Heightened Senses

Hello. I'm Imraan. This is the only thing I own outright; I write from time to time, in the hopes that free-association might save a trip to a sanatorium.

Tag: Islam

The Path to God

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I thought I’d share something that I found myself drawn to, this morning.

Some verses as found in one of my most-cherished possessions, a highly-recommended book entitled:

The Inner Journey: Views from the Islamic Tradition, Edited by William C. Chittick as part of the PARABOLA Anthology Series, Series Editor Ravi Ravindra; Morning Light Press (Idaho, Sandpoint: 2007), p. 206.

Imam Ali

‘The slave remains the slave’

“Universal man realises eternally in the Truth that he is nothing and yet He is Everything. But such realisation is beyond his human soul, and this is what is meant by the saying: ‘The slave remains the slave.’ The slave cannot become God, since he is either the slave, as in appearance, or nothing at all, as in Reality. Universal man cannot make his human soul divine; like the souls of all other men, but with an outstanding difference of quality, it implies the illusion of an existence apart from God. It differs from them not in kind, but in what might almost be called an organic consciousness that this separate existence is in Truth no more than an illusion. There is a saying that ‘Muhammad is a man, yet not as other men, but like a jewel among stones.’ Albeit the souls remains the soul just as night remains night, or else it vanishes and there is day. But though the soul of Universal Man cannot itself attain to the direct knowledge of the Truth of Certainty, yet unlike other souls it is touched in its centre by a ray of light proceeding from the sun of the Spirit of the Truth; for this perfect soul, represented in Islam by the soul of the Prophet, is none other than the Night of Power (lailatu ‘l-qadr), into which descend the Angels and the Spirit; and the Heart, that is, the point of this spiritual ray’s contact, is as a full moon in the unclouded night of the perfect soul making it better than a thousand months of other nights, that is peerless among all other souls. …

“Universal man with his two natures if figures in the Seal of Solomon, of which the upper and lower triangles represent respectively the Divine and the human nature. In virtue of this duality he is the mediator between Heaven and earth, and it is owing to this function that he is sometimes referred to as ‘the isthmus’ (al-barzakh) as in the Chapter of the Distinct Revelation:

And He it is Who hath let loose the two seas, one sweet and fresh, the other salt and bitter, and hath set between them as isthmus, an impassable barrier.    Qur’an, XXV:53

“In His Heart alone does the sweet sea of the next world meet the salt sea of this; and by reason of this meeting his human nature itself is the noblest and best of all earthly things as is affirmed in the Chapter of the Fig:

Verily We created man in the fairest rectitude. Qur’an, XCV:4

“The nearness of Heaven, by reason of his presence, even causes sometimes the laws of earth to cease perceptibly, just as the moon grows pale at the approach of the day; and it is at such moments that a miracle may take place, such as the changing of water into wine, or the step which leaves a print upon the rock and none upon the sand. As in the Seal of Solomon, his central function as mediator is also figured in the Cross, which is another symbols of Universal Man in that the horizontal line represents the fullness of his earthly nature, whereas the vertical line represents his heavenly exaltation; and yet another of his symbols is the Crescent, for like a cup it indicates his function of receiving Divine Grace, and at the same time, like the horns of the bull, it indicates his majesty, his function of administering this Grace throughout the whole Universe.
Blessed is He Who hath made the distinct revelation unto His servant, that he might be for all the worlds a warner. Qur’an XXV:1.”

Abu Bakr Siraj ad-Din, The Book of Certainty: The Sufi Doctrine of Faith, Vision and Gnosis, p 8-11

What Mastery of the Mystical Sciences…

Stillness and motion do not apply to Him. How can a thing occur in Him which He has Himself made to occur, and how can a thing revert to Him which He first created, and how can a thing appear in Him which He first brought to appearance? If it had not been so, His Self will have become subject to diversity, His Being will have become divisible (into parts) and His reality will have been prevented from being deemed eternal. If there was a front to Him then there will have been a rear also for Him. He will need completing only if shortage befell Him. IN such case, signs of the created will appear in Him and He will become a sign (leading to other objects) instead of signs leading to Him. Through the might of His abstention (from affectedness) He is far above being affected by things which effect others.

Below, I have typed up Sermon 28 from  the Peak of Eloquence, the vast repository or  collection of Sermons, sayings, letters Imam Ali  (a.s), compiled by Sharif al-Radi.

This version is published by Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, New York.

I’ve included sections from others that are utterly awe-inspiring (emphasis mine, mostly!)

Sermon 28 – About the Transient Nature of this World and the Importance of the Next World

What a truly edifying, (perhaps terrifying) words of perennial wisdom and admonition; how easy it is to forget the life that is to come; too easily do we live as if we will never die, that we’ll repent tomorrow – yet in whose mortal hand does the power exist to guarantee his tomorrow? Sharif al-Radi, the compiler of this great work,

“So now, surely this world has turned its back and announced its departure while the next world has appeared forward and proclaimed its approach. Today is the day of preparation while tomorrow is the day of race. The place to proceed is Paradise while the place of doom is Hell. Is there no one to offer repentance over his faults before his death? Or is there no one to perform virtuous acts before the day of trial?

“Beware, surely you are in the days of hopes behind which stands death. Whoever acts during the days of his hope before the approach of his death, his action would benefit him and his death would not harm him. But he who fails to act during the period of hope before the approach of death, his action is a loss and his death will harm him. Beware and act during a period of attraction just as you act during a period of dread. Beware, surely I have not seen one who covets Paradise asleep nor dreads Hell to be asleep. Beware, he whom right does not benefit must suffer the harm of the wrong and he whom guidance does not keep firm will be led away by misguidance toward destruction.

“Beware, you have been ordered insistently to march and have been guided as to how to provide for the journey. Surely the most frightening thing which I am afraid of about you is to follow desires and to widen the hopes. Provide for yourself from this world what would save you tomorrow (on the Day of Judgement).”
The Last Portion  of Sermon 83 – The Lesson to Be Learned from Those Who Have Passed Away:

“O servants of Allah!! Where are those who were allowed (long) ages to live and they enjoyed bounty? They were taught and they learned. they were given time and they passed it in vain. They were kept healthy and they forgot (their duty). They were allowed a long period (of life), were handsomely provided, were warned of grievous punishment and were promised big rewards. You should avoid sins that lead to distraction and vices that attract the wrath (of Allh).

“O people who possess eyes and ears, health and wealth! Is there any place of protection, any shelter of safety, or asylum or haven, or occasion to run away or to come back (to this world)? If not, how are you, then turned away (Holy Quran, 6:95;   10:34;   35:3;   40:62) and whither are you averting? By what things have you been deceived? Certainly, the share of everyone of you from the earth is just a piece of land equal to his owns stature and size where he would lie on his cheeks covered with dust. The present is an opportune moment for acting.

“O servants of Allah! Since the neck is free from the loop and spirit is also unfettered, now you have time for seeking guidance. You are in ease of body; you can assemble in crowds, the rest of life is before you; you have opportunity of acting by will; there is opportunity for repentance and peaceful circumstances. (But you should act) before you are overtaken by narrow circumstances and distress, or fear and weakness, before the approach of the awaited death and before seizure by the Almighty, the Powerful.”

*”Sayyid ar-Radi says the following: ‘It is related that when Imam Ali ibn Abu [sic] Talib delivered this sermon people began to tremble, tears flowed from their eyes and their hearts were frightened. Some people call this sermon Brilliant Sermon (al-Khutbatul-Gharra’).

A Portion of Sermon 184 – on the Creation of the Universe

“In His creation, the big, the delicate, the heavy, the light, the strong, the week are all equal. ** So is the sky, the air, the winds and the water. Therefore, look at the sun, moon, vegetation, plants, water, stone, the difference of this night and day, the springing of the streams, the large number of the mountains, the height of their peeks, the diversity of languages and the variety of tongues. Then woe unto him who disbelieves in the One who ordains, who denies the Ruler! These believe that they are like grass for which there is no cultivator nor any maker for their own sundry shapes. They have not relied on any argument for what they assert, nor on any research for what they have heard. Can there be any construction without a constructor, or any offense without an offender?

The Wonderful Creation of the Locust

“If you wish, you can tell about the locust (as well). Allah gave it two red eyes, lighted for them two moons like pupils, made for it small ears, opened for it a suitable mouth and gave it a keen sense, gave it two teeth to cut with and two sickle-like feet to grip with. The farmers are afraid of it in the matter of crops. Farmers cannot drive the locust away even though they may join together in their effort. The locust attics the fields and satisfies its hunger although its body is not equal to a thin finger.”

The Glory of Allah

“Glorified is Allah before Whom everything in the skies or on earth bows down in prostration willingly and unwillingly, submits to Him by placing his cheeks and face (on the dust), kneels before Him (in obedience) peacefully and humbly and hands over to Him full control in fear and apprehension.

“The birds are bound by His commands. He knows the number of their feathers and their breaths. He has made their feet stand on water and on dry land. He has ordained their livelihoods. He knows their species. This is the crow, this is the eagle, this is the pigeon, and this is the ostrich. He called out every bird by its name (while creating it) and provided it with its livelihood. He created heavy clouds and produced from them heavy rain, spreading it on various lands. He drenched the earth after its dryness and grew vegetation from it after its barrenness.”

**

Modernity as Moral Arbiter

Here’s a comment piece by a hero of mine from the Left, Owen Jones, who indeed celebrates the loss of the case in the Supreme Court by the Bulls today, who lost their final appeal to say that based on their religious grounds, they had a right to turn away a gay couple from their privately owned guesthouse. I’m not sure of what to make of this – though readers will know I’m a regular critic (albeit an unsophisticated one) of ‘Modernity’ or ‘Progress’ or those other Humanistic metanarratives, I do feel very uncomfortable at the precedent that this case will set.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/martyrs-guesthouse-owners-who-turned-away-gay-couple-on-religious-grounds-are-nothing-of-the-kind-8967077.html

Elsewhere, the BBC reported:

“Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said: “Sexual orientation is a core component of a person’s identity which requires fulfilment through relationships with others of the same orientation.”

Indeed, this may well be true; my question is, on what grounds, and what evidence, can you stake this ontological claim? What in any Modernist discourse actually tells you that the above is the case?

Couldn’t there equally be some postmodern critique to say that these notions of monogamous sexual relationships are merely part of a scheme of oppressive grand narratives? Why then stick to the rather Judaeo-Christian notion of a monogamous relationship, so much in vogue in the Middle Ages,  for which he shows such disdain? Surely we’ve moved past that age of bleak ignorance.

I’m not sure about this ruling, and for once I happen to strongly disagree with Mr Jones; and disgusting and odious as I find him, I think David Starkey has a reasonable solution; I am intrigued as to why the notion of an objection to what is perceived ‘morality’ on say, sexual acts, is somehow conflated with the notion of ‘homophobia’ – what has happened to the state of moral discourse and argumentation?

If indeed one is making a legal case (whether or not the subtext might reek of something more sinister), the arguments should be taken for what they are; I see no point in a judge already coming to a case with a narrative already framed.

I cannot see why, within reason, religious discourse cannot frame one of multiple narratives through which ‘modern’ liberal society can operate. I don’t see why the narrative of ‘modernism’ or ‘Progress’ ought to be favoured over any other; to say that one objects to pre-marital intercourse has nothing to do with the Middle Ages – morality shouldn’t change merely because the times have, and if it does, you ought to be very, very worried if there has been a very small body of thought put into it. Shouting ‘Equality’ is fine – but the term in and of itself is empty.

Religion has been cheapened immensely – what on earth has Southern Cafe owners got to do with this, or the book of Leviticus? Were there moral, cultural, economic (or a combination)  reasons then given? Having taken a course or two on South African history, I fail to see what ‘moral’ arguments were made to sustain those decades of apartheid… it seems to me historical forces were perhaps more important in what resulted in that very bleak period of South African history from which she has not recovered.

Would Jones be happier if they made an economic or utilitarian argument in favour of their view?

Perhaps some solid Marxist argument that the modes of production to keep this liberal edifice, in which his moral framework operates, are better served by stable family model predicated upon a man and a woman whose reproductive capacity is functional and uninhibited? Is that what we’ve come to? What hubris!

Or is he perhaps failing to see that his model of morality, predicated upon some notion of ‘autonomy’ of the self (again, what reason he has to suppose this is beyond me), is fine so long as it does not interfere with the productive capacity of the state; i.e. crudely, do what the heck you want – just keep going to work and paying your taxes and buying things.

An ardent socialist activist with a capitalist framework for ethics? At least he’s not the first. Why he’s buying into a crude economic narrative strikes of something pathologically rotten at the core of some social activists. And it breaks my heart – seeing as I happen to be of the ‘Left.’

Why, suddenly, is religion somehow one of the vestiges of an age of Ignorance – that same tyranny in which the dominant narrative that he found distasteful then is now being re-implemented, only in this case it is his own narrative that has exerted its proverbial agency.

I for one find myself within a moral universe, and though it’s not always apparent what the right thing is to do – though we have a tremendous amount of collective memory and wisdom, traditions and Scriptures that speak to this understanding – I don’t see what privileged access Mr Jones has, considering (in all fairness), that his vision of a moral and liberal world is erected upon very shaky foundations; he would do well to not rest on his laurels for too long.

I wonder what he would say if Mr Jones was informed that those in the Middle Ages found themselves in the same moral universe in which he now exists – would he have to bankrupt himself of any notion of ‘morality’ simply because those in times gone past also attested to its existence?

Jones is committing what MacIntyre (I believe) warned us of – he’s merely speaking a different language to the Bulls; I wonder if by speaking past them and not taking the time to consider the immense body of collected wisdom and thought put into their beliefs, he is indeed oppressing them by suggesting that his narrative ought to displace theirs.

It is no surpr…

It is no surprise that modernity arose in a religious civilisation whose central tenet was the absolutising of the relative.

Tim Winter (Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad), Contentions 

A Humbling Prayer

Friends; apologies for my absence. I’ve been battling something of a relapse of late (tremendous fun, don’t you think?), but have been managing to read a little for the last three…so I thought I’d share:
Here’s a short part of a prayer, as narrated by a Saint from the Islamic tradition, Ali ibn Husayn (the great-grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, may God’s Peace descend upon him always), and one of the Imams of the Shi’a tradition; it describes to me something very profound – the concept of Mercy. I prefer this to ‘Grace’, because the former suggests a much greater need for Him in the relationship between man and his Lord.

The fact is, truly, that millennia of human civilisation have shown that we are incredibly fickle, and lack spiritual strength, often lost in a world of choice because our ethics change according to the era we find ourselves in. Time and again we have created and done things that have been to our immense detriment; though some of these have enriched the human experience and affected our collective memory, it is so tragic that, for example, the last century has wrought such incomprehensible chaos and human calamity that we ought to have avoided. My theory has been this  – that if only we had humbled ourselves… David Berlinski once remarked, and I happen to agree, is that the catastrophe inflicted upon our brothers – Jews as well as others –  in what became (and I use the lower-case on purpose as it is more-encompassing of all) known as the holocaust, could take place because they saw that there was no Power greater than their own.

I think it applies to all cases of man’s inhumanity. We fail to realise that our Higher attributes cannot come from other than him; namely, they do not originate in us…because we originate in Him.

O Lord, do not allow our souls to choose as they like, for, verily, they will choose what is evil, unless you show pity. They will choose what is bad unless you show Mercy.

(From His Supplication in Yearning to Ask Forgiveness from God, as found in: Wilayat in Qur’an, Sayyid Athar Husain Rizvi (trans.), Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli)

With love,

Imraan

“They deserve life, because we all deserve life.” – The Virtue of the Vicious

Here is my rant for this morning… long awaited I’m sure. My condition is a little treacherous  – I had this massive surge of adrenaline and so my ears are ringing furiously, my vision is blurred and the lights seem to be getting brighter all around me, though I’m sitting in near-darkness!

But that makes it a great time to vent over the last two days. I am a Muslim. I am British. I despise these salafist jihadists with every fibre of my being. Yet I will not be subject to simplistic discourses about Muslims being the enemy.

What an incredible distortion of history.

This man has utter contempt for fact.

Funnily, in two days, he has clearly seen no ‘condemnation’ coming from the community (though Mehdi Hasan seems to have been published in every possible outlet, and the now the near-legendary MCB statement is ubiquitous)… one must wonder why on earth this man seeks to absolve himself from any moral agency in terms of what his government is responsible for. Please remember this, if nothing else… our enemies…well they have families too, you know. You kill one…you devastate an entire family also.

One wonders…what about the things that he, dear Tommy Robinson, is responsible for? He speaks of the “Sunni v Shia” fury raging in Iraq…does he not realise that there was not one suicide attack in Iraq prior to his glorious troops’ invasion (yes, they were coerced…that is the nature of the military…they go where they’re sent…and yes, Saddam was a tyrant)… or the so-called ‘liberation’ of the Muslims in Bosnia only came long after Western complicity in massacres… the fact that Syrians are crying out for Western troops comes, to large degree, because of his own country’s warmongering in the region at-large, and the support of fanatic jihadists receiving material from his noble country’s government…driving the war into immeasurable depths.

The thing that I will agree with him about is our rampant support for kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia, which has promoted fanatical Takfiri and Jihadi culture/theology…and my suspicions are that most of these atrocities are carried out by people that adopt such world views. Whether they’re blowing themselves up in Iraq or in Afghanistan, or whether they’re promoting Jihad in Syria whilst ignoring the plights of their brethren in Gaza, Bahrain, Yemen, Qatar… Funny that…where’s their Jihad in Israel? Anjem Choudary was recently asked… the fact that he couldn’t answer coherently is very telling about the nature of these mercenaries and barbarians. For that is what they are. A bunch of paid lunatics…sold to the highest bidder. Only we forget that we actually own them, often. Until they go their own way and then we need to fight them again to remove the weapons from their hands, the ones that we gave them in the first place. As was said…you create the monster…and then act surprised when he behaves like one! Have a memory longer than twelve seconds, people!

But I will not be taught morality by a man who believes a government mercilessly sent troops to liberate people from a dictator, when In fact a war was started on false premises that was never supposed to overthrow him in the first place (the former was merely an excuse to justify our further adventurism, quite frankly), and not when his own government provided the aforementioned dictator the wherewithal to construct chemical weaponry to massacre his own population…when his glorious government was part of a system that led to the death of a million Iraqi children in the ’90s.

Do I support the troops? I can’t say I’m a fan of avid or avowed nationalism, or a military culture that glorifies potential death. As it stands, until there is a shift in our political culture, that “Patriotism is a virtue of the vicious” applies desperately to those that govern us. And we are fools for letting them dominate our discourse.

I don’t glorify death and I don’t like the culture of death. Because then the human body becomes an expendable biological commodity to fight someone else’s war. For me, the preservation of life is a sacred duty. But I support honour. I support the fact that the men and women entering the armed forces are convinced that they are doing so for noble causes, and their families sacrifice much when they are active.

I support them because I believe that to a a large degree, they are pawns being moved about a chessboard by an oligarchy that could not care less whether they lived or they died. They deserve life, because we all deserve life. I do not support their unnecessary deaths, including the one we saw a couple of days ago.

To say I value the life of a British soldier does not go far enough…because my moral responsibility rests on the fact that I am complicit in allowing a soldier to fight an unrighteous, morally bankrupt and illegitimate war, invariably resulting in someone else’s death… because his death could be avoided, because he deserves a chance at life, just like that of the soldier. The only thing is, the soldier goes in prepared to die…what of the innocent children being mercilessly killed by drones operated somewhere in Nevada…and now Waddington…?

What of the civilians blown-up to pieces by multiple-tonne bombs that we fire at densely populated cities…what about the infrastructural damage we committed when we broke up the entire Iraqi medical enterprise because we were afraid of Ba’athists taking over them… what about the thousands of doctors that have had to flee that country invariably causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis….

What about the hundred-thousand people in Pakistan who will now not get Polio vaccinations because the UN has had to withdraw their agents responsible for it, because American irresponsibility in capturing OBL…

I’m not saying a beheading in London was justified… don’t get me wrong. But do you find it shocking when people complain about the deaths caused by the West in the Islamic world? Maybe you fear a religious affinity – we here seem to take exception to deaths on our own soil…when “one of our own” is killed here…yet why do we not so actively condemn the deaths that we are involved in thousands of miles away… we become surprised because of the fact that these “nutters” seem to sympathise with those people so far away… maybe if we practised that sort of charity we wouldn’t need them to do it.

Because in a state of need, I’d rather have your sympathy than that of those “nutters”, for they are no friends of mine.

But don’t trade your morality so that they can fill that moral vacuum.

Yes…as the equally nuttish fellow above says…the war “is with Islam” he declares proudly – we “need to name the enemy” and so forth. So because of my metaphysical beliefs, I’m somehow an enemy of the state? Incredible.

Timothy Winter on Salafism

Again, here’s a principled, intellectual, moralistic critique – by an intellectual giant in the West; a principled, ‘mainstream’ Islamic scholar, Timothy Winter – of the contemporary Salafi ideology that’s sweeping the Islamic world

(I’d argue that it’s an anti-intellectualist, anti-philosophical, ‘protestant’ form of interpretation of scripture and canon – sometimes with an overemphasis on literal meaning) with disastrous results on the intellectual health of the Islamic community – critical faculties seem to be cast away, despite the fact that this Salafi worldview is an hermeneutical construct.)

That said, there are plenty of people who belong to this school that one can have a meaningful conversation, I met many at university, for example – however my concern, as Seyyed Hossein Nasr points out – that the dominant theology behind Salafis and other groups have not been able to produce heavyweights in the senses of al-Ghazzali, Ibn Sina, Mulla Sadra and so forth. Certainly, these latter figures have contributed to the Islamic mystical climate for the most part – however the worldviews that they espoused had a much broader application – there are ontological, epistemological, ethical criteria outlined by these great visionaries that could prove utterly beneficial when Muslims face the challenges of a modern, secular, imperialist hegemon, as well as when it comes to dealing with internal affairs, the relationships to their own dictatorial governments, etc.- these are things that don’t seem to occur any more because of perhaps an over-reliance on ‘authority’ in a hermeneutic sense. That said, I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.

Whatever path takes you there, I guess. But I wonder if we might be able to expedite our own progress if we just permitted ourselves to reflect more, just a little…? Not to be afraid of our thinking if we remained steadfast to our fundamental Islamic beliefs – Tawhid (divine ‘Unity’, I guess), Revelation, and importantly, the place of the intellect in relation to this.

Below, I’ve pasted a brilliant talk by Seyyed Hossein Nasr on the need for philosophy in the Islamic world that you will get immense benefit out of. He is a true moral heavyweight, and a very brilliant man at that. Not to mention a polymath. Please watch, if you’re interested.

On Prayer (Salah)

Here’s a truly beautiful exposition of what it means to pray, both in a symbolic sense, as well as looking more deeply into the point of the spiritual practice in itself. Whether you’re a Muslim or not, whether you’re more ‘spiritual’ than religious, there is something profound to be said about a ritual that you dedicate a portion of your life to in perfecting. So watch this, please.

The connection with God is a longstanding commitment – it doesn’t, as far as I’m concerned, generally happen overnight  – in the sense that if we wish to reap the benefit of a relationship with the the Essence, there is work to be done on our part.

I often find that life can be overwhelming – this isn’t a phenomenon located in me only. Think about it – living as we do, we are constantly seeking ‘something’, something that is in fact external to us. Whether it is that we seek to clear up our time, and hastily complete our chores…or seek wealth, and rush to work in pursuit of the sustenance that we feel we ‘ought’ to have…or in pursuit of another – whatever it is we seek…have you noticed yet how empty your life feels sometimes? When you are left alone in that silence – when you suddenly, quite rarely perhaps, find yourself awake in the dead of night unable to sleep yet are unable to do much else? Or when you find yourself all alone at home with your chores completed for the day, and there’s nothing good on TV? What is it about our condition that necessitates us being so ‘busy’ all the time?

Shaikh Hamza Yusuf here speaks about the cornerstone, the ‘marrow’, the essence of Islam – the Prayer . But he expresses not in ritualistic terms:  it as a profoundly spiritual practice if its disciplines are observed. When the emptiness of life is swept aside in the face of the fullness of the Divine presence. Perhaps the most beautiful point of this talk is when (around minute 18) Shaikh Hamza speaks about prayer as the ‘falah’ – the ‘harvest’. This is a term that is called during the ritual call to prayer  – it is often translated as ‘success’ – but it actually means the ‘harvest’ – if you miss this blessed event is to miss the fulfilment of your life. I think that that is beyond profound, and worth thinking about regardless of what faith you belong to.

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