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In a Season of Consumerist Craziness, Let’s Be Grateful for Blessings

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At this time of year the stores are pushing their sales at us. Advertising is everywhere. There if a frenzy to buy, buy, buy. Let’s realize that as Muslims this is not our way of life. The consumerist madness is a deception. There’s no joy or peace attached to it. It’s a shallow illusion.

Look at what society has done to itself in the name of consumerism. A day of thanks (Thanksgiving) has become the prelude to “Black Friday”, the biggest shopping day of the year. It used to be that Black Friday did not begin until Friday morning, out of respect for Thanksgiving. Then the starting gun was moved to midnight, and now it has crept into Thursday evening. Nothing is sacred.

The Prophet ‘Īsa ibn Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary), peace be upon him, has been turned into a marketing strategy. His purported birthday celebration has become a month of shopping insanity, presided over by a mythical sub-deity named Santa. People go into debt, they fight over sale goods… No mention is made of faith.

We cannot follow this path. Our way is sacrifice, zakāh (purification), ṣadaqah (charity), zud (giving up material luxury). We don’t have to be monks, but we must focus on the things that matter: faith and family.

The faith in our hearts is more important than the brand name of the clothes we wear. Where our feet carry us – to someplace good or bad – is more important than the cost of our shoes. The sincerity in our hearts is more important than any gift. May Allāh help us to see what is important in life.

The Enjoyment of Delusion

There’s a powerful verse from the Bible, Proverbs 30:8-9:

Give me neither poverty nor riches,
grant me only my share of bread to eat,
for fear that surrounded by plenty, I should fall away
and say, “Yahweh – who is Yahweh?”
or else in destitution, take to stealing
and profane the name of my God.

(Yahweh is an ancient Hebrew name for God).

If you visit the shopping malls at Christmas time, and read the news stories of people lining up from the night before,  huddling in sleeping bags in order to buy the latest gadgets, then trampling each other in the rush; if you turn on the TV to the usual Christmas comedies and “Frosty the Snowman” cartoons, you see that God has been forgotten and has even become taboo. It’s not politically correct to speak of God. Just watch what we broadcast, be hypnotized by our Christmas elevator music, buy and forget…

Allāh says about this:

“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allāh and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.” – Qurʾān, Sūrat’l-adīd, 57:20

This theme is struck repeatedly in the Qurʾān. The amusement and adornment of the dunya is an illusion that dries up and crumbles like a corn stalk, and becomes dust. It is empty, the enjoyment of delusion. Wow. That phrase, “enjoyment of delusion”, makes me think of a madman alone in a room, tied in a straight jacket, engaged in a pleasant delusion playing only in his mind.

I know people who have a bedroom devoted to all the junk that they have bought but do not use. They never enter that room and the door is kept locked. Isn’t that a kind of mental illness?

Gratitude

How do we resist the onslaught of the season? How do we remember Allāh?

The greatest tool in our toolbox is gratitude. By looking at what we’ve been blessed with, our hearts become content. Socrates commented that contentment is natural wealth, while luxury is artificial poverty. Contentment does not mean complacency or passivity; it refers to a state of awareness of our blessings, and gratitude for the smallest to the greatest provisions – from the tiniest cells in our bodies, to the grand earth itself.

Let’s become aware of what we have: the food on our plates, our ability to see and hear, the love and health of our families, sanity, intelligence, knowledge… these things are huge. When we open our eyes and start to see, then we become content and happy, and we see how meaningless are things are like big-screen TVs, the latest smartphone, or another new dress.

Let’s remember Allāh the Eternal, and think of our ākhirah (hereafter). While others are are hungering for more, let’s be grateful for what we have, and give.

Our local Muslim community center here in Fresno participates in feeding the poor at soup kitchens and is currently organizing a winter blanket and coat drive for the homeless. I encourage every Muslim community to do something similar. Get Muslim adults and children involved in the process of giving, whether to needy Muslims or non-Muslims.

It’s liberating to ignore the sales and seasonal hype. When we abandon the idea of acquiring goods, and instead focus on giving, we dump the whole propaganda machine on its head. We change everything. While the frantic buying of “stuff” makes us forget Allāh, gratitude brings us back to Him. That’s why Allāh brings together gratitude and remembrance of Allāh:

“So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me.”
– Qurʾān, Sūrat’l-Baqarah, 2:152

Being grateful to Allāh means that our hearts become filled with love for Him; our bodies are obedient to Him; our tongues praise Him; we receive His favors with humility; we thank Him for everything we have received; and we use what He has given us for good. We could never repay Allāh. The least we can do is thank him.

By being grateful and separating ourselves from the consumerist craziness, we set an example of how to live without avarice. We free our spirits, remove a burden from our backs, and shine a light for ourselves and others.

Wael Abdelgawad's latest novel is Pieces of a Dream. It is available for purchase on Amazon.com. Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com, and various financial websites. Heteaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com. For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Umm Sulaim

    December 19, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    Good work.

    Many non-Muslim Americans recognise the link between festivities and consumerism and avoid such, example valentine’s day.

    Christmas appears to be the period when even smart persons get in with the mood. Some of my online friends have been shopping for days for their family. I shall ask them what happen to the previous years’ shopping items.

    They seem to enjoy it, though.

    Umm Sulaim

    • Avatar

      Fezz

      December 20, 2011 at 2:19 PM

      True point, its ONLINE SHOPPING these days that is potentially just as financially consuming. The trip to the mall is now a bit of a social day trip.

  2. Avatar

    mw_m

    December 19, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    Christmas is not when ‘Isa was born..

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      December 19, 2011 at 2:07 PM

      I know, but it is when the non-Muslims celebrate his birthday.

  3. Avatar

    Amal

    December 19, 2011 at 3:52 PM

    Seems like we’re on a similar wavelength; some more recent thoughts on gratitude and it’s benefits to us as Muslims: http://www.coachamal.com/blog/attitude-of-gratitude.html

  4. Avatar

    Carlos

    December 19, 2011 at 6:32 PM

    Ah, materialism, religion’s favorite strawman opponent. It does not take much thinking to realize that the opposite of religiosity is not consumerism. Materialistic people and non-materialistic people can be of any religion or can be non-believers. Some people are just more into acquiring “things” than others. Religion’s real nemesis, of course, is science, not materialism, but religion does not fare as well when compared with science.

    Incidentally, the purchasing going on this month is primarily for gift-giving, not for personal use. People buy things for themselves whenever they need or want them, regardless of the season. Christmas shopping is meant for others. That kind of weakens your anti-Christmas argument.

    If I were a Christian, I might be offended by this article implying that Christians are overcome by insane consumerism, or that Santa Claus is considered a sub-deity. “Our way is sacrifice.” Apparently your way is also smugness.

    As for Christmas becoming more secular, I and many others think that is a good thing. It makes us non-Christians less uncomfortable about participating in the holiday festivities. Of course, the secularization of Christmas makes the evangelical Christians very angry. It serves them right for trying so hard to make government less secular.

    Happy New Year.

    Carlos

    • Avatar

      Abu Sumaiyah

      December 20, 2011 at 12:42 AM

      Carlos, I believe you do not accurately understand what materialism means. Materialism is being devoted to the temporal world as opposed to the spiritual world. All people who refuse to acknowledge Allah are indeed attached to this world. Therefore, they are materialistic. They cling on to wordly advancement in whatever shape or form it takes. Even people living on communes or people who believe anarchism is the right path to develiop asociety are in one way or another following a materialistic ideology.

      Moreover, eventhough the Quran is not a book of science, it is a book of guidance, there are scientific facts that have oly been discovered through the advancement of modern technology. Or mabe you would like me to believe how Aristotle orginally believed how the fetus is formed.

      There is no need to claim that you would be offended about thid article if you were a Christian. Even Christians and even secularists alike admit that Christmas is a consumer driven festivile

      My last question. Why do you keep on coming back to this website and posting your arguments? Are feeling insecure with yourself that you need to come to a Muslim blog and try and get your point across?

      I wish you could ask Christopher Hitchens about he now thinks about his entire life fighting religion, namely islam.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      December 20, 2011 at 1:10 AM

      Carlos, you’ve raised some important points and I appreciate your comment. It’s true that not all Christians or non-Muslims in general are caught up in the consumerist frenzy; and there are indeed movements among non-Muslims that promote simpler lifestyles, environmentalism, back-to-nature, etc. In fact non-Muslims tend to be ahead of Muslims in these areas these days. So if I came across as generalizing or smug, then I need to rethink my mode of expression. I was referring mainly to the blitz of marketing and sales hype at this time of year, and those who buy into it.

      You say the purchasing going on in this month is for gift-giving. If I buy my wife an iPod and a pair of Gucci shoes, and she buys me a flat-screen TV, that is hardly the spirit of generosity and giving that I am advocating. I’m talking about giving to the poor and the homeless, to people who are suffering and starving around the world. Giving to people who have nothing to give back. Giving with no expectation of reward or reciprocation, giving to those who care nothing for us and may even hate us.

      Your point about science being the nemesis of religion does not apply to Islam and is irrelevant to this article.

    • Avatar

      Mustafa

      December 21, 2011 at 1:06 PM

      Carlos, yes we’ll find atheists who care so much for the environment they live of what can sustain them and nothing more.

      In the same vein, we’ll find atheists with the character of a good believer, giving in charity with a smile on their face and not desiring a single word of thanks.

      And in the end, it amounts to nothing.

      http://quran.com/18/103-108

      So you can keep labeling arguments, then blaming us for using those arguments. The end result is the same. None of your arguing helps you.

    • Avatar

      Maryam

      December 23, 2011 at 2:13 PM

      Hi Carlos,

      Giving gifts is an islamic practice as well, but extravagance is not.

      http://www.islamweb.net/emainpage/index.php?page=articles&id=135329

      One can be an atheist and have good morals, the Quran acknowledges that. Please read this following page and let me know your thoughts.

      http://muslimmatters.org/2011/06/03/the-best-of-stories-pearls-from-surah-yusuf-part-8/

  5. Avatar

    Fozia

    December 19, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    Very important reminder Wael. I am trying to beat this problem myself and yes, I agree with you – it is a major problem! I deliberately avoid shopping malls, I just don’t go to them, I find the glitz very unpleasant and distant from deen and they make me go dizzy. And when I go to the local shops for grocery shopping, I pass through the market, and this is a dua to say for when entering a ‘market’.

    “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah alone, Who has no partner. His is the dominion and His is the praise. He brings life and He causes death, and He is living and does not die. In His Hand is all good, and He is Able to do all things.” (Reference: At-Tirmithi 5/291, and Al-Hakim 1/538. Al-Albani graded it good in Sahih Ibn Majah 2/21 and Sahih At-Tirmithi 3/152.)

    http://www.islamawareness.net/Dua/Fortress/098.html

    ***

    Our deen give us answers to it all, don’t hang out wasting time, don’t waste money on excess clothes, shoes, on extravagant clothes, or on the latest mobile phone. Simplicity is so much better! And our Deen frees us from being exploited by consumerism, which is nothing but an agent of shaytaan.

    Thank you for bringing this very important issue to light.

    Fozia

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      December 20, 2011 at 1:12 AM

      Thank you Fozia! I will make sure to say that dua’ when going shopping in the future Insha’Allah.

      • Avatar

        Fozia

        December 20, 2011 at 7:18 AM

        Wael, maasha’Allah you are already a very disciplined soul, your persistence in Martial Arts is an example of that. But still its good to recite the dua.

        Theres a motto that can be applied to everything in life: ‘No pain, No gain’. To discipline ourselves, we need to endure a certain amount of pain for a while, because we are supressing our desires and fighting our nafs. For me, I have to supress my desire to shop and to sleep at the time of Fajr. Hmm, topic for a new article Wael! :0)

        Fozia

  6. Avatar

    Khadija

    December 19, 2011 at 10:37 PM

    Yea I agree

  7. Avatar

    ibn Ahmed

    December 20, 2011 at 12:28 AM

    Excellent reminder, very practical. If you don’t have gratitude towards Allah subhanuhuwata’ala, the you will never be contented with what you have.

  8. Avatar

    Anon

    December 20, 2011 at 4:38 AM

    Nice article, MashALLAH… May ALLAH bless you, Ameen…

    One should be trained about the items that a muslim requires in their lives.. Usually, a Muslim doesnt know that.. and thats why he/she falls into the pit of buying, buying, buying and hoarding stuff…

    A Muslim shoudl be trained to:
    1) buy ONLY the items they need [e.g one pair of joggers and not three pairs per person]
    2) good quality [which are good for the health of feet and reasonable in price]
    3) replace them when they are worn out…

    Alhamdulilah, life will become better and EASIER.

    Its a must to own a cell phone. But changing a cell phone every four months, simple casue a newer model has arrived.. ?!

    8 to 10 casual shirts are fine. But a wardrobe exploding with tonnes of clothes ?!

    Two good quality women purses are fine. But a collection of 13 purses of various colors ?!

    Muslim Ummah, buy only what you need. Neither be a miser and nor a spend thrift.

    Its hurts to see a rich Muslim lady walking in Dubai Mall, showing off, her branded abaya, branded heels and a carring a branded purse worth 80,000 Dirhams.

    SubhanALLAH.

    A Purse worth 80,000 Dirhams ?! Wouldnt a purse costing 1,000 Dirhams be enough for her. Cause at the end of the day, all she has to do is carry the necessary items in her purse. The only differnce i could spot between that expensive purse and a cheaper one, was the differnce of a logo ! The rest looked all the same to me ! The space it provided ! the funtionality it was used for !

    O Muslims, brands do not give us status.

    It is “Islam” that gives us status and respect in the society.

    If brands and richness and possession of items would give anyone respect, then every body would have respected the Pharoah and the current leaders (Bush, Muamar Ghadaffi, Asif Ali Zardari, etc…. !

    • Avatar

      none

      December 20, 2011 at 1:59 PM

      Mr. Anon
      Im a man but you probably a man too. Your sense of fashion is lacking. There is nothing wrong with looking pleasant and matching an outfit if you are blessed with means and give of the right upon your wealth. Sure many people over do it but many of the Sahabah and Tabieen were generous in charity and generous in spending alhamdulilah.

      It ain’t trickin’ if you got it (a hip hop phrase). Let those who have means use it on themselves and upon others inshaAllah.

      Sometimes (at least in America) Brands mean quality. I have Calvin Klein sweaters from 11 years ago that look brand new. I also have pants from Old Navy (lesser) that lasted 4 months.

      Piety and hayaa should not prevent you from matching.

  9. Avatar

    Amy eatrada

    December 20, 2011 at 6:23 AM

    Salaams,

    Worth much more than your original article is your gracious and magnanimous responses to those who have a differing opinion. I’m taking notes…definitely a priceless gift that nothing for sale out there right now could trump!

    Truly though, I would have tried to argue back, “no I’m not (whatever I’m being accused of)” and list off proofs why. Thank you for showing having the humility of taking a nobler course, from the bottom of my nafs’ heart!

    • Avatar

      Fozia

      December 20, 2011 at 5:31 PM

      Lol Amy…I agree!

      Wael has some qualities and traits that are maash’Allah very praiseworth indeed. May Allah(swt) bless him always, aameen.

      Fozia

  10. Avatar

    Abu Ibrahim Ismail

    December 20, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    The holiday season is an annoying yet essential part of American life. I don’t agree with it, but it has become so ingrained in the American fabric, there’s little chance of it every changing.

    Entire industries (the toy industry for example) base their survival on these five weeks. Financial markets, investors, and corporations judge whether they’ll survive another year based on how well they’ve done during this period.

    This is not to say we should get involved in this madness. The author is correct to advise Muslims to concentrate on those things which Allah has advised us to be aware of.

    On another note, it seems we Muslims are also victims of a similar madness. And our madness also lasts roughly a month.

    It’s called Ramadan.

    Every year, every Muslim blog (hyperbole, I know) rants and raves about how Muslims all over the world are observing Ramadan incorrectly.

    Either Muslims are over-eating at iftar, or over spending preparing for iftar, or iftar-hopping (going from one iftar celebration to another).

    I don’t think the Christmas frenzy is unique to Christians, or Westerners, or the modern age. I believe this is just a product of human behavior, as Muslims are doing similar things.

    Humans are going to find a way to profit and squeeze enjoyment out of anything and everything.

    There will always be the conservatives (Muslim and Christian) who will bemoan the commercialization of sacred events. But the vast majority of the public (Muslim and Christian) will continue to march to the same beat.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      December 20, 2011 at 2:55 PM

      Good point about how some Muslims overindulge during Ramadan. Just as bad as the Christmas frenzy, if not worse.

      • Avatar

        Fozia

        December 20, 2011 at 5:44 PM

        Its worse in Ramadan. Because Ramadan is all about supressing one’s physical desires, about taming those desires which distance us from Allah(swt), about feeling the pangs of hunger, and about learning to be truly grateful to Allah for what we have. But many Muslims end up doing the complete opposite by over indulging in food and buying glitzy clothes for Eid. So yes its worse.

        But insha’Allah every day is a new day and we can do tawbah and try to sacrifice for the sake of Allah. Such articles as this are good reminders.

  11. Avatar

    Ibrahim

    December 20, 2011 at 8:53 PM

    Active thread so I’m mentioning this here….

    Please highlight the plight of Aisha Khan who has been abducted:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Help-Find-Aisha-Khan/218201234921771?sk=wall

  12. Avatar

    Kaleem

    December 21, 2011 at 6:30 PM

    Assalam O Alaikum brother Wael,
    Masha Allah another beautiful article. I think it is important for us Muslims to realize our true purpose in this world. True happiness and peace of mind can only be obtained by being content and moderate in our approach; now a days everything has become a fashion. It is not only on Christmas but also on Muslim festivals as brother Ibrahim mentioned above. In fact, now Muslims start shopping months before the festivals (Eids). We shouldn’t completely avoid shopping but we should also think before hand that why we are buying something? For instance, I have seen people who spend insane amount of money on electronic products such as mobile phones, laptops, etc when they already have machines which serve them just fine. It’s kind of a competition with people around us. As Muslims we are supposed to go to crowded places likes malls, markets and shopping centers when it’s absolute necessary because they take the very purpose of our existence in this world away from as we indulge in those things over their. That is why we are advised by our beloved Prophet (PBUH) to attend funerals, go to graveyards (which are quite opposite of malls/markets, also our final resting place) to remain steadfast on our path and to remember our purpose of life on earth.
    Thanks for this lovely reminder and keep writing these inspirational articles to help Ummah; may Allah (swt) give you more strength, wisdom, understanding, piety and focus in life on things which are/should be important to every Muslim to achieve their eternal goal. (Amin).

    Muhammad1982:)

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#Islam

The Spirituality Of Gratitude

Shaykh Tarik Ata

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Gratitude

The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?

What Does Shukr Mean?

Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).

Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461).[1] That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.

The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.

Blessings Even in Hardship

One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.

In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.

Allah knows best.

Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.

Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.

[1] Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.

Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude

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When Faith Hurts: Do Good Deeds = Good Life?

Loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way- even if it hurts. It is a time to learn.

Zeba Khan

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hurts, hardship. Allah, test, why Allah is testing me

The Messenger of Allahṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said that the faith in our hearts wears out the way our clothes wear out. Deterioration, maintenance, and renewal are part of the cycle.  That’s life with all that hurts. That’s normal.

But what happens when that’s life, but life is not your normal? What happens when it feels like life isn’t normal, hasn’t been normal, and won’t be normal for a foreseeably long time?  For some of us, refreshing faith becomes secondary to just keeping it.

It’s easier to say Alhamdulillah when you are happy. It’s harder when you’re not. That’s human nature though. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with what we teach about faith that can leave us unprepared for when Allah tests it. I believe that our discussions about faith tend to be overly simplistic. They revolve around a few basic concepts, and are more or less summed up with:

Faith = Happiness

Righteousness = Ease

Prayer = Problem Solved

Good Deeds Equals Good Life?

Basically, the TLDR is Good Deeds = The Good Life. None of these statements are technically untrue. The sweetness of faith is a joy that is beyond any other gratitude, for any other thing in this world. Righteousness in the sight of Allah will put you on the path to the good life in the afterlife. Making dua can be the solution to your problems. But when we say these things to people who have true faith but not happiness, or righteous behavior yet distressing hardship, we’re kind of implying that that either Islam is broken (because their prayers seem unanswered), or they are broken (because their prayers are undeserving of answers.) And neither of those is true either.

Allow me to elaborate. I think it’s safe to say that there is not a single parent who has not begged Allah to make their sick or disabled child well again. Yet, our Ummah still has sick and disabled children. Through history, people have begged Allah for a loved one’s life, and then buried them – so is prayer not equal to problem solved?

Many righteous people stand up, and are then ostracized for their faith. Many people speak truth in the face of a tyrant only to be punished for it. Many of us live with complete conviction, with unshakeable belief in the existence and wisdom and mercy of Allah, and still find ourselves unhappy and afraid of what He has willed for us.

Are We Broken?

No, but our spiritual education is. In order to fix it, we have to be upfront with each other. We have to admit that we can be happy with Allah and still find ourselves devastated by the tests He puts before us, because faith is not a protection from struggle.

Has anyone ever said this to you? Have you ever said this to anyone else?

No one ever told me. It was hard for me to learn that lesson on my own, when I pleaded with Allah to make my son’s autism go away, and it didn’t. Everyone told me –Make dua! The prayer of a mother for her child is special! Allah will never turn you down!

It was hard trying to make sense of what seemed like conflicting messages- that Allah knows best, but a mother’s prayer is always answered. It was even harder facing people who tried to reassure me of that, even when it obviously wasn’t working.

“Just make dua! Allah will respond!”

I’m sure people mean well. But it’s hard not to be offended. Either they assume I have never bothered to pray for my son, or they imply that there must be good reason why Allah’s not granting to my prayers. What they don’t consider is that allowing my test to persist – even if I don’t want it to- is also a valid response from Allah.

I have been told to think back in my life, and try to determine what sin caused my child’s disability, as if the only reason why Allah wouldn’t give me what I asked for was because I was so bad I didn’t deserve it. As if good deeds equaled the good life, and if my life wasn’t good, it’s because I hadn’t been good either.

Bad Things Happen to Good People

You can assume whatever you like about my character, but bad things do happen to good people, even when they pray. You can try your hardest and still fall short. You can pray your whole life for something that will never come to you. And strength of faith in that circumstance doesn’t mean living in a state of unfulfilled hope, it means accepting the wisdom in the test that Allah has decreed for you.

That’s a bit uncomfortable, isn’t it.  When we talk about prayer and hope, we prefer to talk about Zakariyyah 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – who begged Allah for a child and was gifted with one long after anyone thought it even possible. But we also need to talk about Abu Talib.

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was raised by his uncle Abu Talib, and in his mission to preach Islam he was protected by Abu Talib.  But Abu Talib died without accepting Islam, was there something wrong with the Prophet, that Allah did not give him what he asked for? Was he not good enough? Did he not pray hard enough? Astaghfirullah, no. So if Prophets of God can ask for things and still not get them, why are we assuming otherwise for ourselves?

Making a Bargain with Allah

If we can understand that faith is not a contract for which we trade prayers for services, then maybe we can cope better when fate cannot be bargained with. Maybe it won’t have to hurt so bad – on spiritual level – when Allah withholds what we ask for, even when we asked for the “right” things in the right way and at all the right times.

Life is not simple. Faith is not simple. The will of Allah is not simple, no matter how much we want it to be, and when oversimplify it, we create a Muslim version of Prosperity Gospel without meaning to.

If you’ve never heard of it, prosperity gospel is a religious belief among some Christians that health and wealth and success are the will of God, and therefore faith, good deeds and charity increase one’s wellbeing. Have faith, and God will reward you in this life and the next. That’s nice. But it’s too simple. Because the belief that Good Deeds = The Good Life doesn’t explain how Ibraheem 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)’s father tried to have him burnt alive.

Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)’s brothers left him for dead in the bottom of a well. He grew up a slave and spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Aasiya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – the wife of the Pharoah – one of the four best women in the history of womankind – died from her husband’s torture.

Good people are not guaranteed good lives. Islam is what we need, not a system of practices that we use to fulfill our needs.

When we limit our understanding of faith to a simplistic, almost contractual relationship with Allah, then we can’t even explain the things that Allah Tested His own prophets with.

Nor can we understand, or even begin to cope with- what He Tests the rest of us with either. We have to be real in our talk about faith, because otherwise we set each other up for unrealistic expectations and lack of preparation for when we face hardship. Faith is not protection from hardship. Faith is part of hardship. And hardship is part of faith.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) asks us in the opening of Surah ‘Ankabut,

Do people think once they say, “We believe,” that they will be left without being put to the test? We certainly tested those before them. And ˹in this way˺ Allah will clearly distinguish between those who are truthful and those who are liars.

Allah says in Surah Baqarah, ayah 155: “And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of the fruits of your labor. But give glad tidings to those who are patient in adversity.

tests, hurts, faith , hardship

Allah Tests Everyone Differently

Allah tests each of us differently, but in every single case – every single time – a test is an invitation to success. Hardship is the process through which we prove ourselves. Experiencing it– and then drawing closer to Allah through it –is how faith is tested as well as strengthened.

If we can change how we perceive hardship, then we can also change how we perceive each other. On our cultural subconscious, we still see worldly failure as being equivalent to spiritual failure. So when we see people who are homeless, we assume fault. When we see people facing depression or divorce, we assume fault. We even look at refugees and victims and special needs children and we look for fault. Because if it’s that bad then it’s has to be someone’s fault, right?

Fault is how we place blame. Blame is how we know whose mistake it is. But the will of Allah is never a mistake, it’s a test.  Instead of faulting each other for what Allah tests us with, we could respect each other for the struggles we all endure. We could see each other with more compassion for our challenges, and less aversion when Allah tests us with dealing each other.

So when you’ve done things the right way, but the right things aren’t happening. Or you’ve been charitable to others, and they’re being evil towards you. Or you’ve earned only halal, but haram- it’s been taken away from you, remember this- your faith is being tested. Allah tests those that He loves. When He raises the difficulty level, Allah is extending a direct invitation for you to climb higher.

So How Do We Succeed When Faced With Failure?

The first thing to do is redefine failure. There is only one true failure in this life, and that is dying on the wrong side of Siraat ul Mustaqeem, because if close your eyes and wake up in Jahannam, no success in this life can compensate for that.

I find that helpful to remember, when I fail to stay fit because I can’t exercise without hurting myself, when I fail to fast in Ramadan because it’s dangerous for me to do so- when I fail to discover a cure for my family’s personal assortment of medical issues through rigorous internet “research,” none of that is my failure either. And I can feel a lot of different ways about these situations, but I do not feel guilty- because it’s not my fault. And I do not feel bitter, because my test is my honor. Even when I do feel scared.

Being scared in not a failure either. Neither is being unemployed. Being unmarried is not a failure. Being childless is not a failure. Being divorced is not a failure. Nothing unpleasant or miserable or unexpected is a failure. It’s all just a test, and seeing it as a test means you have the state of mind to look for the correct answers.

Not even sin is failure, because as long as you are alive, your sin stands as an invitation to forgiveness. The bigger the sin, the greater the blessings of repenting from it.  Everything that goes bad is the opening of the door for good. A major sin can be the first step on a journey that starts with repentance and moves you closer to Allah every day thereafter. Sin only becomes failure when it takes you farther away from Allah, rather than closer to him.

Jahannam is the Only Failure

Addiction is not a failure. Depression is not a failure. Poverty is not a failure. Jahannam is the only failure. Everything else is a gap in expectations.

You assumed you would have something, but it’s not written for you. You assumed you’d ask Allah for something and He’d give it to you, but what is that assumption based on again? That good deeds are the guarantee to the good life, and that prayer equals problem solved?

Allah has all the knowledge, Allah has the wisdom, Allah is the best of Planners – how are you assuming that your wishes supersede His will? Even when you put your wishes in the form of a prayer?

They don’t. It is absolutely true that Allah may choose to rewrite Qadr itself based on your prayers – but that’s still His choice. Allah has always, and will always be in control of this world. And that means your world too. If you still think you’re in control, you will find it really, really hard to cope the first time you realize you’re not.

When we understand that we don’t get to control what happens and what doesn’t, we can then release ourselves from the misplaced guilt of things going wrong.  Lots of special needs parents struggle with guilt. I meet them often – and every single parent has asked the question- directly or indirectly-

What did I do for my child to deserve this?

Can you hear the presumption in there? That the parents were good, so why did something bad happen? They were expecting for good deeds to equal the good life.

There’s a second presumption in there too, that their life choices were a determining factor of what happened to their child. That is a presumption of control. And as long as you try to hold on to that presumption of control, there is the constant feeling of failure when it just doesn’t work the way you think it will.

I am not proposing that we lose hope in Allah and despair of His Mercy. I am in no way insinuating that Allah doesn’t hear every prayer, hasn’t counted every tear, and isn’t intimately aware of your pain and your challenges. Allah hears your prayers, and in His wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we want. In His Wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we need.

Even if we don’t see it.

Even if it scares us.

Even if it hurts us – because Allah has promised that He will never, ever break us.

hurts, hardship, special needs

Allah Tests Us in His Mercy

I am proposing that we put trust in the wisdom of Allah, and understand that when He tests us, that is part of his mercy, not a deviation from it. When He grants something to us, that is part of His mercy, and when he withholds something from us, that too is part of His Mercy, even if we don’t like it. Even when we ask Him to take it away.

The third thing I would like to propose, is that we correct our understanding of – Fa Inna Ma’Al usri yusraa, Inna Ma’al usri yusra.

So verily, definitely, for sure- with hardship there is ease. Again, Inna – for sure, with hardship there is ease.

I’m sure lots of you have said this to people you loved, or to yourself when you’re struggling with something and you’re just trying to get through it. But did you mean that this hardship will end, and then things will be good again? Like as soon as things have been hard for a while, Allah will make them easy again?

Would you believe that’s not really what that means? Ma’a means with, not after. With this hardship, there is ease. And maybe you’re like aww man, but I wanted the ease! I want the hardship to go away and Allah I’m ready for my ease now!

But that hardship, will bring you ease. Allah does not tell us what the ease will be, or when it will be- but He says it’s there, so trust Him. Even if you can’t see it right away, or in this life –it will become apparent.

I can tell you some of the ease I found with mine.

Learning When It Hurts

When my son was diagnosed with autism, my husband and I had to drop everything. We dropped our plans to save, to travel, and to live the charmed life of neurotypical parents whose only fears are that their children may grow up and NOT become Muslim doctors. We spent our earnings and our savings and our time and our nights and our tears and Alhamdulillah, we learned patience. We learned perspective. We learned compassion.

We really learned what we thought we already knew – about unconditional love and acceptance. We learned to be bigger than our fears, and smaller than our own egos. We learned to give and take help. We learn to accept what wisdom our cultures could offer us, and respectfully decline what did not. We learn to set boundaries and make rules that did justice by our children and our family, regardless of whether they were popular. With hardship comes ease.

When we couldn’t afford therapy for my son, my husband and I founded a not for profit organization in the UAE that provided it for my son and dozens of other people’s sons and daughters. Three and a half years ago I left that organization to seek better educational opportunities for my son here in the US, but it’s still running. The seed that our challenges planted has grown into something beyond us. With our hardship came ease for ourselves and others as well.

When I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, my health issues were upgraded from challenging to permanent. I had to rethink how I lived, how I planned, how I dressed, and even – my relationship with Allah. But if I had never been sick, I would never have started writing. When it hurt, I wrote. When I was scared, I wrote. When I was lonely, I wrote. And by and by the grindstone of fear and sickness and frustration sharpened my skills. Where I am today both spiritually and professionally – is actually a direct result of both autism and chronic illness. With hardship comes ease.

I don’t like my hardships, but I don’t have to. You don’t have to either. Being a good Muslim doesn’t always mean being a happy Muslim. It just means being Muslim, no matter the circumstances.

That means loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way – even if not loving everything He throws your way. You may hate your circumstances, and you may not be able to do anything about them, but as long as you trust Allah and use your hardships to come closer to him, you cannot fail, even if this life, you feel as if you never really succeeded.

hurts, depression, faith , hardship

Faith Wears Out In Our hearts, The Way Our Cothes Wear Out on Our Bodies

The hardship that damages and stains us is Allah’s invitation to repair, renew, and refresh ourselves. Our test are an invitation, an opportunity, an obstacle – but not a punishment or divine cruelty. And when we know that those tests will come, and some may even stay, then we can be better prepared for it.

Trust Allah when He says that He does not burden any soul with more than it can bear. He told us so in Surah Baqarah Ayah 286. Remember that when you are afraid, and Allah will never cause your fear to destroy you. Take your fear to Allah, and He will strengthen you, and reward you for your bravery.

Remember that when you are in pain. Allah will never cause your pain to destroy you. Take your pain to Him, and He will soothe you and reward you for your patience. Take it all to Allah – the loneliness, the anxiety, the confusion. Do not assume that the only emotions a “good Muslim” takes to Allah are gratitude and happiness and awe. Take them all to Allah, uncertainty, disappointment, anger — and He will bless you in all of those states, and guide you to what is better for you in this life, and the next, even if it’s not what you expected.

The struggles in your life are a test, and whether you pass or fail is not determined on whether you conquer them, only on whether you endure them. Expect that they will come, because having faith is not protection from struggle. Faith is protection from being broken by the struggle.

I ask Allah to protect us all from hardship, but protect us in our hardships as well. I ask Allah to grant us peace from His peace, and strength from His strength, to patiently endure and grow through our endurance.

Ameen.

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#Current Affairs

Do You Know These Heroes of Eid?

Ramadan is a time of sacrifice, and the Eid honors and celebrates the fulfillment of that sacrifice. But for many the hardships do not end.

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Rohingya children

Ramadan is a time of sacrifice, and the Eid honors and celebrates the fulfillment of that sacrifice. But for many the hardships do not end.

Between one million and three million Muslims are being detained in concentration camps in China, while masjids are being demolished and imams executed.

The Rohingya Muslims of Burma continue to suffer from terrible persecution. In one Rohingya refugee camp on the Burma / Bangladesh border there are half a million children. These children are banned by the Burmese authorities from attending school and are at risk of early marriage, child labor or being trafficked.

In the Central African Republic, the Muslim minority lives in daily fear of being killed, especially in the south.

The Palestinians continue to suffer after seventy years of occupation, with no end in sight.

Russian and Assad regime attacks on civilians continue in Syria, with the real possibility of an upcoming genocide in Idlib province.

Heroes Abound

In the midst of this all suffering, heroes abound. There’s Serikzhan Bilash of Kazakhstan, who has labored feverishly to document China’s internment of Muslims across the border. He urges those in his organization to continue their work, even as he himself has been arrested.

Those Rohingya children I mentioned in the refugee camp, banned from attending school? One 14-year-old Rohingya girl mentioned in the article has managed to enroll in school in Bangladesh. Her mother sold her food rations and borrowed money to create a fake Bangladeshi birth certificate, then paid a smuggler to take her daughter out of the camp. The girl herself says, “People hate the Rohingya here. I don’t tell people I am one… I have to lie about my identity to survive. Even though it’s a big struggle… I am able to study. There are hundreds of thousands of kids like me inside of the camps who are forced to marry off early…They have no opportunities.”

Also in that camp is 13-year-old Halim, who runs his own tutoring service, where he teaches more than 20 children. He says, “I am teaching them so they can do something for our nation. If they don’t learn anything, they can’t prosper in their life, as well as they can’t fight for the nation.”

Razan al-Najjar

Razan al-Najjar

In Palestine, let us not forget Razan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old volunteer paramedic from Gaza who was shot by an Israeli sniper on June 1, 2018, while tending to a tear gas victim. In her last Facebook post, the day before she was killed, she wrote, “Your conscience will be comforted as much as possible since God always knows your intention. #sleep_well Be good.”

In Syria, we have Dr. Omar Ibrahim, an Egyptian neurosurgeon who could probably be earning a hefty salary anywhere in the world, but instead labors under constant bombardment in the war-torn and half crushed city of Idlib. He’s been in Syria for five years and says, “I have no regrets about doing this work. Because I have passion for my work, and this work inspires me.”

A Religion of Heroes

Dr. Omar Ibrahim

Dr. Omar Ibrahim

Such stories are amazing, but they are not unique. There are countless heroes, and should that surprise us? Islam is a religion of heroes, and has always been so, going all the way back to its inception in Makkah, when the Prophet Muhammad (sws) drew around himself the weak and powerless, the slaves and foreigners. They were tortured, but did not surrender their new faith. Heroes.

Or, several years later, when the disbelievers of Arabia came in great numbers to wipe the Muslims off the face of the earth. The Muslims dug a great trench around Madinah, and held off the attackers under conditions of hunger and terrible cold, until – with Allah’s help – the siege was broken. Heroes.

So if you thought such heroes were a thing of the past, remember Serikzhan Bilash, the Rohingya girl, Halim, Razan al-Najjar, Dr. Omar Ibrahim and the untold, uncounted heroes like them. You may even know a few heroes personally. I do.

There’s my friend Karim, who works for an organization that sponsors Muslim orphans. He’s overworked and underpaid, and struggles to support his family and two children. He’s highly experienced and could earn more somewhere else. But he sticks with it because he believes in Islamic work.

I think also of my daughter’s homeroom teacher, sister Sharmeen. She’s an enthusiastic teacher who pushes the children to read, write and understand the roots of language. She does more than is required and is not appreciated as she should be. But once again, her passion drives her.

Persistence of Dua’

Our local Imam recently gave a khutbah about the importance of dua’. He said that Allah loves the dua’ that is persistent. Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in al-Daa’ wa’l-Dawa’: “One of the most beneficial of remedies is persisting in dua’.”

So be persistent. Pray for our suffering Ummah, and pray for our heroes. And donate whatever you can spare to the organizations that work on their behalf.

My Ordinary Life

As for me, my life is ordinary. On the morning of Eid, I, my mother and my daughter Salma – who is twelve years old now – wake up early and put on our best clothes, inshaAllah. We get in the car and stop at Krispy Kreme donuts.  I buy a box of a dozen to share with others after Salat al-Eid, and a few extras in a bag for our family, so we don’t have to wait in a long line and elbow people to snatch a cruller.

I pick up my cousin’s son, who does not have a car. We go downtown to the Fresno convention center and sit among a thousand other Muslims. We recite the Takbeerat al-Eid, praising Allah’s greatness. The Eid salat begins, then I strain to hear the khutbah as so many people begin chattering right away. Especially, the sisters. Sorry ladies, but it’s true :-)

I know, it all sounds a bit silly, but I’m excited. It’s a wonderful day. I see brothers that I haven’t seen since last year. Everyone is wearing their best outfits.

But it’s not about the donuts or the nice clothes. It is this feeling of sharing a connection with every Muslim around the world; a feeling of being part of something great.

When we return home, my mother makes cookies, and we put some decorations on the walls. Salma opens her presents, which this year are a new Switch game, a dartboard and a pearl necklace. It’s the first piece of real jewelry I’ve ever bought her. Buying it left me with $18 in my bank account, which means I predict a lot of Uber driving (my side job) in my near future. So I hope she likes it.

On such days, I thank Allah that I am alive to see another sunrise. Another day to strive to be a better Muslim and a better human being.

The Spirit of the Prophets

I also talk to Salma, as I do every year, about our Muslim brothers and sisters who are struggling all over the world, fighting for their freedom and their very survival. They don’t have pizza and donuts on Eid or pearl necklaces. Some are starving. Most have lost someone: a parent, a child, a sibling or a friend. Some have been utterly devastated.

Yet they are resolute. They have a deep strength that, like the well of Zamzam, never runs dry, SubhanAllah. They will not give up their hopes, their dreams or their faith, Allah willing.

These are the real heroes of Eid. I feel small next to them. They are the ones living the spirit of the Prophets and the Sahabah. They have made the greatest sacrifices, and are still striving, undaunted. They are living the words of Allah:

Say: ‘Verily, my ṣalāh, my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are all for Allāh, the Lord of the ‘Alameen’ (6:162).

May Allah ease the hearts of all who are suffering, replace pain with comfort and joy, sickness with health, oppression with liberation, and tyranny with freedom. May Allah give them security, safety, comfort, victory, and Jannah.

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