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Stray – A Marriage Story

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails…When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13, The Bible

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On Eid morning, a month or so ago, I spread a fresh cotton tablecloth on our kitchen table. I snipped some yellow, white and pink daisies and arranged them in my mason jars. And I put the mason jars, along with some fat tubs of candy – Hershey’s kisses, pink and white marshmallows, chocolate covered peanuts – onto a bright, yellow, wooden tray. It looked lovely.

So, so lovely.

The overall effect was very pleasing to my eye. So pleasing in fact, that I stopped and stared at it for a minute or two every single time I walked past my kitchen. And every time I stopped, I said, MashaAllah, la quwata illa billah. May Allah protect this little spot of color and beauty from my own eye and from the eye of any one who encountered it.

I’ve read the story in the Quran about the man who entered his garden, how he was instructed to say these very words. And wasn’t my home my garden? Hasn’t it become so increasingly so in the past few months of life and living in Karachi – land of very many good things, but unfortunately, so much ugliness. So much that literally hurts the eyes and the heart. So much that forces one to almost cringe and cower from. Ugliness of landscape, ugliness of character, the darker undersides of the human spirit so very present, achingly comparable to the ditches filled with refuse that litter every corner of this sprawling city.

But this story isn’t about that as much as it is about a bright, yellow, wooden tray, a marriage, what it means to stray and what it means to stay.

This is a story about my human heart and how I allowed it to drift towards resentment once and, when the same circumstances repeated themselves in my life, thanks to growing up and the accompanying wisdom, I kept it in reign. How my heart strayed 8 years ago and how 8 years later it stayed.

Eight years ago, we spent over three years without any income.

We lived through, not days or weeks or months but years of scraping by. Of counting pennies. We talk about it some nights now and we ask each other what was the worst, the very worst? For Hums the answer is expected, difficult to express, but nonetheless expected: “You came from a well-off family, growing up comfortably in the Middle East, with parents who could’ve afforded to give you whatever you wanted. It was hardest for me to feel like I wasn’t giving you or my son the same comfort.” I hear him out but, to lighten his burden, laugh it away “Oh, my parents didn’t give us much, don’t worry. They had way too many notions and rules about how to raise kids.” “What about you?”, he asks. ‘What was the hardest part for you?” My answer is less philosophical, more practical. “The hardest moment was always standing at the checkout counter after doing grocery. Of looking at my little purchases…all things I had considered quite cost-effective or necessary while I was in the aisles…all food items…nothing pretty or pointless…but in the moment of truth, when the total figure on the cash register rose higher and higher, $24.99, $32.00, $39.99, of feeling like death. Hating everything I had bought. Despairing this life. I just wanted to run away from it all,” I say.

Not to rehash the past, I say this because I need to be sure that he knows. I need him to see the darker sides of my human heart. How a lack of material comfort so quickly pushed his wife towards resentment and yes, also a desperate desire to escape. I also want him to know that I ridicule my former self. What exactly did I think was waiting for me on the other side of a marriage ended because of financial constraints? I don’t remember if I ever stopped to consider what kind of person that would make me.

I do remember the feeling of want, though. Just naked want. Of pretty things. All for my house of dreams. I was never a diamonds or designer bags kind of person. But a lovely home filled with lovely things, where every nook and cranny spoke of, yes, love and memories and togetherness and all those things that your Mastercard can’t purchase, but please, pretty please also of things of color and festivity and coziness and prettiness that did have a price tag. I wanted Stuff. That you could buy. With money.

Was a marriage not providing financial security a marriage worth keeping?

At the ripe old age of 34, the whole question and idea seems laughable, really. Surrounded that I am by friends and acquaintances who have ended marriages for a multitude of both totally understandable, completely valid and not-so-reasonable-but-ok-fine or omg-you’re-nuts-why-would-you-end-this reasons, I feel completely comfortable in expressing the idea that poverty is one of the dumbest reasons in the world to end a marriage. Right up there with “He doesn’t like the same shows or movies I do.” (I am willing to bet you, right now, somewhere out there, there’s a 21 year old wracked with despair because her fiance doesn’t like the same mindless entertainment she does and she is lying awake at night wondering if there’s a reasonable future with this man. Because that’s how you think when you’re dumb…sorry, I meant to say young. That’s how you think when you’re young.)

When you’re older, you look around yourself. You see lots of good and beautiful humans but you know what you see a whole lot more of? Trash people of trash values and trash notions and trash habits and trash pasts. (Sounds harsh? Shrug. Wait till you’re 34, you’ll probably agree.) And you understand that a good and decent human being who is kind and upright is a treasure. A diamond. He is a gold nugget in a ditch filled with refuse that litters every corner of this sprawling city that is your social landscape. And should said good and decent and kind and upright person be madly in love with you, well, lady you’ve just won yourself a lottery. (attn: self)

When we finally found employment, packed up our bags and moved to Dubai, Hums spent 18 hour days at work. For weeks and months on end, I led a lonely and scared existence at home with two young babies, one of whom was on the verge of an autism diagnoses – the figuring out of which, I would have to navigate entirely alone, given Hums’ working hours. When the diagnosis came in, the bills again became sky high, and if you know Dubai, you know a beginners salary just doesn’t cut it. And so we continued our meagre ways.

Until the day, many months later, Hums got his first performance bonus. He texted me right away and I won’t lie to you, I fell down in sajdah in as dramatic a fashion as the moment called for. Later that evening, he came home with a smile so big and eyes so pleading, it sliced my heart open. Words are not his thing but I always like to imagine that his eyes contain essays for me. “Here you go, thanks for being patient,” I think they said. I think that day his eyes asked for acceptance. A permanent one. A promise that I wouldn’t look for an exit again for something as ridiculous as being poor. And even though words are my thing, the palpable magnitude of the moment did in fact render me silent, and so I like to think my eyes also did the talking and they said something back. They spoke of regret at being so rash and an understanding of my younger self and my current self and of him and of us. They said, “Here I am. Thanks for being patient with me.”

I look at my children now…especially my daughters and I wonder what they will be like when they’re older. What dreams they will have for their spouses, their marriages? What will be important for them? What should be? How will I teach them what very definitely shouldn’t be? We Muslims don’t make marriage vows so there’s none of the “for richer or poorer, for better or worse” business said out loud. But there are, or there should be, some things similar that need to be understood. We should, all of us, on and with purpose, talk to our sons and our daughters about the indefinable, utterly elegant, completely undersold, quality of goodness. Of how to live it and how to seek it out. Of how to recognize it. Of how goodness of character is more important and heavier on the scales, both worldly and divinely, than anything else. That looks, finances, verbal abilities, interests in books and movies are all temporal at worst and chameleon-like at best. They change. Everything changes. The only thing that stays is goodness. Stay with the good one. Stay with the good. Stay.

Marriages are made out of multiples of seasons. Out of accepting the long haul of life, circumstance and destiny. I want to tell my children this.

Today, 8 years on, circumstances are such that the finances are extremely tight again. Some say it is because of the hand of destiny, some say it is because of deliberate (or foolish?) choices we have made as a couple, some sigh it is simply a mix of the two. Despite the conviction with which people around us tend to speak (its a desi thing, I think, to utter opinions as divine pronouncements), a secret part of me delights in the knowledge that whether people admit it or not, there is a sense of uncertainty around all of these viewpoints. That part of me sees that most people have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to what is right or wrong, what makes or breaks a marriage, what causes challenges to present themselves repeatedly to some people and not to others. The 34-year-old me is content with what is and she doesn’t get sucked in to the drama of “why, why, why is this MY life?” so easily anymore.

All around us there is familial and societal pressure to conform, to somehow live up to the expectations of what people think our life should be like and Hums and I, to put it in layman’s terms, couldn’t give a hoot. We’re happy. We love each other and our wild life. As far as this money thing, I know we’ll figure it out. Or, maybe…we already have. Our home is filled with love and memories and togetherness and also, with color and prettiness and festive things in nooks and crannies. Things money can and cannot buy. Because money, it comes and goes. When you have it, you use it and when you don’t have it, you hang on to every tangible and intangible thing you have by the blessings of your Lord, remember that goodness of character, both yours and your spouses, is what matters, and you ride out this season of your life.

My Eid kitchen table is proof that we’re doing okay.

With that first bonus, Hums and I finally, bravely, forayed in to the wonderful world of buying something simply for the pleasure of it. He bought himself a high-end beard trimmer. We bought the kids new toys – a baby doll stroller, a set of foam alphabets.And me? I went straight to Crate and Barrel. I looked for the brightest, sunniest, most festive thing I could find for my house of dreams. In one corner, tucked away on a busy display of kitchen ware, I saw a bright, yellow wooden tray. It was for 129 dirhams. Not cheap. Definitely not necessary. Completely and utterly pointless.

So, so lovely.

MashaAllah, la quwata illa billah

Hiba Masood is a writer, educator and advocate of play. She writes about her work and life daily on

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Hiba Masood is a writer living in Karachi, Pakistan. She is the author of Drummer Girl, the founder of Ramadan Moon and is known online as Drama Mama. To read more of her work daily, follow her on Instagram @hibamasood.



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    Mental Health & COVID-19: Light, Guidance, & Much Love | Part 1

    Insha’Allah, you and your loved ones are safe & healthy. May Allah swt protect us all from COVID-19, Ya Hafidh, and open the way for our spiritual growth, Ya Fattah Ya Rabb. No doubt, we are living in very challenges times, and many in our community are suffering. As such, my intention for this two-part series is to provide some beneficial perspectives and practical strategies that will make your emotional journey safer & easier, insha’Allah.

    And a journey it surely is. We are on a very long hike up a very steep mountain. And we have only two choices about HOW we approach this challenge: unskillfully or skillfully. If we wear flip-flops, and fail to pack water and snacks, we will have a very difficult time reaching the summit. And if we do, we will be in very bad shape. If we wear good socks, sturdy hiking boots, and our backpack is well-stocked, not only are we likely to reach the summit, but reach it in great shape. This is what I want for our beloved community, insha’Allah.

    As Muslims, it is crucial to remember that the ultimate summit is the hereafter. Truly, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our goal and pleasing Him is our aim. Truly, everything we do or fail to do here has an impact there. For many people, this haqq is much more difficult to remember and actualize when their day-to-day challenges are daunting. This is why historically and traditionally, in times of crisis, Muslims have always sought the nasiha of wise elders. Imam Muhasibi, the father of Islamic Psychology, developed this crucial, beautiful science in response to the human needs of his students. Sadly, the loss of these teachings as a widespread living tradition has contributed in large part to the widespread mental-health problems that have been plaguing our community for a very long time, which have now been exacerbated by COVID-19.

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    Here’s a good metaphor. The science of nutrition teaches us about our body, the properties of different foods, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum physical health. Likewise, the science of mental health teaches us about our heart and mind, the impact of specific activities, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital psychological nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum mental health. Lack of knowledge about Islamic Psychology and the absence of the vital psychological nutrients have taken a huge toll on our community. The stories I hear would probably shock you. They would certainly break your heart. Especially the stories of our young people, who are my top priority. Insha’Allah, the wake-up call of COVID-19 propels us to reclaim en masse this lost part of our spiritual heritage, so we can reclaim our vitality and nobility as the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

    To continue with the metaphor. Working one-on-one with an experienced nutritionist is very different than reading a book about nutrition. With the former, your nutritional program is specifically tailored to your particular problems, challenges, habits, and temperament. The same is true when it comes to mental health. So I must manage your expectations honestly and honorably by saying that it is not possible for me to do in two articles for the general public what I do one-on-one in my private practice as a psychotherapist, life-coach, and spiritual mentor. Truly, there is a palpable, powerful, fitrah-based alchemy that can only happen when two human hearts link-up in real time. That said, in the same way that reading and learning about nutrition is very beneficial, so too reading and learning about mental health, especially now.

    Working Skillfully with Difficult Emotions

    No doubt, COVID-19 has unleashed a wide range of very difficult emotions. People are struggling with tremendous anxiety, uncertainty, fear, sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, anger, frustration, confusion, grief, despair, and in some cases, a full-blown crisis of faith. So let me explain a little bit about emotions and how to work with them skillfully  

    One of the foundational principles of cognitive-behavioral psychology is called ‘reframing.’

    It is the process of deliberately thinking differently about our situation. Reframing it. The fact is, the lens through which we view our circumstances makes all the difference in the world insofar as how we feel. Thoughts are like the front wheels of the car and feelings are like the back wheels. We must be in the driver seat, steering intentionally. Whichever way the front wheels turn, the back wheels follow. So paying attention to our thoughts moment by moment, and making sure they are aligned with the Qur’an and Sunnah, is crucial. The mind is a like a muscle that MUST be trained through specific exercises, and our tradition is rich in the techniques for doing so. Truly, we must hit the spiritual gym regularly. The heavy lifting of muhasiba (self-reckoning) and muraqaba (mindfulness/meditation) are not optional. If these are not already a consistent part of your spiritual practice, NOW is the time to take them up. You will be so happy you did!

    Here’s a good metaphor. If you are a longtime couch potato, even a flight of stairs leaves you huffing and puffing. If you are in good shape, you’re able to jog around the block easily. If you’re in great shape, you’re able to leap over the hurdles like a gazelle. For many, COVID-19 has been like asking a couch potato to run a marathon. So we need to get in the best spiritual shape possible as quickly as possible. To that end:

    The Centering Exercise 

    Every time you notice that you are feeling sad, anxious, fearful, angry, hopeless, helpless, impatient, frustrated, confused, or depressed, here’s what to do.  

    • Turn off your devices and put them in another room.
    • Close your door and put a “Please do not disturb.” sign on the doorknob. Lay down.
    • Close your eyes. Turn your attention to your heart. Remember the Hadith Qudsi, “Heaven and earth cannot contain me but the heart of my faithful believer is where I reside.” Truly, Allah is closer than our jugular vein. (50:16)
    • Take some slow-deep breaths. On the out-breath, silently recite “La illaha.” On the in-breath, silently recite “il Allah.” After a few minutes, notice the shift in your state. Notice the deep connection between ‘self’ and ‘breath’, not just experientially, but also etymologically. They both derive from the same Arabic root, transliterated nfs.   
    • When you are centered, mentally review what you had been thinking about that gave rise to the difficult emotions.  Then do a ‘search and replace,’ deliberately and intentionally replacing your dark thoughts with the Light of The Qur’an or Hadith. Here is one example: Search: “I’ll never get through this.” Replace: “Allah never burdens a person with more than he is well able to bear.” (2:286)

    As individuals, we each have our own particular dark thoughts. NOW is the BEST time to fix them. I lovingly encourage you to get a blank journal, so that each time you do The Centering Exercise, you can make note of what you observed, what you learned about yourself. Write down each dark thought and then write down each Rx of Light from The Qur’an or Sunnah. Having a personal journal gives you a concrete means of reinforcing your new thought patterns. 

    We know from our neuroscience that the human brain possesses ‘neuroplasticity’, which is the capacity to be shaped, molded, changed. As such, the more often you do The Centering Exercise, the more your thinking patterns will change. This is how Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created us, mash’Allah! It’s really quite amazing to realize that the Qur’an we’ve been given provides Light upon Light from The Lord of The Worlds. And the Sunnah is that Light fully actualized to perfection, mash’Allah. The fact is, no matter how dark a room may be, if we light just one candle, it illuminates the space. Mash’Allah!

    Parents, once you get the hang of The Centering Exercise, please please teach it to your children! Insha’Allah, make it the new normal in your household, transforming discord and upset into harmony and peace.

    Say “Ameen!”

    Divine Reminders

    Insofar as reframing COVID-19 in the broader sense, I offer you this lens, this Divine Reminder, with much love. May it shift your state from embittered to empowered. My beloved sisters and brothers, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our Rabb, our Teacher, and COVID-19 is the Test we’ve all been given. Every single human being on the planet. We all woke up one day, walked into the classroom of Life, and got handed a pop quiz. The purpose of which is to show us the places where we weren’t prepared. This is great! Because the trumpet is absolutely going to sound, and we surely want to be ready. As long as we’re breathing, we have time to prepare. This is great!

    Say “Ameen!” 

    Beloved ones, we have the incredible privilege of being students of The One Who Knows Everything, including The Future and The Unseen.  It is very bad adab to question the teaching methods of our Teacher or to complain that we don’t like the Test.

    This was the fatal mistake of Bani Israel that we are reminded 17x/day not to emulate. On the contrary, what we want to be asking ourselves is: “What must I do to pass this Test with flying colors, to ace this Exam?” Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “Not without purpose did We create heaven and earth and all between.” (38:27)  This pandemic is not some random event. It has a divine purpose. There is deep meaning in it. 

    There is also enormous rahmah in it. Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “…My mercy embraces everything.” (7:156) The Divine Physician has dispensed this bitter medicine to heal us. To heal the whole world from its longstanding imbalances and injustices. Surely, it is no accident, the timing of COVID-19 vis-à-vis the murder of George Floyd and the global response it has galvanized.  Surely, every human being wants to and deserves to breathe.

    COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the whole world. Ours to do as students is to be fully present in each moment, to practice mindfulness (muraqaba), so we can be deeply receptive to the Lessons we are meant to learn (muhasiba). Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11) Beloved ones, NOW is the time for global tawbah (repentance). As the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), this is our Divine Assignment, individually, collectively, institutionally. 

    My vision and personal commitment is that we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of this, insha’Allah. I can say this with great confidence because first and foremost, I know that COVID-19 or no COVID-19, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is not out of business! The presence of The Presence, the power of the Names & Attributes, are as robust as ever. 

    We are being summoned to recognize our hubris and turn our hearts in humility toward The One Who Is In Charge, The One Who Calls The Shots, to The One Whose Decree we surrender. Humbly. Readily. Insha’Allah, NOW is the time to actualize the last part of Hadith Jibreel about qadr. The fact is, what’s happening around us is what’s happening, and this is always in the hands of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). HOW we respond to what’s happening is entirely up to us.

    What I want for our community is the best possible response, the most skillful and beautiful response, the response that will be of maximum benefit here & hereafter, insha’Allah.

    I can also say this with great confidence because time and again, working with Muslim refugees who have been through horrific trauma, I have seen with my own eyes how absolutely amazing human beings are. How resilient. How courageous. How creative. How capable of transforming sorrow into joy, lemons into lemonade, compost into roses. This is what I want for you, my beloved sisters and brothers.

    No doubt, on any long and arduous journey, in addition to having the right equipment and supplies, having an experienced trail-guide makes all the difference. There is dangerous terrain you want to avoid, and beautiful vistas you don’t want to miss. In my experience over decades, I have observed that human beings thrive when we are given the right tools and the loving encouragement to master them.  So let me give you now some very practical guidelines to help you navigate skillfully, so you can extract from these precious days of your life what is meaningful & transformational. 

    Practical Strategies

    When it comes to protecting our physical health from the pandemic, there are certain steps we MUST take. Likewise with our mental health. As such, here are some practical strategies, culled from thousands of pages of research and decades of experience. My focus is on parents, whose job has never been more difficult. And with the new school year right around the corner, this guidance is extremely timely. 

    Boundaries: Set clear boundaries regarding where and when devices can be used. This applies to everyone in the household, kids and parents alike. Parents, as your elder who loves you, I am reminding you that YOU are the CEO of your home. YOU are the policy maker. YOU are in charge. NOT your kids or their devices. So take charge!

    • No devices for kids 0-3. These guidelines are from the American Pediatric Association. 
    • No devices at the dinner table* or in the bedrooms.
    • No devices until after Fajr. Better yet, after breakfast.
    • All devices put away 1-2 hours before bedtime. Plugged in in the kitchen to recharge.
    • Limit on-line entertainment and socializing to 1 hour/day MAX.
    • Schedule tech fasts ½ day weekly, and 1-2 full days monthly, on a weekend.
    • An occasional family-time movie is fine on the weekend. Choose something meaningful, uplifting, thought-provoking, heart-opening. Pop some popcorn. Make tea. Engage in a special time afterward to really talk together about your experience. *Getting in the habit of real-time-face-to-face conversations is crucial. If you start when your kids are young, it will lay a strong foundation for their teenage years, when they desperately need wise, trustworthy, caring adults who really know how to listen from the heart.

    Nature: Spending time in nature is the very best thing you can do for yourself and with your family. There are reams of data about the stress-reducing effects of being outdoors, especially in the woods. There are also reams of data about the benefits of exercise, not only for physical health, but for mental health. Given all the extra sitting everyone is doing during COVID-19, regular exercise is not optional. 

    Furthermore, if your kids are schooling from home and you are working from home, everyone will surely need some breathing room, some physical and emotional space from one another, some time every day in solitude, unplugged from their devices. Spending alone-time in nature is the perfect solution. 

    For family-time activities, unplug from your devices and enjoy these delightful experiences. They will engender tremendous awe (khushu’) and deepen your heart-connection with your Rabb, The One Who Created you and all the beauty around you. Subhan’Allah.

    • Take a 15-30 minute family-walk every night after dinner before homework.
    • Go hiking, biking, rollerblading, kayaking, kite-flying, or camping on the weekend.   
    • Set up bird feeders in your yard. Learn their names and identify their songs.
    • Go out nightly to look at the stars. Learn the names of the constellations.
    • Watch as many sunrises & sunsets, moonrises & moonsets as you can. 

    As Muslims, our worship is guided by the natural cycles Allah put in place. The sun is our clock. It tells us when to pray. The moon is our calendar. It tells us when the new month begins. Sighting the moon is an act of worship, mash’Allah.

    Divine Reminders

    Our beautiful Qur’an teaches:“We will show them Our Signs (ayat) in the universe and in their own selves, until it becomes clear to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth.” (Fussilat 41:53)

    In this ayah, we are taught the two beautiful gateways into the sacred: the macrocosm of the universe, and the microcosm of the self. Both of these gateways open into the direct experience of Allah’s presence. 

    As Muslims, we have been invited to spend time in this dunya in the company of The One Who is Love (al-Wadud). The One Who is Strength (al-Aziz). The One Who is Peace (as-Salaam). And on & on. What could be more beneficial during this time of crisis? Alas, calling upon our Rabb by His most Beautiful Names, with urgency & sincerity, is one of the Lessons we must learn from COVID-19.  My prayer for our community is that people do not squander the opportunity to connect in a deep, meaningful, intimate way heart-to-heart with Allah because they can’t put their phone down or turn their computer off. Insha’Allah, I will address the subject of digital addiction in the second article, as it plays a huge role when it comes to mental health issues.

    Closing Du’a

    Ya Habibi Ya Allah. Please grant us oceans of fortitude and mountains of strength Ya Sabur Ya Aziz. May we be dutiful beautiful students who strive with all our might in jihad al akbar to pass this test with flying colors, to ace this exam. May we, the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), love one another like he loves us, and strengthen one another every step of the way. May we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of COVID-19, reclaiming the standard of Insan Kamil as the Index by which we measure our lives. Ya Dhal Jalali wal Ikram.

    Say “Ameen!” 

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