2021 October 31 — MA — male age 15 — Week 8

This week at GISLA, my homework was to do my weekly essay and practice for the test. I completed my essay and practiced for the test as much as I could with the limited time I had. This week was the last week of the quarter so my entire school schedule was completely packed with projects, tests, assignments, etc. In today’s class, we discussed several topics including the class requirements, homework expectations,  the celebration of Halloween and Diwali, and some other topics from the previous weeks as well due to there being new students in the class. 

 I got to class around 9:15 this morning and this week the starting routine was slightly different. Instead of dhikr, teacher Ji told us to pray the slowest prayer that we possibly could. Then, if we had time left, we could do dhikr. The 2 cycles of prayer took me around 9 minutes which is way longer than it usually does. I noticed that I spent the most amount of time in sujud because that is where I felt most focused during the prayer. 

Afterward, we went to class and did our 3 pledges that we do at the start of every class. Then we went into testing almost immediately. First, I practiced with teacher J and then teacher Ji told me to go and practice with Student A and Student S because we are all around the same point in the course. I found that studying with them was quite beneficial because we were all able to learn from each other’s mistakes and see what we needed to fix in our recitation of the English and Arabic for each ayah of the surahs. Although I wasn’t able to test today, I did improve on my correlation of the ayahs in English and Arabic. 

Once we were done with the testing and studying portion of the class, we segued into the actual discussion/lesson. At the beginning of the lesson, Student F talked about the homework requirements for GISLA because there were 2 new students in class this week. Student F talked about the essay requirements and how they should be formatted and the word count. Teacher Ji then showed the class how long student A’s essay is and he told us that we don’t have an excuse to not write enough because student A is younger than all of us, yet he is still writing such an intricate essay. He also read an example of a bad essay and all the things that it was missing that we needed to add. He highlighted that leadership is learning from each other’s mistakes when he was talking about how we should be reading each other’s essays in the WhatsApp group chat. I had realized this a few weeks ago when I saw that my essay format differed from the format used by older students in the class. Teacher Ji also explained to the new students and the rest of us that he is using Islam as the vehicle to teach us verbal, written, and oral retention competency. He is improving our written, and oral retention skills through these essays because we have to write elaborate essays that address all the subject matters we discussed in class, and he is improving our verbal competency through the presentations, and public speaking we have to do in class. An example of this would be the presentations we did last week to the class and the speaking we have to do for the class every week, whether it be for the morning pledges or class introductions or any other subject we have to talk about. I really like this because it has benefited my presentation skills at GISLA and in school. I have also noticed that I use things I learn from my GISLA essays to improve the essays I write for English 10 Honors and vice versa. 

Next, teaching assistant H spoke about the expectations/goals of this class. He highlighted how this program isn’t like any other masjid school and how it is a leadership academy that uses Islamic themes to convey its message. He also spoke about a topic we discussed in our first week, the 9-5 and 5-9. It basically means that we, as Muslims, in the United States have a completely different personality when we are outside of our homes (9-5) and a different personality when we are at our home (5-9). Basically saying that this is not healthy for us. I can heavily relate to this because I feel like a very different person during school hours compared to when I am at home. Even when I change languages at home, I feel as if I am a completely different person. TA H also talked about the importance of knowing what we are saying in our prayer and how this class teaches us all of that. 

Teacher Ji then read one of the essays to an imaginary friend that we had written a few weeks ago. Teacher Ji said that it’s very important that we express our honest opinions about this class, whether they are bad or good. He also reassigned the imaginary friend essays so we can rewrite them in the correct format. 

After this, we discussed the importance of oral retention, which, as I said before, is one of the skills that teacher Ji wants us to improve through this course. Teacher Ji gave an example of the importance of this skill by telling us that residents have to verbally remember 40 cases every morning that they have to tell the doctor about because there isn’t enough time to take notes for it. The rest of the entire procedure depends on the oral retention skills of the resident because the doctor relies on them to know how he is supposed to treat each patient. It would be very bad if a resident had bad oral retention skills and mixed up the cases because then, the doctor would be performing the wrong procedures/surgeries on each patient. 

Once that was done, Teacher Ji did the BS joke again on the new students, which has arguably become one of the most entertaining portions of each class. He told them, “don’t take anything for face value.” Which also correlated with the concept of context. Meaning, why would he be teaching students about BS in an Islamic school. It’s obviously because we are supposed to use our context clues and realize that BS (belief and sincerity) means something else in this class. This also correlates with common sense. 

Teacher Ji also told Student A, Student S, and I that we need to be ready to discuss all the links that he sends into the GISLA WhatsApp group. I’m ok with this because a lot of those links are pretty interesting. This week’s links were about the celebration of Halloween and Diwali as Muslims. 

Teacher Ji was explaining the object of the course a little more and he said that “we teach you the mechanics of existence and how to unlock your soul” and how if we appreciate the prayer, we’ll never miss it. He also said that his goal is to make us appreciate the hidden secrets of Islam. Over the course of these past few weeks, I have noticed how they are teaching us this, because this class has given me a newfound appreciation for prayer now that I understand what I am saying during the prayer. He also went over the concept of goats and sheep again and how goats don’t allow themselves to be killed easily but sheep do. We all need to learn to be goats and not sheep. Teacher Ji also said that we are all sheep when we join this program. Which he isn’t really wrong about. 

We segued into our next and biggest conversation of the class when teacher Ji asked why he keeps candy outside his house for Halloween. One of the reasons he gave us is, that it would create a bias in the children’s heads against Muslim/POC if every time they knocked on their door, they’d get denied candy. He asked us why we don’t celebrate Halloween and instinctually, everyone replied with “it’s haram.”  Teacher Ji replied with the fact that logically, pizza is haram too because they use the same knife to cut pepperoni and cheese pizza, yet we still eat it. Our level of Islam isn’t high enough for us to be worried about how the pizza is cut. Even though it should be, it isn’t. Teacher Ji’s main point was that we shouldn’t be hypocritical by doing non-Islamic things while also criticizing someone for celebrating Halloween or giving out candy. We shouldn’t be chasing perfection so young in our life. I feel that this is especially true in a generation where everyone’s life is broadcast through social media. It is so common to see people judging others in comment sections while they also do things just as bad. An example of this, that I see very often is when Muslim guys actively go into Muslim girls’ comments just to criticize the way they are wearing their hijab even though those same Muslim guys are unaware of the fact that in Islam, men also have a hijab. Teacher Ji said that we are not living in a Muslim country where all our values are understood, referring to the fact that our neighbors don’t understand our reasoning for telling their children to go away when they ask for candy. Teacher Ji also said that if you do everything at a purist level, then it is ok to not celebrate Halloween because that eliminates the aspect of hypocrisy. 

After this, we spoke about Diwali in the same context as Halloween. Teacher Ji explained how Hindus participate in the celebration of Eid with Muslims just as Muslims participate in the celebrations of Diwali with them. The main point was that we can celebrate the festivity without having to jeopardize our beliefs. In the large scheme of things, while living in the US, we have to rethink our situation. If we reject everything in the US then we will have a hard time here. This doesn’t mean forsaking our beliefs but understanding that not everything is so black and white. Also highlighting the fact that it is ok to reject those things if you hold every aspect of your life to such a high/purist standard. 

Teacher Ji started talking about how Mormons are good at everything they do but they don’t share anything about themselves with anyone. Teacher Ji gave us a bit of context by telling us that the Christians dislike the Mormons and the Mormans have taken advantage of their situation and have become the bosses of the Christians to overcome their prejudice. Teacher Ji used teacher J as an example to show us that the way to solve prejudice isn’t by complaining; it’s by creating people who get promoted to positions of power and can bypass that prejudice. 

After this TA J talked to us about our essays and how we could improve our essays through spell checks, correct paragraphs, etc. Teacher Ji also talked about the importance of writing skills in our future and how it could benefit us due to the number of jobs available to people who have a mastery of this subject. The Importance of this skill is quite evident with all the jobs and fields that directly rely upon someone else’s ability to write well.

After this, we got back to our testing and studying portion of the class. During this period of time, we also had lunch and Teacher S talked about “Not taking shortcuts in life.” He told us about people who had done things the hard way their entire life and when they were successful, they resorted to doing things the easy way and that led to their downfall. I think I have been taught this concept from an early age by my parents and that has somewhat led to me being obsessed with not taking the easy route even when it is available. It doesn’t seem as significant now, but I trust that this quality will benefit me in the future.

Once we had gathered as a class again, teacher ji asked us why the Quran tells us to not eat pork in one ayah but tells us to eat it in another ayah. In the end, it all boils down to context. He explained this by giving an example of a Muslim man who was in jail with Nelson Mandela and the only thing he was given to eat was pork. He resisted for a few days but then he had to eat it. Due to this being a life or death situation, it was permissible to eat the pork. Common sense tells us that if we’re dying, we’ll do whatever it takes to survive. This also tied in with our conversation about not judging others’ choices and labeling them as kaffir if we are unaware of their situations. Teacher Ji said that everything isn’t so black and white, and we shouldn’t throw around the word “haram” so easily because it carries a lot of weight. We need to think for ourselves and weigh a situation instead of just following what others say all the time. He also applied this to himself and said that we should also process the things he tells us and make decisions for ourselves because he is human as well and that means he isn’t perfect. I think that really applies to this course because a lot of the things we learn are left to self-interpretation based on each person’s own goals and background. 

From this point on, people in class discussed these topics amongst themselves and had debates about each topic based on their own beliefs. We also revisited some topics from our previous classes, mostly because there were new students who weren’t aware of these topics. I really enjoyed hearing the debates between people because each side brought up valid points from their perspective and it was basically impossible to choose a side because of how subjective the topics of debate were. 

Once class was over, I prayed zuhr with student K and he also gave me a ride home afterward. I already had great conversations with student K before because we both had a similar interest in engineering but I also learned that we had some more things in common during our drive home. I noticed that all the text on his phone was in Japanese, so I asked him if he spoke Japanese and he said that he was learning to speak Japanese. I found this really interesting because I have wanted to go to Japan for over a year now and I am really intrigued by their country. He also told me that he had visited Japan during his years in college and this led to us having an extended conversation about Japanese culture and differences between the US and Japan until we got to my house. I’m glad I got to ride home with Student K because the conversation was really fun and insightful to have.

For this week, my homework is to write the essay which I am currently writing, Improve my imaginary friend essay, and prepare more for the test.

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