2021 September 20 – HL – male age 16 – class notes
This week in the Green Stairs Leadership Academy, my homework was to write a 1,000-word essay on what I learned last class and review Ayat al-Qursi in Arabic and English. I did both parts of my homework, only I didn’t test out my Ayat al-Qursi, and my essay wasn’t that great (although it was passing). In private, Teacherji told me my essay looked like it had been rushed and it wasn’t my best work. To be honest, he was definitely right; that was one of the worst essays I’ve written since the Covid pandemic started.
Teacherji picked me up from my home at 7:20 AM and when we arrived at the location of the classroom, there was a new person there; adult-member M. Whilst giving him a rundown of the program, something interesting happened. I used the word God when explaining something and M stopped me. He told me I should always use the word “Allah” when referring to God because this is the intended word for Muslims. Teacherji stopped him and explained to him why we at Green Stairs, don’t use the word Allah when speaking to one another in English. When we use the word Allah whilst speaking English, it causes outsiders of Islam to believe that “Allah” is a different entity than “God,” when in reality, they are both the same. Although yes, the point may be brought up that there is no 100% accurate definition of a word in the English language that equates to the word “Allah” simply because its meaning is so powerful, in my opinion, “God” is a worthy substitute simply because it is as close as one gets to the word Allah. I agree with the Green Stairs perspective with regards to this issue. In fact, I have conversed with non-Muslims numerous times over the years regarding this issue, and many a time, they express the fact that they believed that Allah was a completely different deity than the God that Christians and Jews believed in, when in reality they’re all the same (besides the fact that Muslims do not associate Jesus and God as son and father respectively).
After a few more members showed up, we did our meditation routine. Although the meditation cycle we perform may seem tedious to some, it actually holds a lot of value. Throughout the week, most of us get so caught up with our worldly matter that even if we do pray regularly, we aren’t actually connecting with God on a regular basis simply because a good portion of the prayers we perform are just mantras being regurgitated.
After the entire class showed up, we started our lecture. Our first concept was a review of common sense. Essentially, all it takes to be a good Muslim is the Shahadah and common sense. If you take every Islamic law and test it under the guise of “common sense,” you’ll see that it checks out. For example, cheating, stealing, lying, etc. In my opinion, this might be one of the most important Green Stairs concepts simply because of how often common sense is ignored in the Muslim community. I know people in my life who pray regularly, give zakat, etcetera but will still lie, cheat, and steal. Where’s the consistency??
Our next issue was Amana, which is an Arabic word that roughly translates to “trust” or “responsibilities” in English. Essentially, none of the money, worldly possessions, or gifts we have in this life are ours, they are all given to us by God in trust, we are just handling them for him, and we will be judged on how we handle what we are given. For example, let’s assume person A and person B both have five million dollars. Person A uses their money to go to Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) 19 times, whereas person B only goes to Hajj once or twice, but uses their remaining money to allow others the opportunity of Hajj. Person B would be rewarded more than Person A simply because they understood that they had the Islamic responsibility to give some of what they had to others. If the afterlife was a sports stadium, Person B would get courtside seats, whereas Person A would still make it in the stadium, but might end up sitting in the nosebleeds or somewhere in the midsection.
Another aspect of Amana is being grateful for what God gave you. I know that I was given many gifts from God, and the greatest of which would be my brain which allows me to work and earn money, which in turn could be used to help many people. There are thousands of children in hospitals across the world who don’t even have working limbs, and for most of us when we set foot in the hospital and witness how others are living life sure, we might feel bad and express empathy to some degree, but as soon as we leave that hospital, we will go back to our old selfish ways and complain about how “hard” we have it.
The next example Teacherji used was of a successful neurosurgeon who spent his entire youth studying hard, works fourteen hours a day, and has a strong desire for material goods. He believes that since he works so hard, he deserves a BMW. When asked if material wealth is haram (Islamically forbidden), one of the students gave an interesting response. He said that it depends on the extent to which such items are purchased. I challenged him by asserting the fact that an “exorbitant amount of money” is relative, as $5K for a car may mean the world to one person, while $30K might mean nothing to another person. Teacherji then added on to his initial point; he said to assume that someone wanted to buy $100,000 BMW; assuming they had already done all their Islamically mandated charity, would it be immoral to purchase such a luxury? One of the other students gave their two cents on the issue and said that God had given that person the money in trust, and they should use it for good rather than a car.
Later on, during that class, the President of the mosque joined our class and gave his opinion on the issue. Essentially, he stated that from his perspective, it is permissible to purchase luxury items under the condition that you are doing it for your own enjoyment, rather than to show off. Teacherji asserted that there are many different points of view when it comes to this subject and that everyone’s answer varies depending on how they were raised. The basic Islamic requirement is that if God blessed you with wealth, you should share your wealth. At the end of the day, happiness will not come from material possessions, but from your connection with God.
We also went over the concept of being ostentatious in Islam. Just as we shouldn’t go around showing off our material wealth, we shouldn’t show off our piety either. Many folks are fond of walking around with a tasbeeh (prayer beads) and a kufi (hat worn in the Middle-east, Africa, and South-East Asia often associated with Islamic tradition) and this can also be seen as a method by which people show off. My takeaway from this lecture is that we should always strive to remain balanced in the way we carry ourselves.
Our next issue was context. As Muslims, we should always make decisions by first putting all Quranic commandments in the context of our current surroundings. It is important to note, however, that some people say that we are allowed to change Islamic rulings just because we are in the “modern age.” This is also wrong; we should strive to find the balance of being modern whilst ensuring we don’t alter our sacred texts.
Our next issue was the fact that we should always aim for A grades rather than B’s, and if we are planning on being B students, we should leave the Green Stairs program because we are wasting everyone’s time. Although yes, it’s true that with B’s and C’s you’ll still graduate high school, why wouldn’t you strive for all A’s, assuming you have the capabilities to do so? This logic applies to the afterlife as well. Although yes, it’d be tremendous to get into heaven altogether, wouldn’t you enjoy it more to be as close to your lord as humanly possible? The selection process for the highest level of heaven is the same as it is for Harvard; only the straight-A candidates will be considered. Old Dominion University on the other hand (lowest level of heaven) is lucky to receive 3,000 applicants a year, and for this reason, their standards of admission are quite low.
Another point the President of the mosque made was that although we often think of money as the most valuable gift we are given, in reality, the most valuable gift we have is time. His words really resonated with me because I realized that time is the one resource that cannot be bought back, and I waste a lot of it watching TV or on other similar idle actions.