamic Organizations in the Greater Chicago has a resource guide on Muslim Cultural Education that parents can send in to their respective school districts. Committed parents and activism can bring about understanding and make your child’s Ramadan a positive and engaging experience even while attending public school.

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Pingback: Ramadan in Public School | :: MUSLIM DIALOGUE ::

  2. Avatar

    MR

    August 31, 2010 at 6:12 AM

    Watch out for the water fountain if you are a high school athlete. I’ve done that countless times without knowing, then again this is a blessing from Allah (swt).

  3. Avatar

    iMuslim

    August 31, 2010 at 7:32 AM

    Masha’Allah, I really enjoyed the advice in this article, even though I Iack any kids to apply it to – never mind kids of school-going age. =D

  4. Avatar

    Farhan

    August 31, 2010 at 8:23 AM

    I started fasting in 7th grade, but to be honest, it wasn’t too regular. Kinda on and off. In 8th grade, I used to go to the Library during lunch and read Mortal Kombat, the novel :-)

    I was a cross-country and track runner in HS. So, I would literally be 2-3 miles away from school, stop, eat the granola bar in my pocket, and then run back 2-3 miles. They used to call me “Fast-Running Fasting Farhan”.

  5. Avatar

    Damali

    August 31, 2010 at 6:21 PM

    This is really great advice…..most of the things mentioned in here i try to follow. It is true if you wake up to eat for (suhoor) stay up & even if you are not reading quran or praying get homework done or some chores because when I come home after a hot day at school all i want to do is take a nap. If you have friends who are non-muslims and they make comments negative comments about your fasting like, “Wow sucks for your religion” just know that although it is fardh,it is ultimately your decision. some of my friends made some rude comments to me and all I said was, “Yes it is something I have to do and ultimately it is my decision so it does not suck because I chose it, I love it, and I am doing it for a reason, for God.” If you explain to people in a calm and confident manner they willl usually listen and not have anything negative to say, most people say I am brave, strong, and respect me instead of teasing me.

  6. Avatar

    Iftikhar Ahmad

    September 1, 2010 at 8:10 AM

    Almost all children now believe they go to school to pass exams. The idea that they may be there for an education is irrelevant. State schools have become exam factories, interested only in A to C Grades. They do not educate children. Exam results do not reflect a candidate’s innate ability. Employers have moaned for years that too many employees cannot read or write properly. According to a survey, school-leavers and even graduates lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. More and more companies are having to provide remedial training to new staff, who can’t write clear instructions, do simple maths, or solve problems. Both graduates and school-leavers were also criticised for their sloppy time-keeping, ignorance of basic customer service and lack of self-discipline.

    Bilingual Muslims children have a right, as much as any other faith group, to be taught their culture, languages and faith alongside a mainstream curriculum. More faith schools will be opened under sweeping reforms of the education system in England. There is a dire need for the growth of state funded Muslim schools to meet the growing needs and demands of the Muslim parents and children. Now the time has come that parents and community should take over the running of their local schools. Parent-run schools will give the diversity, the choice and the competition that the wealthy have in the private sector. Parents can perform a better job than the Local Authority because parents have a genuine vested interest. The Local Authority simply cannot be trusted.

    The British Government is planning to make it easier to schools to “opt out” from the Local Authorities. Muslim children in state schools feel isolated and confused about who they are. This can cause dissatisfaction and lead them into criminality, and the lack of a true understanding of Islam can ultimately make them more susceptible to the teachings of fundamentalists like Christians during the middle ages and Jews in recent times in Palestine. Fundamentalism is nothing to do with Islam and Muslim; you are either a Muslim or a non-Muslim.

    There are hundreds of state primary and secondary schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. In my opinion all such schools may be opted out to become Muslim Academies. This mean the Muslim children will get a decent education. Muslim schools turned out balanced citizens, more tolerant of others and less likely to succumb to criminality or extremism. Muslim schools give young people confidence in who they are and an understanding of Islam’s teaching of tolerance and respect which prepares them for a positive and fulfilling role in society. Muslim schools are attractive to Muslim parents because they have better discipline and teaching Islamic values. Children like discipline, structure and boundaries. Bilingual Muslim children need Bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods, who understand their needs and demands.

    None of the British Muslims convicted following the riots in Bradford and Oldham in 2001 or any of those linked to the London bombings had been to Islamic schools. An American Think Tank studied the educational back ground of 300 Jihadists; none of them were educated in Pakistani Madrasas. They were all Western educated by non-Muslim teachers. Bilingual Muslim children need bilingual Muslim teachers as role models. A Cambridge University study found that single-sex classes could make a big difference for boys. They perform better in single-sex classes. The research is promising because male students in the study saw noticeable gains in the grades. The study confirms the Islamic notion that academic achievement is better in single-sex classes.
    Iftikhar Ahmad
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

  7. Avatar

    Umme maryam

    September 1, 2010 at 1:43 PM

    What an awesome article and what excellent resources!
    Hats off to you for making being a Muslim easier in the public school system.
    Teachers actually are very accommodating and love teaching about different cultures so Muslims should step up and let their traditions be known in a fun way. Last year my daughter’s first grade teacher read books on Ramadan and even made a snack called “Fatima’s Fingers” (spring rolls) for the class.
    Right now I am trying to deal with the “music class is mandatory” routinen her new school. My daughter’s last school was very understanding and let her sit in the Principal’s office and color Kalimahs and masajid I had printed out for her while the rest of the class went to music.

    Good luck to all the Muslims students out there!

  8. Avatar

    Hashir Zuberi

    September 2, 2010 at 12:23 PM

    Masha’Allah! Seems like a lot of hours went behind this article. The part about Dawood Wharnsby’s Ramadan nasheed was really cute, with the kids asking for more!

    I seriously think here in “Muslim” countries (i.e. Pakistan) we need this sort of focus as well to revive the spirit and meaning of the month, rather than just having kids trudge through the day daydreaming of chaats and pakoray.

  9. Avatar

    Ali S

    September 3, 2010 at 2:10 AM

    Great Article!! I really enjoyed it! i wonder who came up with the ““If you complain and say I am hungry – that’s just not good dawah and frankly people don’t care or will urge you to eat.”” part?

  10. Avatar

    Chris King

    September 3, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    Religion has no place in school.

  11. Pingback: Ramadan in Public School « Then which of your Lord's favors will you deny

  12. Pingback: Ramadan Mubarak | Culturally Responsive Instruction for English Learners Project

  13. Avatar

    April

    June 19, 2016 at 9:21 AM

    Do you understand the “Freedom of Religion” and “Separation of Church and State” clauses in US Bill of Rights and the Constitution do not ALLOW for ANY religion to be taught in public schools?

    While all people are allowed and encouraged to practice their faith AT HOME and in their religious institutions, you are not allowed to show DVDs or have lectures, or do any other presentations on your religious practices.

    This is the one way that the US has been able to co-exist peacefully, without the conflicts seen throughout the world.

    We, as a population, have realized that to keep this peace, people must keep their religions at home, and in their churches, respecting the rights of others to do the same. If someone wants to learn about other religions, they can go to a synagog, temple, church, or mosque – NOT in public school.

    What this site suggests breaks our legal system as well as going against the Constitutional protections that KEEP our country at peace.

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 15: Fruit Out of Season

Now that we have learnt about making our intentions big, let’s now talk about fruit out of season.

Who can tell me who Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) is

Yes, she was the mother of ‘Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), and also the best woman to ever live. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an that He chose her over all the women in the world.

Question: Do you know that she was also the niece to a Prophet? Does anyone know her uncle’s name? 

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His name is Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), good job! Do you know that Prophet Zakariya  'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)  was actually inspired by something he saw in Maryam’s raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) room? It’s unusual for adults to admit that they learn from younger people, but we actually do, all the time! 

One day, Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) went inside Maryam’s raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) room and he saw fruit that was out of season. 

Question: Can anyone tell me what fruit would be out of season in the spring, but we love to eat it in the summertime? Can we get that same fruit in the wintertime?

Well, Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) would get fruit that was supposed to only grow in the summer during the wintertime too! This was a gift that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would give her. Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was so amazed by this! He asked Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) how she came upon the fruit and she replied:

 هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّـهِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ

“It is from Allah. Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without measure.” [Surat Ali ‘Imran; 37] 

Now, by this time, Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was very old. And when you get to be very old, it is very unusual to have any more children. Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his wife never had any children at all. But, he was so inspired by what his niece said that he raised his hands in dua’ and asked Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for a child. Even though having a child seemed  impossible because it was “out of season” for Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) he asks anyway knowing that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) can grant us anything- even if it is not “in season!”

Question: Can we get that same fruit in the wintertime?Did Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) answer Prophet Zakariya’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) dua’? 

Yes! Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was blessed with Yahya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), who too became a Prophet and was the cousin of Prophet ‘Isa  'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)!

This shows us that it’s never too late or too early to ask for what our heart desires. Maybe Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will grant you something that is out of season too!

 

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 14: Making Our Intentions Big

Now that we have learnt about the Prophet Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and the Shaytan, let’s now talk about Prophet Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and the Shaytan.

Question: Have any of you heard the phrase:  إنما الأعمال بالنية  (innamal ’amaalu bi-niyyaat)? Does anyone know what it means? 

It means that actions are judged by their intentions. 

Question: What does it mean to intend something? Do you need to say your intention out loud?

An intention is something that you feel internally – it is the ‘why’ behind your actions. 

Question: Do you think we always make intentions behind the things we do?

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If we really tried to make an intention behind every small thing, it would probably cause us some frustration. Most of our actions are done out of habit anyway; like making our beds, brushing our teeth, and making our meals. But, what if we started to be more intentional with the way we operated? What good do you think could come out of it?

Maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to lose our temper. Maybe we could get even more hasanat (reward) for transforming our ordinary chores into extraordinary acts of worship!

One day, Imam ash-Shafi’, a great scholar of Islam -may Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) be pleased with him-, had some students over at his house when they heard someone knock on the door. One of his students went to answer the door, and Imam ash-Shafi’ stopped him and asked him what he was doing.

“I’m going to answer the door,” the student replied.

Imam ash-Shafi’ said, “Before you answer the door, make the intention that if it is a poor person seeking help, you will give them charity. And if it is a guest, that you will host them.” 

Something as simple as answering the door became a way to get lots of rewards! How? Well, whenever we make a good intention, we get the reward for it even if we are unable to do it. That’s how generous Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is, and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) can reward a good intention up to 700 times!

I want each of you to pick something ordinary that you always do and make your intention behind it very big! 

[A parent can give the example of washing the dishes: Intend to have a clean home, intend to make dhikr while washing the dishes, intend to have clean plates and utensils for us to be nourished and well fed, all so that we can be healthy and remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His blessings etc.]

Now, who wants to share?

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 13: Prophet Adam and the Shaytan

Now that we have learnt about Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and overcoming fear, let’s now talk about Prophet Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and the Shaytan.

Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Shaytan both made mistakes, but one is going to be rewarded and the other punished. 

Question: Can anyone tell me the one mistake that Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Hawa made? 

Yes! They ate from a tree that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) told them not to eat from. What did they do after they made a mistake?

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They asked Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to forgive them. They said:

رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَا أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمْ تَغْفِرْ لَنَا وَتَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ 

“Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers.” [Surah Al-A’raf; 23]

Alhamdulillah, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accepted their tawba (repentance), and forgave them.

Question: What sin did the Shaytan commit?

Yes, he refused to bow down to Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) even though Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) commanded him to do so. When Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) asked him why he refused to bow down, Shaytan responded by saying:

أَنَا خَيْرٌ مِّنْهُ خَلَقْتَنِي مِن نَّارٍ وَخَلَقْتَهُ مِن طِينٍ 

“I am better than him. You created me from fire and you created him from clay.” [Surat Al-A’raf; 12]

Question: Did Shaytan ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to forgive him?

No, instead he promises that he will try his very best to lead those that believe in Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) on the wrong path. 

Question: What trait is that called, when you know you did something wrong but you refuse to ask for forgiveness?

Shaytan is arrogant in front of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), while Prophet Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) knows that every blessing he has is due to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) generosity.

Do you see the difference between the two? As long as we continue coming back to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), we need to have firm faith that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will forgive us. 

Let’s read this beautiful Hadith Qudsi together:

قَالَ اللهُ تَعَالَى : يَا ابْنَ ادَمَ ، إِنَّكَ مَا دَعَوْتََنِي وَرَجَوْتَنِي ، غَفَرْتُ لَكَ عَلَى مَا كَانَ مِنْكَ وَلَا أُبالِي . يا ابْنَ ادَمَ :لَوْ بَلَغَتْ ذُنُوبُكَ عَنانَ السَّماءِ ثُم اسْتَغْفَرْتَني ، غَفَرْتُ لَكَ . يَا ابْنَ ادَمَ : إِنَّكَ لَوْ أَتَيْتَنِي بِقُرَابِ الأَرْضِ خَطَايا ثُمَّ لَقِيتَني لَا تُشْرِكُ بِي شَيْأً ، لَأَتيْتُكَ بِقُرَابِها مَغْفِرَةً

I heard the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) say: Allah the Almighty has said: “O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.” [Tirmidhi]

So let’s never lose hope in the mercy of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and always remember to turn back to Him whenever we sin or make mistakes! 

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