I wish you were there…

I Wish You Were There…

I wish you were there,

In the streets of Boston, New York, and D.C., when thousands gathered in love and compassion, in empathy and humanity, to present their bodies, to raise their voices, to show their support.

I wish you were there,

When we marched in solidarity for the weak, the poor, the dispossessed, the injured, the massacred.

I wish you were there,

To beat the drums of justice, to chant the slogans of peace, to sing the melody of resistance, to dance to the tune of love.

I wish you were there,

To show the world that a thousand hearts beating in unison, a thousand feet marching in solidarity, a thousand voices shouting together create ripples across the world, and stand more effective than bickering at the dinner table, lamenting bloody images on Facebook, and cursing at the television screen.

I wish you were there,

To show the oppressors that their tyranny will not go unnoticed, unlamented, uncriticized, and unresisted.

I wish you were there,

To confirm the rumors of history that hundreds, then thousands, and then millions of tender hearts united across the world will eventually overcome the bloodlust and racism of the stonehearted few.

I wish you were there,

To walk besides me, to hold my hand, to lessen my grief, to share my sorrow, to support my waning resolve, for I, an ant amidst lions, a drop in the ocean, a particle in sand, a leaf in a forest, one in a billion, cannot keep heart, sustain injury, grieve perpetually, shout incessantly, and walk alone for long, without you.

I wish you were there…

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EVERYDAY, MOTHER’S DAY?

Every year, the same retorts: we do not celebrate it, this Mother’s Day. For us, everyday is mother’s day. Perhaps.

They, it is said, have abandoned their parents, so they need one or two lousy days of the year to show some appreciation to their parents. It is their celebration. We do not need it. For us, everyday is mother’s day. Not ours. Perhaps. Perhaps, not.

Across the world, everyday, mothers go about their daily routine: cooking, cleaning, washing, scrubbing, pruning, ironing, folding, sewing, knitting, driving, carrying, holding, cutting, chopping, rolling, pushing, pulling, trimming, digging, yelling, screaming, teaching, preaching, listening, speaking, intervening, giving, caring, serving, bearing, forbearing, persevering, suffering, hurting, praying, cooking, cleaning, washing, scrubbing…. Everyday. Without respite.

Everyday, children go about their business. Everyday, children are served by the mother. Everyday, men go about their business, and upon returning home, are served by the mother. Men go about their business, everyday; but not each and every day. For at the end of the week arrives the weekend. On the weekend, men rest, play, joke, croak, watch, meet, yawn, nap, sleep, eat, drink, relax. For the men, the week ends. But, for the mother, no week ever ends. For on the weekend men demand more from the mother. Parties, celebrations, ceremonies, events all demand endless work. For mothers, everyday is workday.

Then, the two big days: the Eids. Even those who do not otherwise take off from work, take off from work on Eids. A great festive mood. Big celebrations. Grand ceremonies. On the Eids, the mothers double down on work. Preparations start days in advance. On the day of Eid, mothers wake up extra early. On Eid, their routine is more hectic than ever. When everyone else gets to enjoy a day of relaxation and celebration, mothers too celebrate, but do so through their work, even as all enjoy their work. Even Eid-day is not mother’s day.

On Mother’s Day, they send their mothers flowers, chocolates, cards, and other gifts. They take their mothers out to eat. In their culture at least one day is reserved just for mothers. On Mother’s Day, their mothers truly get to relax, celebrate, and be the center of attention. On Mother’s Day, their mothers get respite. They get a break. But no break for our mothers. Our mothers get no day off. No day is reserved for them to celebrate: a celebration that is not a celebration with them, or a celebration in their midst, but a day to celebrate them and them alone. A day to celebrate the mother herself. Just one day, for her and her alone.

So before you harp on the cliché, “For us, every day is mother’s day,” count the number of days your mother had off. List the days when you celebrated her and her alone.

I dream of the days when everyday will be mother’s day. Until then, let us start by reserving one day for our mothers. It need not be Mother’s Day. Let it be any day, as long as you ensure its your mother’s day: a day for her and her alone.

 

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TO HAVE A NEST

Two sidewalks, divided.

Two sidewalks, divided by a path. The path treaded by those who nest, who have nests of their own, and venture out upon the path, in search of daily sustenance, somewhere. The path leading to somewhere also leads back to the nest. Only the path that leads from the nest can lead back to the nest.

On one sidewalk, young fledglings, having grown to maturity, having earned the right to independence, tour a prospective nesting ground. They have all flown here from across the world, covering miles and miles of territory. Their own territories: where they have nested, perhaps for generations. From their own nests, far away, they have flown here in search of the knowhow that will empower them to build their own nests in the future. For most, four years of training in all; for others, six; for others still, eleven. But they all dream of their own nests. Soon, many of them will come to dwell in their new nesting ground, independent of their parents, in search of a new life, seeking new beginnings. They all have dreams of their own, and in all those dreams persists the dream to nest on their own, to own their own nests.

On the other sidewalk, another fledgling walks up and down the small sidewalk. Without parents, without dreams, without a path of his own. In his hands, a placard. Like others on the path, he too has ventured out in search of his daily sustenance. Beside him, before him, in front of him, around him, birds fly upon the path to seek sustenance. Not he. He cannot fly in search for his sustenance. They cut him off. They let him go, let him fly. This fledgling, with the placard, solicits. Before him, a wide open path, leading others somewhere, but, for him, it leads nowhere, nowhere in particular. There is nowhere to go, nowhere in particular, when there is no nest from which to go, no nest to which to return. To go, to come, to nest. Nesting: coming and going. To go somewhere, from the nest. From somewhere, to come to the nest. The nest makes the return possible. The return makes the nest possible.

The other fledglings, on the other sidewalk, have come here seeking new nests because they come from nests of their own. This fledgling, without a nest of his own, has nowhere to go, even as the path to somewhere stretches before him. They are all anchored in a nest, he is without an anchor. They are independent, free to go just where they have been told to go. Behind them, nests of their own. Ahead of them, nests of their own. Nested between nests, they are free to chase their dreams, to go somewhere in particular. But he who is truly free, absolutely free, to go and come as he pleases, wheresoever he pleases, cannot go anywhere, for there is nowhere from which to go somewhere, somewhere in particular. Only those go somewhere in particular have somewhere to go from. The other fledglings have a nest from which to venture out in the world only because they are centered in a nest to which they can always return. But the one who lack a nest to return to has no place to go, no place in particular. The one who roams the streets freely, with a placard, roams without an anchor to center his ventures. Unnested. Uncentered. Going nowhere in particular.

Two sidewalks, divided.

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I Am Slave

I Am Slave. Dir. Gabriel Range. 2010. Film.

Maybiamslavee a war, maybe a battle, maybe routine looting. A village plundered. Residents murdered. Dwellings scorched. Spoils gained. Among the most coveted spoils of war, the feminine. Communities are spoiled to secure the feminine spoils of war. The feminine flesh, mind, and soul, all turned into chattel for the masculine’s profit. This time, a small, innocent doll of a princess, spoiled. A Muslim princess, plundered by Muslim vagabonds, enslaved by a Muslim master. A feminine slave in servitude to a feminine master, both Muslims.

The young spoil is trafficked from her land to a foreign land. Her land, where pigment shades the flesh, where the people are said to be enchained in uncivilized ignorance, tradition, and religion. The foreign land, where the skin lacks pigment, and the people are said to be free, civilized, and enlightened. Ironically, the freedom of the pigmentfree calls for the enslavement of the pigmentful to maintain its freedom. Civilization, development, and progress covet the toil and sweat of the pigmentful foreigners, made foreign in foreign lands, dispossessed of their own land, stripped of their history, culture, and dignity.

It was said, long ago, by the wise, victual them with your victuals; array them in your garb. Dare we dream of, or perhaps pray for, an egalitarian ethic here? It was said, long ago, by the sage—when someone might have dreamed of an end to servitude of men to men—that the pigmentfree shall claim no privilege over the pigmentful. No privilege. None. Pigment shall not be favored over pigment.

But when the feminine enslaves the feminine, both Muslim, the lighter pigment claims privilege over the pigmentful. At the outset, the pigmented slave is assigned duty. A single duty of the slave: “Clean….” A slave’s existence defined by cleaning up after the filth produced by the wealthy masters, who fail to and cannot clean up after themselves, whose worth of a slave is to waste her life in cleaning up the master’s waste.

But one must not suppose all cruelty here, for even in the heart of the master there flickers a flame of generosity: “I made you a little house in the courtyard.” There, “in the courtyard.” Not here, with us, where you do not belong, and the here that does not belong to you. But, there, away from us, where the slave never belonged, and the there that even now does not belong to the slave.  There, “in the courtyard,” unfit for the master’s dog, is the slave’s “little house.” The master makes the slave’s house, but makes it, not by building it, not by investing in it, rather, by confining the slave’s solitude “in the courtyard,” outside the boundaries of the master’s palace, but still within the master’s domain. The slave is always within the domain of the master, obsessed with extending his domination over the domain of others, and, in the process, turning others into his domain. “A little house in the courtyard:” discarded bottles, a filthy pillow, rags turned into sheets, unpainted rusty floor, and darkness. The sole dwelling of a soul stripped of all dignity, all humanity, all freedom. The total worth of the slave in the master’s domain: “a little house in the courtyard.”

For this generosity, the master demands gratitude. “Say, thank you,” the master instructs. The slave obliges, faintly: “Thank you.” The master instructs the proper etiquette of gratitude: “Thank you master.” The slave obliges, reluctantly, helplessly: “Thank you master.” The farce of history: the master demanding deserving gratitude for enslavement.

The proper etiquettes of master-slave relation are lost on the master’s daughter, not yet schooled in the ways of mastery, yet untaught into the ways of racism. The young slave is invited to play by her potential master. Play: the domain of freedom, the lack of rules, the freedom obtained by freeing the individual from rules, obligations, routine, drudge, and monotony. In a moment of play a momentary joy bursts into the young slave’s heart. The slave plays hand-in-hand with the future master, both children, both Muslim, both joyous, both free, each from the other’s servitude, from etiquettes of lordship and slavery.

Play, freedom, joy. Play is equality. Only equals play together, hand-in-hand. Equality is freedom. Equals are free to play with each other. Equals play in freedom. Free play brings true joy of freedom. But the freedom of the young does not last long. Schooling must take place. The free must be schooled, by the master, in the ethic of servitude, obedience, compliance, efficiency, or what is the same, professional (pre)occupation.

“Get away from my daughter! You touched my daughter! How dare you touch my daughter!” The pure soul, painted in pigment, must be kept at a safe distance from the issue of the dark soul, painted fair. The pigmentful’s silhouette itself must be kept from the issue of the fairer flesh, lest the pigment spoil the purity of the fairer issue. A slave must not defile the purity of a potential master by the touch of her pigment. The slave’s touch can prove lethal for a potential master. For under the slave’s pigment beats the drum of freedom, an obsession for equality, and a penchant for equity. Above all, the slave’s touch can cast the spell of dignified humanity and the curse of human equality upon the potential master. The potential master must not be spoiled by such evils. The potential master must be kept from all association with the slaves. The slave must be schooled in the curriculum of lordship and slavery, but not by the pen, rather, by the whips of a garden hose. Lashed and wounded, the young slave is left to wash her own wounds, in her solitude, with gratitude of course, in the “little house in the courtyard.”

Then, another lesson. The possibility of freedom is offered to the slave. “If this is the way you behave, then go!…. Disrespectful child. You’re free. Go!” The slave is shoved onto the open street, free to be free. Yet, she returns back to her master, to servitude. Without protection, without friends, without family, without her kingdom, without her land, and without opportunity, the slave returns to her servitude. Lordship is maintained by depleting all options leading to freedom. Absent opportunity, absent community, absent friendship, not only the slave returns to her slavery, but even the free are forced into slavery. The master thus schools the slave.

All slavery requires schooling, both of the master and of the slave. The master must be taught to claim and usurp lordship as his birthright. The slave must be taught to count his blessings and be grateful for his enslavement, and for the generosity visited upon him by the master in return for “a little house in the courtyard.” The master schools the slave: “You’re helpless without me. Without me, you don’t exist.” The ultimate schooling of all servility, of all mastery, of all oppression. The slave must be taught to rest all her hopes in the master. Without the master, the slave is nothing. Nothing. Not free, not independent, not an individual, not human. In the hands of the master, the slave is reduced to a no-thing of use, owned, exploited, lashed, wounded, and discarded into the blessings of the “little house in the courtyard.”

But, sometimes, there is an end. There comes a time in the reign of lordship when the slave can no longer tolerate her slavery. The flame of freedom and the penchant for independence kindling in the heart of the slave must eventually reach an intensity that defies all strictures and boundaries of servitude. When the slave finds friends in the foreign land, when the slave learns to defy the security apparatus guarding the master’s domain, the slave gains her freedom. If the audacity of hope for freedom is the first, and survival the second, step toward freedom from enslavement, the  last step is the slave’s courage to proclaim before the master, “No more!” With that proclamation the slave runs to her freedom.

No more!

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Why These Tears?

Death is received in tears. It tears open some misty reserve deep within our souls. Eyes gush. Saltwater drips.

Everyday news feeds convey an orgy of death around the world: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, Philippines, Drones, mass murders, hate crimes; the list is endless. But often, no tears. My eyes often do not tear even as my heart is torn over the carnage of blood and images of maimed bodies from across the globe. But this time, tears. Why these tears? Why now?

Faces mark the difference. Children are killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a result of our war, but their faces often do not flash before me. The victims of our senseless wars are often faceless, nameless, and without personal stories. I do not know who they are. I do not know what stories they left behind. They appear before me simply as numbers. Some numbers die in drone attacks. Some numbers are killed during night raids. Some numbers are killed in suicide bombings. Without a face facing me, I don’t tear. But this time, faces.

Twenty-six faces in all. Among them, twenty small innocent flowers, the precious adornments of their gardens. Their faces are etched in our minds. Their sweet fragrances are now permanent in the memory of those whom they had perfumed with their smiles, enlivened with their antiques, and amused with their tricks. We know their names. We know their stories, the words they uttered, and the games they played. Even the guardians they left behind have faces, teary, saddened, forlorn faces. Human, all too human, these faces, these stories, these images of lost flowers. This time, tears.

There are gardens in Afghanistan and Pakistan too. They too have been made barren. Their flowers too have been plucked forever. Their guardians too mourn them. Their mothers too tear up. They will also remain in someone’s memory. They too have set ablaze an eternal nostalgia in some hearts. But, they lack faces. Their images are not etched in my memory. The stories of their grief do not reach me. They are just numbers. I feel sympathy for their numbers. I agonize over their plight. But I do not tear.

Faces. Sweet little flowers. That’s why the President’s eyes teared. He must have imagined the flowers adorning his own garden. The news from the war front does not bring him flowery faces, just numbers. Growing numbers on a war counter is cause for celebration. Growing faces on a death counter could be cause for tears, grounds for ending the war. Better keep the victims of our war massacres faceless. Without faces, there shall be no cause for tears, no cause for calls to end the wars of terror.

Until the world is awash with the faces of the victims of our meaningless wars; until we see the charred flesh, twisted limbs, hollowed bodies; until we hear their names, and their stories, there shall be no tears for them.

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The Audacity of the Feminine

Long ago, in the streets of seventh century desert city, he was a figure of terror. He, the masculine, struck terror in others. (Isn’t terror always embodied in the masculine? Is not all terror truly masculine?) His imposing physique, his invincible strength, and the abrasive demeanor of his overblown masculinity struck fear in whoever came in contact with him, especially those who challenged him. Paths cleared before him as the terror walked the streets.

In the seventh century, the desert city was destined to change forever. It came to pass that the city was inundated with a call—perhaps something deep within the destiny of the desert yearned for a spring. The inundation appeared in the form of a command, a command that would become the commandment of a civilization.

READ! READ! READ!
 
READ! In the name of the Sustainer Who created,
Created humanity from a clot of blood.
READ! For thy Sustainer is Most Noble.
Who taught by the PEN,
Taught humanity what it did not know. 

 

An illiterate city, the city in the desert which had deserted literacy, the city which forgot to read, or never learned to read, was now inundated with the demand to read, to become literate, to overcome ignorance. The barren desert yearned to be inundated with knowledge. The barren womb of the desert begged to be impregnated with the seeds of learning. A barren womb. Unable to beget, unable to produce, unable to bring forth life. The desert: the barren womb of ignorance, unfit to produce learning. The desert produces nothing, but the womb that is ignorance is marred in a paradox: the barren womb of ignorance does produce. It breeds ignorance, and multiplies it. Ignorance is self-replicating. If ignorance is to be contained, if it is to be eradicated, if there is to be learning, then the desert must be made fertile, it must be irrigated with life. Thus arose the call.

The Sustainer created the clot of blood, and then wrote its destiny, with the PEN. The destiny was one of nobility, and the path to humanity’s nobility was one of literacy. The clot of blood was destined to read and to write. Reading would commence its history. Writing would mark its history. Reading and writing. Twin siblings on the path to humanity’s nobility, the ultimate destination of which lies in conquering the obstacle that is ignorance.

                READ! READ! READ in the name of the Infinite One.

 

The desert city began to resound with the call to read in the name of the Infinite One. The reigning deities in the local pantheon were pronounced unworthy of veneration. Incapable of teaching, incapable of learning, bereft of knowledge, the deities of the illiterate could be nothing but false idols, and could create nothing but the idolatry of ignorance. Against this idolatry, there arose the call to read.

His deities, the masculine’s deities, so many of them—the top three ironically feminine figures—were rejected. His faith was rejected. His faith was being challenged. He was being challenged. His masculinity was being challenged. He and his overblown masculinity, enchanted with idolatrous ignorance, would have none of this. With a naked sword in his hand, he set out to end all calls to read. But on his way to murder literacy, he stumbled upon the audacity of the feminine. He came to know that his own sister had answered the call. The feminine answered the call to read before the masculine. Whether in the house of Imran, the palace of Pharaoh, or the dwelling of the one who received the final call to read, the feminine overtakes the masculine in answering the call.

The audacity of the feminine! They who, in the desert city, were bought and sold by the masculine as chattel; who depended on the masculine for their food, clothing, and shelter; who were inherited by their sons as concubines, who were buried alive in infancy so the masculine could bury his shame—the shame which was all his and no one else’s—now dared to rebel against the whole order, the masculine order, by learning to read. The whole edifice of this idolatry of ignorance would be overturned if the feminine learned to read. Learning was reputed to break the idols of ignorance, to refuse the veneration of false deities, and, above all, to challenge the terror of the masculine. Buried deep in the subconscious of the masculine’s rage against the feminine’s literacy there lurks the fear of the learned feminine. With learning comes independence—of mind, of heart, of opinion. With knowledge comes autonomy. With learning comes the Sustainer’s nobility. An independent, free, self-reliant, learned feminine is what the masculine fears.

He resolved to rid the desert city of the feminine’s audacity. The wrath against the call to read, now turned against the audacity of the feminine.

He came upon the sister’s house. She, along with her husband and a teacher, was engrossed in reading, in the name of the Infinite One. Upon his demand to enter the house, the three occupants were overcome with fear. Terror was upon them. What were they to do in the face of this terror?  How could they withstand this terror? Who dare face the terror of the ultimate masculine in the city? Hiding away the reading parchments and the teacher, they collected themselves to face the terror.

As the door was opened, the raging terror of ignorance barged in. A quarrel ensued. The terror demanded that the relatives give up reading in the name of the Infinite One. They refused. Reading was life. Ignorance was death. To give up reading was to give up life. In his rage, the terror fell upon his brother-in-law. The sister saw her husband in the throes of terror—the terror of the masculine—and despite her fragility—the courage of the feminine, always despite her fragility—came to her husband’s aid. The feminine stood up to the masculine, her own brother, filled with rage. The feminine, despite her fragility, faced the terror of the ignorant masculine. The brother—her own, her guardian, her keeper—struck his sister—fragile and vulnerable. The feminine forever remains vulnerable to the masculine’s strike. Struck, she fell to the ground, bleeding.

An eternal drama repeated yet again. The raging masculine. The bleeding feminine. The masculine raging against the feminine, who dared to read. The feminine wounded for the crime of reading. In the desert city, there ensued the bloody confrontation between the ignorant masculine and the literate feminine. The desire of the masculine to keep the feminine ignorant. The longing of the feminine to eradicate her ignorance. The wish of the masculine to keep the feminine deaf, dumb, and blind, thereby, dependent on him. The yearning of the feminine to break the bondage of dependence, to read and write, to attain eloquence, to speak, to speak on her own behalf, to speak for herself, to become independent, to realize her nobility. Long ago, in the seventh century, in the desert city, the feminine overcame the masculine.

The sister’s blood cooled the brother’s rage. (Must it always take the blood of the feminine to cool the masculine’s rage?) He asked them to read to him what they were reading. The wisdom of the feminine intervened: “You must wash yourself,” she addressed her brother, “ for you are impure.” The fragile feminine: wounded, bleeding, but pure. The masculine: raging, bullying, terrorizing—impure. Rage and ignorance of overblown masculinity, arising out of the fear of the learned feminine, must be washed away from the masculine. Only then can the masculine reach the purity requisite to read, to attain knowledge, to become learned, to attain nobility. The washing further cooled the brother’s rage. He was purified, washed of his ignorance, of his overblown masculinity. In the name of the Infinite One, they read to him. The nobility of the reading struck him, jolted him, overwhelmed him. Struck by the nobility of the reading, he succumbed. The reading cleansed him, purified him of his ignorance. He submitted before the Infinite One.

In the seventh century desert city, the audacity of the feminine overcame the masculine rage of ignorance.

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#OccupyWallStreet: A Case for Muslim Participation

Religion in its modern (mis)representation primarily evokes the spiritual, and, if granted a further role, is permitted the moral as its highest calling. That religion, in the first instance, attends to the needs of the spirit, and offers spiritual solace to the distressed soul is not to be denied. In its Muslim guise, however, the spiritual within necessarily seeks expression without, and, for this reason, appropriates the social as its testing ground. Once tranquil in her spiritual solace, the spiritual in Islam challenges the individual to risk losing her individual solace for the sake of securing social solace for others. The Qur’anic imperative of social justice challenges the self to the service of the other:

And what befalls you that you do not fight, in God’s way, for the cause of the weak—(among them) men, women, and children…?(Qur’an 4:75).

In the Islamic perspective, the spiritual is either a risky struggle, or it is nothing. This risky adventure in the social arena, however, does not portend the loss of spirituality. Rather, as social engagement is the very call of the spirit, in it the spirit finds its ultimate fulfillment. Social engagement, in Islam, is spiritually profitable. To respond to the call for social justice is being just to the spirit’s call.

The Muslim has been called. From the most affluent island on the planet, from the vicinity of the Street enclosed in the most impenetrable wall of economic complexity, a call has been raised. Even as the Muslims raised the call in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, so the Muslim has been called in America from the town, down in the vicinity of the walled Street. A call from the distressed ninety-nine percent to the ninety-nine percent.

This call, while raised by the ninety-nine, is truly the call of the Infinite. The Infinite, yet again, seems poised to disrupt, dismantle, and deconstruct the order of the one percent, who have dismantled and disrupted the democracy of the ninety-nine percent for the sake of in/finite profits. The maddening desire for in/finite profits has always turned the one percent into the prophets of doom:

“And when We will to destroy a town, We let loose its opulent, thereby they cause destruction therein” (Qur’an 17:16).

Large-scale socio-political destruction cannot be caused by the weak and the helpless. That privilege is reserved for the elite, the opulent. So it has come to pass that the current US economy has been brought to a near doom, yet again. Only this time around, the economic doom might just lead to the doom of the prevailing order. The discontents of this order have now given way to a new spirit.

The new spirit is young, restless, desperate, and determined. This new spirit is in search of new horizons. New horizons may emerge with the dawn of a new order, which will not take orders from the one-percent protagonists of the New World Order. A new order is already in the making under the epithet of the Arab Spring, the consequence of millions of Muslims responding to the call of the Arab ninety-nine percent. Now a similar call is raised in America by the American ninety-nine percent. The Muslim has thus been called for social justice to end all forms of injustices perpetrated upon the ninety-nine percent. Although raised by those who have suffered enough, and have resolved to suffer no more, but to fight in order to bring down all walls of suffering, this call is truly the call of the spirit seeking its fulfillment. Through the spirit, the Infinite beckons the Muslim to respond:

O people of faith! Be steadfast, for God, as witnesses to justice, and let not (even) your enmity toward a people swerve you from justice. Be just! That is closer to (attaining higher) God-consciousness, and be (ever so) mindful of God. For God is well-acquainted with what you do. (Qur’an 5:8).

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