2021 June 13 – HL – male age 15 – “Week #2”

This was the second class we had after our collective leave of absence from the program due to the unfortunate nature of the Coronavirus. After our previous class (the trip to the cemetery in Fredericksburg) we took a week off simply due to the fact that it was Memorial Day Weekend and most families were going to be busy or out of town. After our previous class, my only GISLA homework was to write an essay on what I learned during the previous class and to elaborate on it to the best of my abilities. I did in fact complete my homework correctly and on time.

I arrived at class yesterday at around 8:50 AM. As I exited the car, Teacherji got my attention from the balcony on the top floor of the mosque and spoke rather enthusiastically of my report card which I had sent to him the previous evening. “You got 7 A’s? I’m very impressed, good work.” He said something else as well but I, unfortunately, cannot remember. Nevertheless, I was glad to see that he was happy with my grades. From an outsider’s perspective, GISLA may seem like a typical Islamic education Sunday program, but it is much more than that. You see, more than anything, GISLA is a leadership program, where members are taught to work for the highest honors achievable, throughout all aspects of life. Despite this, it is still a place where Islamic education is encouraged and taught in a moderate manner which is based more on the authentic Islamic texts (Qur’an, Hadith, etc.), rather than the opinion of a ‘scholar’ who may or may not use the faith to push their own agenda.

When I walked inside the classroom, I immediately started my morning meditation as this is what we always do in the mornings. We meditate every class because it allows for a time where we can focus solely on our presence in front of God, without any of the worldly distractions in our way. After about five or so minutes of meditating, Teacherji stopped me because a new student (S) had walked in.

Teacherji had me introduce myself to S. Every time there is someone new in the classroom, he has us introduce ourselves to them (and vise versa) as starting a conversation with people whom you are not comfortable with yet is a skill everyone will need in their life. During my introduction, I messed up a bit and couldn’t manage to keep the conversation going for an adequate amount of time. Teacherji decided to call me out on this, as he so graciously does. “What’s the matter with you Hamza you used to be so good at this now you can barely talk for a minute without pausing.” The main thing I learned from that exercise that day, however, was the fact that one shouldn’t “share their underwear size” when introducing themselves to others. Now although that phrase may sound rather illogical to some initially, it started to make sense once I reflected on Teacherji’s words. He was telling me to give basic information about myself, stuff that the opposite party would be able to use to give a response that would keep the conversation going. Saying something such as mentioning my age, however, isn’t a good point to use in such introductions as it causes the conversation to become too one-sided and doesn’t allow for two people to converse comfortably and constructively.

After I introduced myself to S and we told each other a bit about each other, more of the class members started arriving one by one. While Teacherji worked with the new student and told her a bit about the class, I was to do some basic housekeeping and explain our morning routine to two of the other new students (J and N). J and N had come to our potlucks and field trips before, but this was their first time participating in one of our regular mosque-based sessions. I explained the meditation process to them and they meditated the GISLA-way for the first time.

Eventually, we all gathered in a circle and started our classroom lecture. Before that, however, Teacherji congratulated me on my straight A’s in front of the whole class. I understand why he did it, but I do tend to get shy in such situations so it was a bit awkward for me but humans only grow in situations of discomfort so it’s probably a good thing that he did mention it. As a ‘reward’ he ordered the class pizza. While we ate, the weekly lecture began.

Our first topic was the issue of Jinn and free will. In Islamic belief, Jinn are creatures who we can’t see (although they can see us), and just like humans, they have the free will to make whatever decisions they want. In addition, Jinn has existed long before the first humans (who were Adam and Eve, according to Abrahamic belief). The ‘big dog’ of all the Jinn was this one guy named Iblis. Iblis was so obedient to God, that he had been elevated to the rank of an Angel, as he always followed God’s command just as Angels did. The only difference is that Angels do not possess free will, so they have to listen to God. Iblis on the other hand was a Jinn, meaning that he could do whatever he wanted to, and still decided to obey God without any questions. All of Iblis’s good deeds continued until the day that God created the first human; Adam (PBUH). An important detail to note is that Adam was made of clay, whereas Iblis was made of fire. When God made Adam, he ordered all of the angels (which included Iblis) to bow down to Adam. All of the angels obliged (because they quite literally didn’t have a choice) except for Iblis, who objected to God’s command. His reasoning for his refusal to listen to God’s command was that since he was made of fire, he was too good to bow down to something that was made of clay. This was the first recorded example of arrogance in Islamic text, and Iblis was expelled from the heavens and was sent to Earth. Due to their own wrongdoings, humans were eventually expelled to Earth as well. Upon request, Iblis was given the powers (from God) to mess with the heads of mankind and persuade them into wrongdoings. Teacherji went on to explain that when negativity (or negative thoughts) hits you, this is the work of Satan. By design, Satan was created to distract us from all acts of worship (prayer, dhikr, etc.).

However, there was one occasion on which Satan reminded someone to pray. Teacherji told us of a man who was very religious, always prayed on time, etc. One day, he missed Fajr, and that entire day, he was crying and begging for repentance from God. Ironically, his missing the morning prayer brought him closer to God for that day. The next day, he was awoken by a mysterious force who reminded him to pray Fajr. When he woke up, he was confused because there was nobody there. It was Satan who had woken him up. He did this because he believed that if the man woke up on time, he wouldn’t be thinking about God and praying extra throughout the rest of the day.

After this, we redid the introductions except in front of the entire class (I had done my introduction earlier but only in front of one person). My introduction was nothing special, I did a bit better this time but Teacherji said it needed some work and reminded me not to be “sharing my underwear size.” The rest of the members did their introductions as well.

At this point, the class was coming to an end so we went over a few concepts. The first concept we went over was CCA (common sense accountable). As a preface to my explanation of this concept, I must say that yes, it is illogical for the concept to be named CCA rather than CSA as ‘sense’ begins with an ‘s’ rather than a ‘c.’ Nevertheless, Teacherji said CCA sounds better as CSA may cause confusion with certain government-funded surveillance organizations. Essentially, CCA basically means that whenever we hear a certain hadith or piece of Islamic writing, we should use common sense as there, unfortunately, have been many hadiths (and even verses of the Qur’an) which people have misinterpreted (whether purposely or not) to push their own agendas. At the end of the day, we are all accountable for our own actions. Another concept which mixes in with this one is QHA, which stands for Quran Hadith Accountable, and the same logic of using your brain to determine if something makes sense applies here.

The last concept we went over was the concept of the tree trunk. Essentially, all religions can be explained through a tree. At the base of the tree is the trunk, which represents a core belief in a higher power of some sort. This belief branches out into many different religions and all of the respective religions’ followers coexist today on one Earth.

For this week, my homework is to read and reflect on the meanings of Surah Al-Falaq and Surah An-Nas. In addition, I will remember the words from the salat page which I forgot and will turn in this essay.

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