Being 18 and Muslim and An Illuminating Checklist

Dear friends,
Greetings of Peace (al salamu 'alaykum)! I pray you are well and easing gently into the Fall season. Unbelievably to me, this is our last week before our youngest son, Mido, heads off to college for the first time. I didn't think that 18 years would pass so quickly from the time he was born until now, as he "leaves the nest" to start his journey into adulthood. Truthfully, it is probably a lot harder on me than on him. I am not quite sure how I will feel next week when I walk into his bedroom and find that he is not there. I have not allowed myself to feel the full range of emotions just yet, rather, have chosen to remain in a state of denial. It is an emotional time for me to say the least!


Yet at the same time, when I think of what is taking place all over the Muslim world, I am ashamed to feel sad about anything. I am beyond grateful for the gift of reaching this milestone with Mido, and beyond blessed that he is alive and well, healthy and excited for the future ahead. Not every mother has this gift. In my introduction to The Book of Illuminations halaqa (circle of learning) this past Saturday, I shared this photo of a handsome 18-year-old young man who reminded me so much of Mido:


Mahmoud Abu Saan, 18, was killed by Israeli forces on Friday, 4 August 2023


His name is Mahmoud Abu Saan and he is the same age as Mido. He lived in Palestine and was slain this past week, shot in the head, point-blank range, by Israeli forces during a night raid in the Nour Shams refugee camp, east of Tulkarm, in the West Bank. I cannot imagine the devastation Mahmoud's mother must be feeling at this moment. As we prepare to send off our son from privilege to privilege, yet another family in Palestine prepares to bury their son. As Mido's adult life begins, Mahmoud's is over before it even began. 


I shared this picture with Mido and we agreed that Mido would have loved to wear a shirt with that same color blue. This picture touches me and breaks my heart at the same time. It reminds me to be grateful for everything. I took the opportunity to tell Mido that Mahmoud was his brother in every sense of the word. He should represent for Mahmoud now that Mahmoud can no longer represent for himself. As a parent, you never know if what you say to your kids will stick or how it may affect them. Only time will tell. But I hope and pray that as Mido begins this important next stage in his life, he and our next generation of young Muslims will be inspired to stand up for justice and always choose to make a difference - simply because they can - while Mahmoud and so many others like Mahmoud cannot. May God bless, inspire and empower them, and may we do everything in our power to support them insha'Allah (God willing). Love to all the parents who are taking their kids to college this month!



I realize that it is often very hard to carve out time in our very busy lives for learning. I feel very blessed that the nature of my work allows me to attend every session of every event by definition - my work, my passion, and my learning are all rolled into one! But this is not the case for most people, despite all good intentions, hopes, and efforts to make the time. So, if you haven't had the chance to engage these halaqas yet, I wanted to share something from this past weekend's session that I found particularly powerful to give you a flavor of what we are talking about. As a general overview, The Book of Illuminations is a 14th century text of Islamic wisdoms that are intended to guide the serious spiritual seeker on how to draw closer to God. If you read the English translation(s) alone, it is difficult to understand the meaning. However, the commentary and life experiences shared by Shaykh Abou El Fadl give us unparalleled access to the deeper meanings of the text and bring the entire journey to life. It is truly illuminating!


Although we have only reached Wisdom #34 out of 264 (!), the discussion on #34 included a powerful and detailed example of a "checklist" for self-scrutiny and self-purification. In our tradition, we have often heard the expression, "If you want to know God, begin by knowing yourself." In other words, the path to God begins with a thorough understanding of oneself as a means of purifying the self. It makes sense. The more that you cleanse and purify yourself - the more you "cleanse your vessel" - and increase your capacity to receive and emit light, the closer you can come to the Divine, the source of all light. How?


Shaykh shared some of his experiences from his own training, and provided some tangible examples of attributes that we must work diligently to purify and cleanse. Some attributes are negative and some are positive. We begin with the presumption that these attributes are within each and every one of us. It is our job to determine: 1) to what extent is it in me? and 2) what is required to cleanse it? From my own speed note-taking (mistakes are all mine), here is a list of some of the attributes that Shaykh discussed:


List of negative attributes to investigate within you:

1) Arrogance;

2) Tendency towards hubris / Vanity;

3) Hypocrisy of the type that what you say depends on your circumstances and the desire to benefit yourself;

4) Envy or jealousy;

5) The desire to get attention or be praised, even if it is not deserved; to put on a pretense; addiction to praise;

6) The desire to be distinguished, above people;

7) The desire to have power over people;

8) Loving money, regardless of purpose.

9) To what extent are you confrontational, drawn to hate;

10) Hating people;

11) To what extent does your demeanor change with you are with people with power and wealth;

12) Attitude towards people with NO power or wealth;

13) Stinginess;

14) Relies on unrealistic hopes, ie. "I will be fine, I will be forgiven"; taking God and others for granted;

15) To what extent do you pretend / display feeling that are not yours;

16) Cheating, how many times?

17) Disdainful, vindictive;

18) Cruelty;

19) Rudeness with people;

20) Become aloof and unkind towards people;

21) Full of zealous loyalty when it comes to your family, your team, your town, your nationality;

22) Irritability and annoyance;

23) Control of sexual desire;

24) Like to be the boss or leader;

25) Lying.


This is in no way an exhaustive list, but clearly, it is quite extensive and granular. The point is not to self-flagellate, hate, or demean oneself, but to challenge the self, truly know oneself, and gain mastery over the negative or dark tendencies within the self. On the side of positive attributes - moral and ethical characteristics - it is just as important to work on elevating your moral character. Here is a partial "checklist" to reflect upon:


1) To what extent are you a gentle human being? Merciful? Feel compassion? Empathize? If not, why not?

2) Do you make it a point to be gentle and caring? Intentions and actions are not the same. See your actions from those receiving them, not from your intentions;

3) Patience with people; do you get irritated and give yourself the right to be short with others?

4) Generosity;

5) Modesty, bashfulness. Do you get embarrassed? Why not?

6) To what extent do you take time before passing judgment;

7) Do you smile? Or, are you always in a bad mood?

8) Do you wish people well?


Again, this is only a sampling of the types of questions with which one should interrogate the self. As Shaykh explained, this is an act of purifying the self to receive God within myself. It is an act of love. It is because I love myself and want to cleanse it as a recipient of the Divine; to unite me with the Beloved.


This is just a snapshot of a little bit of what we have covered, but I hope it conveys the transformative nature of this learning. The Wisdoms we have covered to date have been eye-opening and deep, and I am sure the Wisdoms to come will continue to open incredible avenues of growth and understanding. These Islamic Wisdoms, building upon the foundation of the Project Illumine Qur'anic Commentaries and bolstered by weekly powerhouse Friday khutbahs are nothing short of life-altering. It is the opportunity to build our relationship with God, ourselves, and our belief system anew.


Our tradition also tells us that a little learning every day is better than putting it off until you have more time (my generous paraphrasing!). If you want to listen to this learning and work it into the nooks and crannies of your busy day, let me remind you that you can get this content on your favorite podcast platform through our Supercast app (see below)!


Wishing you a blessed week full of light, love, and learning! :) Look forward to seeing you online soon insha'Allah! 


In Peace and Hope,


The Movement to Reinvigorate Beautiful and Ethical Islam has begun.  Join us.

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