Greetings of Peace (al salamu 'alaykum)! I pray you are well and looking forward to the Fall season! I am truly amazed that somehow, it seems like we jumped from January to June and then landed in September with three blinks of an eye. I knew this year would pass quickly. Looking at the calendar and the months ahead, I know it will be just a few more heartbeats before we are upon the new year. May God help us to savor every precious moment and slow down to appreciate what is truly important.
This past weekend, I was given the divine gift of two such engagements that fall squarely into the Precious and Truly Important category. First, I was thrilled when after months of chasing, I landed another episode of "Real Talk with Mido and Baba"! We started these conversations when Mido was 14 years old, and a freshman in high school back in Los Angeles, before the pandemic! Now he is 18 and in his freshman year in college. It is fascinating to see the changes, and the learning is always gold. We have now recorded eight such episodes and yes, I am biased, but I think they are beyond awesome. They are especially interesting to understand the challenges confronting our youth, yet the advice and insight is extremely valuable for every age.
I was already over the moon to have finished recording this one episode with Mido, and then another divine miracle happened - Cherif agreed to record his own Real Talk session with Baba! OMG no words! And wow, was it GREAT!! Deep, honest, reflective, and truly engaging, especially as Cherif shares his insights on psychology, Islamic psychology, and the "religions" of our day. Further, their "real talk" came around what happened to the Muslims of Cherif's generation - what they were told was the most important thing about being Muslim, and what actually is the most important thing; what was missing and why was there such a vacuum of meaning and emptiness in their generation? Truly enlightening. I learned so much!
There are sixteen years that separate Mido and Cherif, yet it is so gratifying to see them both engaging with such deep, introspective, and pressing questions and issues that concern their respective generations. It is interesting to note that fundamentally, these conversations come together over the search for meaning, purpose, substance, and beauty that we have been learning to apply through the Project Illumine Qur'anic commentaries and now, The Book of Illuminations engagement. It is about seeking beauty, ethics, and moral elevation in everything they do. I pray that we will have many more such conversations to come and that God will guide them both to the most beautiful path always. This is my constant prayer. :)
Last week, I shared that our dear friend, Wietske Merison was selected as a finalist in the Online Adhan Contest hosted by the Islamic band, Native Deen. This week, we learned that Wietske was among the winners in a tie for Fifth Place! She was the only female finalist among 19, and hence, the only woman among the winners! Alhamdulillah (Thank God!) Here is the announcement:
Here is her adhan entry available on YouTube:
And again, to be complete, here is the link to Wietske's album WITNESS (published by Usuli Music), which includes TWO stunning calls to prayer! https://wietskemerison.hearnow.com/
ON MUSIC AND THE SCHOOL OF REASON, RATIONALITY, AND BEAUTY
Lastly, I want to highlight that this week's edited transcription of the khutbah from 25 August (below) is at the heart of everything covered in this email - the conversations with Mido and Cherif, and the fact that a woman can enter and win an adhan competition with other men - and at the heart of everything we teach at The Usuli Institute. Not only does Dr. Abou El Fadl powerfully address the misconception that music is forbidden in Islam, but he lays out the critical importance of reason, rationality, and beauty in living as ethical Muslims in 2023. He asserts that through Islam, God gives us the key to all that is beautiful and good, but that Muslims have lost their connection to God's pristine and primordial calling to our conscience. To reclaim that key, we must reclaim our reason, our rationality, and our very humanity. I hope that you will take the time to read it and share it with everyone you know. I believe it is this kind of knowledge that can change so much at so many levels.
Wishing you a blessed week full of light, love, and precious moments! :) Look forward to seeing you online soon insha'Allah! Note that next week, The Book of Illuminations halaqa will be on Sunday at 6 pm ET. :)
In Peace and Hope,