2021 June 20 – HL – male age 15 – “Week #3”
My homework for this week in the Green Stairs Leadership Academy was to write a thousand-word essay on what I learned during the duration of the previous class, as well as to write a letter to my father as this week’s class took place on Father’s Day. I completed my homework adequately. The instructor picked me up from my house around 8:30 AM on Sunday morning as I didn’t have a ride.
On the way to class, he had me read my Father’s Day essay to him. After I read it out loud, the instructor gave me some constructive criticism on my writing. He told me that although I did mention some of the things my dad did for me throughout my life and the fact that I appreciated them, my letter lacked genuine. He didn’t beat me up too much about it, however, as he said that this is a problem that boys often have. He went on to use his kids as an example. He said that although his son would have trouble expressing his feelings (just as he said that I did) his daughters spoke more openly, especially with regards to telling their father about what bothered them. I know that the time I have with my loved ones is limited, and I hope I am able to develop my skills.
When we arrived, I set my things down and vacuumed the classroom as we hadn’t done so in quite some time and the carpet was very dirty. After I finished vacuuming, I started my meditation routine. Not long after, the first student arrived. This student was new to the class (although this was her second week, she didn’t participate in the meditation routine prior to this day) so I explained how we sit on the carpet and recite “La Ilaha Il-lalah” in our heads.” After that, I explained to her why we meditate, as knowing why one does something makes it easier for one to accomplish a task efficiently and effectively. We meditate every Sunday morning during the beginning of class because it allows us to forget about the world for just a few minutes, and focus on our presence in front of God. Although yes, ideally one would do this every single day, it simply isn’t realistic for people to be spiritually secluded seven days a week, so we make sure we are doing it at least once a week (albeit for a short amount of time) as it is much better than not doing it at all.
After most of the students had already arrived, we moved forward to the testing out portion of the class. The instructor assigned me to one of the newer students and told me to help her out with her memorization. We went to the other room and I helped her. Her assignment was to memorize some of the small stuff from the Salat (most of the position-changing words) and all of Surah Fatihah all in English. In just 30 odd minutes she had memorized most of what she had been assigned. When she tested out with the instructor, she had passed. I then went on to work with some of the other students and tested out Ayat al-qursi (The Verse of the Throne) myself. I passed the Arabic portion, and I will continue to practice the English portion throughout the week and will test out next Sunday.
After testing, we started the more open discussion “lecture” portion of the class. The first thing we did was share the letters we all wrote to our respective fathers. There were three female students, and two male students in the class, and what I noticed was that the letters of the female students were genuinely more intimate and sentimental than those of the male students. Upon further thought, I was really the only male student who wrote a letter to my father, as the other male in the class didn’t do the assignment at home. Instead, he gave a speech on what he would have written if he had the time to do the assignment, so this may excuse any lack of emotion in his speech (although I must say he was pretty damn good, honestly everyone else’s essays put mine to shame). Without going too deep into personal details, the instructor brought up the point that my dad is more of an ‘out of town dad since he works far away and is usually home on weekends when possible. For a brief period, we talked about my family, as he said that I was having the most trouble putting authentic sentiment into my letter. He told us all that we shouldn’t wait until after our parents die to express our sentiments to them, he said that this was the mistake that he made, and he doesn’t want us to do the same.
Since I’m the only teenager in the group, he used me as an example for his next point (although the following point definitely applies to me and he knew it as well). He said that my parents go too hard on me and at my age (mid-teenage years) they should start ‘loosening the screws’ as this will allow me to grow as a person. Now before I continue, I must say that I am aware that my parents do read my essays, and out of fear of incriminating myself, I will be very careful with what I do and don’t mention. As a result of this, for this particular segment of my essay, I will unfortunately not be able to express my truth to the utmost extent. The instructor mentioned that at his age, his parents did the same; they were very hard on him and he used to go behind their backs and do whatever he wanted. MAMA BABA IF YOU ARE READING THIS I HAVE NEVER COMMITTED SUCH ATROCITIES. Again, without incriminating myself, I may or may not do the same, but hey, I guess we’ll never know. He went on to say that at my younger brother’s age (prepubescent) the screws should be all the way tight, and at my older brother’s age (young adulthood) they should be off. Quite frankly, the metaphorical screws are way tighter on my younger brother than they were on me and sometimes I feel like my screws are getting tighter and tighter by the day. Not to brag, however, but I feel like I’m pretty slick so I get away with almost everything no problem.
His next point was that even if something horribly wrong occurs, the blame shouldn’t fall solely on the father because there’s no fatherhood class you can take, everyone, learns along the way. Another one of the students in the class mentioned that their relationship with their father was a bit strained, and the instructor gave them some great advice. He said that you shouldn’t just straight up blame your dad, you should explain whatever it was that he did that bothered you in a nice way so as to not negatively impact your relationship. Another small detail he mentioned relating to the topic of Father’s Day was the fact that family dinners are an aspect of western society that we should implement in our homes if we have not already done so. Personally, I cannot remember the last time my family had dinner together at home and I agree that a collective family meal, even if only once a week, is something we should strive for.
Our first GSLA concept of the day was Sbucks (which stands for sawab bucks, sawab meaning good deeds or reward). Since I am very familiar with the concept, the instructor had me explain it to the class. I explained to them that although the instructor is doing a great thing by waking up early every Sunday morning to teach people about Islam, he’s really only doing it for selfish reasons. One of the students chuckled, but the instructor went on to say “no he’s right, I am only doing it for myself.” It was clear that some of the students were a bit puzzled, so I decided to elaborate further. I explained that even though he genuinely enjoys helping people, he’s really only doing this to cash in good points with God. At this point, the students were beginning to catch on.
The next concept we went over was the idea of Surah Fatihah being the best formula to get what you want from your parents. In the first five lines, you are basically praising God, and telling him “you the man, you’re so great,” etc.
1. In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful
2. All praise be to God, Lord of the worlds
3. Most gracious, most merciful
4. Master of the day of judgment
5. To you alone we worship, to you alone we turn to for help.
In the next line, you are telling him what you want.
6. Show us the straight path
Then, you specify a bit further.
7. The path of those whom you have favored
Finally, you specify what you don’t want so God (or your parents if you use this formula for such occasions) has a better idea of what exactly you are asking for
8. Not the path of those who have deserved your anger
9. Nor the path of those who went astray
When you approach your parents with something you want, you start off by praising them or being nice. Then, you tell them you want the Nike shoes. After that, you specify that you don’t want the Pumas or the Adidas, and this will give your parents a better idea of what exactly it is that you are asking for.
One of the students had brought up the fact that in the Qur’an, God says that we should fear him, but logically, wouldn’t we love God, rather than fear him? The way the instructor explained it, was that we should “fear” God almost in the same way that we would “fear” our grandfather; out of love and admiration for him.
Our next point that we went over was the fact that the reward for good deeds is relative to what the person is already accustomed to doing. Let’s say person A prays five times a day, and hardly commits any sins, whereas person B commits many sins, and rarely prays. If person A prayed only once on a particular day and committed several sins that day, it would be very much out of character. However, if person B prayed even once that same day, and lowered their sins considerably, they would be rewarded greatly as they are striving to be better.
The instructor then went over why he doesn’t tell us to pray during class. He explained that if he told us to pray and we listened, we would really only be praying for him (out of embarrassment), and not for God, who is who we are supposed to pray for.
The next issue we went over was dating in Islam. One of the students brought up the point that their mother is very conservative, and the student is confused as to how she is expected to get married if she doesn’t get to know her potential life partner. The instructor (and some of the other students) explained that it is her mother’s job to be more old-fashioned, but it is perfectly fine to get to know someone before you decide to marry them. In fact, it is better to do so than to regret marrying the wrong person several years down the line. I’m not really at that point in my life yet where I am looking to get married, so I just sat and listened for the most part. I will keep everyone’s advice in mind though, for when the time eventually comes. I feel like it’s important for me to hear this from the right people as most people in my family have had arranged marriages, so I have no idea how the halal dating thing is supposed to go. I don’t really think the arranged marriage route is for me, so like most first-generation Muslims growing up in the west, I’ll probably make do with the halal dating route.
Our next topic was Juneteenth, which is essentially a holiday which commemorates the official end of slavery in the US. We went over the fact that many of the slaves were originally Muslim, and were converted to Christianity when they were brought here. Another point we brought up was the fact that they were sold to the western colonizers by their own people, which is an awful thing to think about.
Our last main topic was the issue of homosexuality in Islam. As it is in fact pride month, the instructor thought it was a good time to bring up the issue. Personally, I have witnessed much homophobia in the Muslim community, and I do not believe it to be acceptable whatsoever. Although yes, homosexual actions are considered to be deplorable in Islam, spreading hatred or even going as so far to physically harm someone is also a sin. Who are you to say that someone deserves to die for something they did? Who are you to decide their fate? Only God has the right to decide a person’s fate. We came to the conclusion that homosexuality is a topic that we do not discuss in Islam. What’s permitted and forbidden has been stated, and we shouldn’t shun someone for what they do in the privacy of their bedroom. Another point the instructor made was that if someone is privately in a homosexual relationship, but they pray, fast, do good deeds, etc, perhaps God will forgive them as they have done so many other good things in their life.
Finally, one of the newer students had a few questions to ask the instructor, mainly regarding heaven and hell, and if/how their sins would be forgiven. She brought up so many concepts such as intercession (others asking God to forgive your sins) and many other similar concepts of forgiveness. The instructor told her to forget about all of those, and at the fundamental level, the main thing we should all focus on is repenting for our sins, and doing good deeds to outweigh our existing sins. God truly knows best, and if we are genuine, he will forgive us if he deems worthy. The last point he brought up before we cleaned up was the fact that our main goal as Muslims on this earth is to make the world a better place.